My Favourite Music of 2014

Favourite Pop Tracks:

Caribou – ‘Can’t Do Without You’

Caribou_Our_Love‘Can’t Do Without You’ perfectly introduces the stellar Our Love, Dan Snaith’s sixth album under the Caribou brand. A fun club track, it perfectly synthesises the styles exhibited on previous Caribou LP Swim and the dancefloor-oriented tracks which characterise Snaith’s other musical moniker, Daphni. Club music infused with real emotion.

Modest Mouse – ‘Lampshades on Fire’

A ‘Dashboard’ retread from the Good News for People Who Love Bad News sessions. As samey and, dare I say, lazy as this comeback single feels, its catchiness is undeniable. I’ve missed Modest Mouse so damn much during their ridiculous eight-year hiatus, and welcome their forthcoming release. My body is ready.

Kele – ‘Doubt’

Though I’ve no doubt (pun unintended) that Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke approaches his dance music with conviction, I’m still yet to find it all that engaging. Trick lead single ‘Doubt’, however, is slinky and moves with purpose.

John Frusciante – ‘Fanfare’

I’ve written before about my limited patience for Frusciante’s avant garde stuff, but ‘Fanfare’ – and half of Enclosure, the LP it’s drawn from – I can get behind. Frusciante’s newfound penchant for experimentation clashes head-on with his pop sensibilities, with catchy and unexpected results.

Sticky Fingers – ‘Gold SNAFU’

‘Gold SNAFU’ is the perfect summertime track: it’s laid-back and sports a catchy, whistled refrain. Kudos to Dylan Frost, too, for penning memorable lines like ‘sexy as a slippery water slide’. Sticky Fingers expand their sound while honouring their roots. An Australian band whose evolution I’m enjoying.

The Autumn Defense – ‘I Can See Your Face’

The Fleetwood Mac-esque ‘I Can See Your Face’ is my standout track from The Autumn Defense’s fifth album, Fifth. Pat Sansone and John Stirratt’s warm vocals gel with summery production, making this romantic folk throwback shine.

Chet Faker – ‘Gold’

Chet Faker’s had a monstrous year, with sold-out shows and copious radio play. (His year even culminated in the netting of the Best Male Artist and Best Indie Release ARIAs, which he so graciously accepted.) It’s great to see a local boy make good, though I’m not quite sold on his début LP Built on Glass. (I found it a little tedious. See: the aptly titled ‘Lesson in Patience’, which opens with two minutes of wailing and goes precisely nowhere).

Still, dude can write solid pop tracks. ‘1998’ and ‘Cigarettes & Loneliness’ are contenders, but ‘Gold’ is the definitive bright spot. I’m curious to see what he does next. No diggity.

Michael Jackson – ‘Slave to the Rhythm’

Hesitated putting this on here thanks to the dubious motivations behind this release, but ‘Slave to the Rhythm’, originally written in 1990, is a catchy reaffirmation of Jackson’s pop-writing talents. (Like he needed one.)

Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – ‘Uptown Funk’

bruno-mars-uptown-funk-videoThough it may not reach the same magnitude of cultural hit (due in part to the forever shifting tides of popular music), ‘Uptown Funk’ is, for my money, the most infectious, hook-laden pop song since ‘Hey Ya’. This song is an unparalleled party: all killer, no filler. Even the bridge is an absolute jam.

* * *

 My Favourite Albums of 2014:

  Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams marks Adams’ first release since the stripped-back, hiatus-shattering Ashes & Fire (one of my favourite records of 2011), and largely continues in the same artistic vein. It features a fuller sound than Adams’ last release, but straddles the same adult/contemporary line – not a bad thing. This self-titled release exudes confidence and cohesiveness. It also features some of Adams’ most mature songwriting efforts to date. It’s hard to believe this is the same hyperactive brat who wrote Love is Hell and Rock n Roll.

Foster the People – Supermodel

In 2011, Foster the People burst onto the scene with Torches, a potent pop début with a cache of surprise hits. The album netted the band a legion of global fans and, with the pressure high, it took them three years to follow it up.

Supermodel arrived to a warm but comparatively modest reception. Its singles failed to make the same splash as Torches mega-hit ‘Pumped Up Kicks’ and the album largely fell through the cracks.

Admittedly, it took me awhile to warm to Supermodel. It’s a reflexive, considered album, and is less immediate than its predecessor. Here, the band broadens its scope, trying on different stylistic hats. It’s a slower, more experimental affair – and consequently a richer experience. Punters will be greatly rewarded if they invest the time. Continue reading

Advertisements

A Day in the Life – 30/10/14

Free-writing today, because I fear the muscle will atrophy if I don’t get into a daily habit.

© Gracie Cannell, flickr.com

© Gracie Cannell, flickr.com

First week of job hunting’s almost over. No takers yet, but I’m told these things take time. I have, at least, been placed on a few freelancer databases – which I’m taking as a positive sign, though it’s probably just routine response for publishers dealing with cold-calling editors. I’m considering free content writing while I await the coveted call-back. Much as I loathe the exploitation pervading this industry, I think it’ll help me build a diverse portfolio of non-fiction writing (presently most of my published work is fiction). I also want a project to sink my teeth into. I spend a lot of time on my own, and tend to succumb to depression if I don’t have a distraction, something stimulating to work on.

I love you, Anne Hegerty!

I love you, Anne Hegerty!

(Here’s an embarrassing admission: my weekdays presently revolve around my daytime TV schedule. I daily tune in for Yu-Gi-Oh! [for nostalgia], Dr Phil [for morbidity] and The Chase [for entertainment/Old Frosty Knickers]. Obviously this can’t go on, though on particularly stagnant days these shows are all the daily happiness I get. The real cause for concern will be if I start watching TMZ.)

Anyway, my current priorities are: continue to apply for jobs; write various commissioned non-fiction articles (i.e. fitness-related, mental health-related, music-related, advertising stuff …); commence work on an interactive CV/writing portfolio, to keep on top of InDesign and to have something to direct prospective employers to; redesign blog; give NaNo another crack; and, finally, finish the numerous WIP blog posts that are scattered all over my desktop.

To combat the aforementioned depression, I’m resolving to interact with at least one human being a day. Interactions can include small-talk with shopkeepers, which I am famously awful at.

Yesterday I made the fairly spontaneous decision to visit Busybird, the publishing house where I once interned. It ended up being a great day. I was able to complete some internet research (in service of getting a job), and I had actual conversation using actual human words (English, I think). I proposed to my former employers that I might come in once a week during this (hopefully brief) tenure of unemployment, so that I might enjoy their wonderful creative space, use them as sounding boards and help out as necessary. Perhaps I could start referring to myself as the unofficial writer in residence. Could even wear a badge. Either way, it sure is great to be around creative people, kind people. I learnt a valuable lesson from those long winters of self-imposed social isolation (eight-week mid-semester breaks … brrrr!), so am endeavouring to get out more and see people.

Today I went to my old school (the one I finished up at last week) for a catch-up brunch/coffee thing (at which I had neither brunch, nor coffee). It was lovely. Even though I’ve endured – and continue to endure – a horrendous viral infection, it was still great to get away from my various neuroses and laugh, talk and listen to others. One friend, whose selflessness I’ve grown to adore, is also battling flu-like symptoms. Shaking hers is imperative for she’s leaving for Fiji next week. Another friend told me about all the difficulties her and her partner have gone through these past few years. They’ve had a lot of bad luck, and a long string of financial and familial disappointments. My heart goes out to them. I get the sense they’d be happy if the universe would only give them a much-deserved break. The third friend is going really well, with an impressive writing-related internship and some fortuitous part-time creative work. She brought her brilliant poodle with her, and seems in good stead for the next year. I’m hopeful these catch-ups can continue into the New Year, as I find I come away from them in a much better headspace.

Also while at school, I decided I won’t be going to my graduation ceremony. Despite this post, I’m not especially sentimental, and so ultimately deemed it not worth the money. Can anyone who’s completed long-term study weigh in on this? Do you think I’ll regret it? belljarAnyway, now that I’ve finished The Bell Jar (not the best book to read when you’re straddling depression), I’m ready to begin my friend’s novel, which I’ve been looking forward to for some time. Is there anything you’d like to share about your day, readers? I’d love to hear it. What challenges have you overcome? What are you grateful for?

Update: Publication News + Reflection

My story, ‘The Reunion’, has been accepted for publication in literary journal Page Seventeen. As part of the lead-up to publication, editor Beau Hillier asked each contributing writer to reflect (in 250 words or less) on the process of writing their respective piece.

I fear it won’t make much sense without first reading the story, but it does effectively document the way disparate influences can come together and inspire a piece of fiction.

From the Busybird Publishing website:

Reflections-4

The P17 launch date is fast approaching – not long now until the latest issue of page seventeen is available!

It’s an open invitation to come on down to our launch event and open mic night at the Busybird workshop – 2/118 Para Rd, Montmorency – from 7pm onwards on 19 November.

In the meantime, a couple more of the Issue 11 contributors have offered a little more insight into what went into the latest P17 edition.

*             *             *

Tom O’Connell on ‘The reunion’

My inspirations for ‘The reunion’ are threefold.

Firstly, this story was written in response to the Murakami short ‘All God’s children can dance’, wherein a young man, lied to about his supposed birth by Immaculate Conception, searches for his true biological father. The search culminates on an empty baseball diamond, a final image which has remained with me.

Years ago, I took regular evening walks around the streets of Northcote. On these walks, I often passed sporting grounds where local AFL teams had their weeknight training sessions. During training, the stands and grounds would be empty. The field would be lit, but only coaches and a dozen or so players were present. (I love how this contrasts the bustle of Game Day. Empty sporting grounds are so serene.)

One night, I noticed a hooded figure watching the boys train. The stands were unlit, so he was shrouded in darkness. I passed another night and he was there again. He came regularly. No one paid him any notice. He was probably one of the boys’ fathers, but that didn’t stop me turning over the possibilities. What if he was a spy, or homeless, or generally unhinged? (Amusingly, an earlier draft emphasised this angle.) The idea developed and he became an absentee father.

Finally, I suppose this story was written, in part, to satisfy an innate curiosity about my biological father, whom I have no relationship with. Paternal bonds often figure into my fiction, though never usually this explicitly.

Tom O’Connell is a writer, editor and tea-enthusiast. He is currently studying for a Bachelor of Writing and Publishing and has been published in [untitled], n-SCRIBE, Vine Leaves and Crack the Spine. Follow his writing at artofalmost.wordpress.com.

Publishing Update: Interning Impressions and Interview

Two quick links for those interested in the happenings of Tom Town.

* * *

Article Published on Writer’s Edit.

Writer’s Edit is a Sydney-based online literary magazine that publishes content for writers and book lovers. My article is a reflection on my interning experience with Busybird Publishing. Check it out if you’ve ever wanted an insight into the working practices of an independent publisher. (For more on Busybird Publishing, check out Publications Manager Les Zigomanis’s primer, also on Writer’s Edit.)

Fully Awake Dreamer Interview.

My blogging pal Amanda Kontos recently interviewed me for her blog’s Fully Awake Dreamer interview series. In the interview, I talk at length about my writing practices and projects. There’s also an excerpt from a work in progress.

On Horror: In Conversation with Emerging Writer Michael Patrick McMullen

Michael Patrick McMullen is an emerging horror/fantasy writer from Spokane, Washington. His debut short story collection, The Stonemason and Other Tales, was released in late 2013. (My review can be found here.)

The following is an email exchange between Michael and myself. Ostensibly, it forms one component of a forthcoming uni assessment which looks at the perception of the horror genre, and attempts to pinpoint its position within the spectrum of popular culture.

Many thanks to Michael for taking the time, and for giving such thoughtful, considered answers.

* * *

Image

Tell us about an experience that frightened you growing up.

I can’t think of any one experience I had growing up that really frightened me. I was a latch-key kid who liked to stay home and play video games, so I never found myself in situations that carried any risk. However, I was a very high-strung, anxious child, so little things like weird noises when I was home alone, or strange people would quickly send me into a panic.

What kind of reaction do you hope to elicit in your readers?

I tend to think about the end of my story first, and I know I have a good one when I can imagine someone’s heart sinking after reading the last sentence. I’ve always been drawn to the horror stories that elicit a helpless feeling. You know this character is going to have to deal with the effects of whatever happened to him or her for the rest of their life (however long or short that might be), and that’s not going to be pleasant for them.

A two-pronged question: What was the last horror film you saw and how was it? How do you think horror movies today compare to the formative films of the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties?

I just re-watched The Blair Witch Project. I’m a little surprised at the amount of backlash that received. At the time it came out [1999] it was revolutionary. Nobody was doing that kind of faux documentary style for horror films – at least not with any commercial success. I think it still holds up as an effective horror film because of the simplicity, which I think is where the difference between the formative years and current horror really shows. If you think about the classic horror movies, they’re straightforward and not afraid of quiet. The Shining, The Exorcist, The Omen; the Eighties is where we start to see the transition into more effect-driven, blood-soaked shock horror. Even today, shock, instead of the slow building of suspense and dread, permeates horror. We get people jumping out of blind corners while the musical score bangs its fist on the piano keys. Audiences aren’t willing to wait for the big reveal at the end. They want to know who the ghost is now so they can have all the special effects and demon babies with black eyes.

Do you think there are certain traits that horror fans share?

All the horror fans I’ve met have a unique perspective on everything. We’re not apt to take things as they are, or as we’re told they are. Most of the time, we want to explore a topic to the extreme, allowing for any and every possibility. Horror fans are stereotypically thought of as pessimistic because we tend to look at new opportunities with a sidelong glance, but that’s really what makes us as a community so creative. The average customer looking for a new car won’t stop to think, ‘What if this car started murdering people?’, but a horror fan would.

What qualities does an effective horror story have?

What initially sparked my interest in horror, and what keeps me interested in writing it, is that a good horror story isn’t about the monster, or the demon cult, or even the graphic violence. It’s that these strange, evil, terrifying things are happening to regular people. Using the example of The Blair Witch Project; the Blair Witch isn’t what is scary. We never even see the witch. The fact that it’s happening to college kids who got lost in the woods is the point. We’ve all had that moment of What if I don’t make it home? So we instantly relate. A good horror story allows for the reader/viewer to so easily put themselves in the plight of the main character that we can’t hide from our fears. Just look at how many horror stories are written in first-person, and how many times the movies use the character’s POV.

Which horror writers do you most admire and why?

Edgar Allan Poe, Clark Ashton Smith, Will Ludwigsen, and Shirley Jackson are some of my favourite writers.

Who, in your opinion, are the key innovators within the genre?

I think Shirley Jackson doesn’t get enough credit for what her work did for the genre. Her books are intensely character-driven and psychological, something not widespread before she came along, and rarely done as well after. For modern horror, I think authors like Neil Gaiman and directors like Guillermo del Toro are re-claiming the idea that horror is a concept that can be applied to any genre, and doesn’t have to be a genre in itself.

What do your friends and family think about your fondness for writing horror fiction?

I’m from a conservative background, and I’m quiet and reserved most of the time, so I don’t think my friends or family expected me to write stories about demon statues or a pre-adolescent lovelorn serial killer. Even still, they seem to be fairly accepting of my work.

Have any real-life events inspired your horror writing?

I concentrate more on despair and situations that don’t seem as pleasant as they are because that’s been a theme in my life ever since I can remember. My dad died when I was twelve, and in school, I had the worst luck meeting people who actually stayed friendly towards me. Constantly wondering if the person you love, admire, or like hanging out with is going to be in your life the next day gives one a certain perspective about life that only horror can truly penetrate.

There seems to be a degree of crossover between the horror and thriller genres – particularly with sub-genres like psychological horror. What do you think is the distinction?

Thrillers seem more plot-driven, where horror is more character-driven. The characters in a thriller are there primarily to drive the situation forward, usually trying to gain or re-gain. In horror, the story is about the character trapped in a situation where they have no control. The situation is happening to them, not because of them.

What are your tips for aspiring horror writers?

Read and write a variety of material. The more versatile you are as a writer, in terms of what you can emotionally convey through your story, the more impact your stories will have.

Do you think it’s important for horror writers to occasionally branch out and explore other styles or genres?

Yes, I think it’s the most important. Horror is really a meta-genre. It can be layered on top of other genres, so I think writers who want to do horror are best served by reading and writing everything.

Horror film franchises are especially susceptible to remakes. What is your opinion of this?

Meh. Some of them are fine; others are just trying to get blood from stones. I don’t really watch the franchise movies anymore because they’re too homogenous.

Michael Patrick McMullen is the author of The Stonemason and Other Tales. His work has appeared in Every Day Fiction and SPOKE(a)N(e) Magazine. He also blogs at www.michaelpatrickmcmullen.com

An Update (Inc. News of Recent Publishing Successes)

Just an update on what my last few months have been like, writing-wise.

Study

In late November, I completed my third year of study and attained an Associate Degree in Writing and Publishing. This was my first year at a new campus, and I only knew one other person going into it. (Ever the introvert, I know about three–four coming out of it.) Overall, a valuable way to spend my year. The course has helped me further refine my writing, editing and publishing skills. The highlights were the fantastic lecturers and the guest speakers, who came from all walks of the industry. I’m looking forward to 2014, the year I commence working towards a Bachelor of Writing and Publishing. (This will also be my final year of study, unless I go on to do a PhD.)

Published Work

I’ve been a little lax about sending work out this year. Although I came away with a string of rejections (mostly the encouraging, personalised kind), the string was not as long as 2012’s. Nevertheless, here are my two recent publishing successes.

  • The first was in the ninetieth issue of American literary journal, Crack the Spine. This story, ‘The Wall’ (found here), and I have been through a lot together; it had been knocked back – always with positive comments – and subsequently redrafted many, many times. I always believed in this one, so the fact that I was eventually able to place it feels like a lesson in perseverance. Notably, this marks my first international publishing credit. (Unless I count Vine Leaves – a journal that operates from Greece, but is run by two Australians.) Continue reading