Friday, August 28, 2009

Celebration and longing with Tinpan Orange

Discovering really good new music is one of those things which, like children being born and spring beginning, never stops being special. And all the more so when it happens unexpectedly, as it did for me today when I happened to be walking past Basement Discs in Melbourne and stumbled on their free “live in store” gig for August. It was a local trio called “Tinpan Orange”, with brother and sister Jesse and Emily Lubitz sharing acoustic guitars and vocals, and Alex Burkoy weaving in and out with another guitar or violin. It all came together to create that sort of folksy sound that makes you think someone has just opened all the windows and let the fresh air in.

I of course bought their new album, The Bottom of the Lake, there and then. It's an album full of songs that seem to celebrate and long for simple, true things, with melody lines that have both a gorgeous, unpretentious simplicity to them and yet keep taking quirky shifts, unexpected changes of key, a blues note here and there, blending with guitars and violin or ukulele or mandolin or keyboards, or with the backing vocals of other members of the Lubitz family, to produce a wonderfully unique sound, always dappled with sunlight, always giving itself air and space. The arrangements, and the unity, in each of these songs is just phenomenal.

Most of the songs are sung and written by Emily Lubitz, whose voice is like fresh water - clear and soothing - and her songs comfort you like a bowl of warm soup in the winter. It's comfort food for the soul. Even when the words are telling you something sad, her music is assuring you that it'll all be all right in the long run.

Two of the songs are written and sung by Jesse, with a sort of smokey, whispering voice that you just want to snuggle into. There's almost a Leonard Cohenesque darkness shrouding Jesse's songs, but their message is really every bit as much about valuing the good and the true as are his sister's. "Round 'n' Round", for example, seems to tell us about the masks we put on, and believe in, and "Fitzroy St", about the ways we close ourselves to our own, and each other's pain.

The album finishes with a beautifully tender, poignant song, "Saudades", a song about loss and regret and yet its sadness ultimately only goes to underline the album's thread of nostalgia, and love of the sunlight, all the more.

The only thing I didn't like about this album was that it finished. But that was easily fixed - I just pushed the play button and started all over again.

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