Matt O'Neill

An Excessively Exhaustive Look at 10 Interesting Pieces of Music from 2011 | Matt O’Neill

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Mr Maps  – ‘Tennis Party’

I realised earlier this year that the best creative artisans, regardless of discipline, tend towards the invisible. This is really a matter of opinion (and I’m sure many would disagree) but I’ve decided that the greatest skill in creative enterprise is creating a work so immediate and affecting that neither the means through which it was made or the skill with which it was created directly impact the audience’s enjoyment of the product.

This is something of a mantra for Mr Maps. They’ve consistently reiterated their mission to create music that is rhythmically complex while remaining melodically accessible. ‘Tennis Party’, in that regard, is their masterpiece – and a masterclass for the myriad of acts across the world who share the Brisbane quintet’s ambition. The complex ingenuity of the track, from a technical standpoint, is jaw-dropping. Crucially, however, it almost completely escapes the notice of the average listener.

Upon listening to ‘Tennis Party’, one isn’t struck by the sudden shifts in rhythm or the clever instrumental flourishes. One is caught up in a whirlwind of shockingly memorable instrumental hooks and the sheer buoyant glee of the melodies that connect them. It is absolutely masterful – the genius of the compositional nous employed only superseded by the irony that Mr Maps’ brilliance at disguising their virtuosic talents almost guarantees it will never fully be appreciated.

Ball Park Music – ‘It’s Nice To Be Alive’

Ball Park Music’s ‘It’s Nice To Be Alive’ is an utter delight for similar reasons. A breezy, seemingly effortless and apparently disposable indie-pop hit celebrating the wonder and beauty of everyday life, ‘It’s Nice To Be Alive’ is infectiously optimistic to the point of irritation. However, buried beneath the choruses are some surprisingly acidic lines – check the opening verse:

“Boring as batshit, you people make me feel so curious and I don’t know why. You think you’ll end up in the sky, happy as Larry, and riding sheep on clouds.”

Pure malignance. Bill Hicks would have been proud of such a set of lines. It becomes apparent, upon closer investigation, that this seemingly disposable indie-pop song is actually an acerbic sledge against certain proponents of organised religion – men who, in the words of Harper Lee, are “so busy worrying about the next world they’ve never learned to live in this one”.

Again, we do come back to issues of context – would this song be so enjoyable were it not for the understanding of its verses? – but, in this instance, context is at once both vital and irrelevant. The fact that the song is so immediate, accessible and, in its own cheery way, disposable is what makes its veiled meaning such a masterstroke. If it weren’t such a brilliantly constructed pop song, its cleverness wouldn’t matter at all.

As it stands, it transforms a song from a reasonably enjoyable example of popular songwriting to an impressive reminder of the kind of genuine artistry which can still take place within the limitations of that format.

Roots Manuva – ‘Revelation’

More often than they care to admit, critics find their analytical faculties compromised by good old-fashioned sentiment. ‘Revelation’ marks one of those instances for yours truly. It, like the album it springs from (the disappointingly hit-and-miss 4Everevolution) is a complete disaster. Juggling spiralling string sections, heavy brass drones, loitering synthesiser notes, funk-inflected syncopation and militant chanting atop a spartan, almost incidental rhythm, ‘Revelation’ tumbles from movement to movement without focus or artistry.

When I first heard it, though, I was transfixed. I listened to it on repeat for 90 minutes. I wanted to know every word, every inflection, every phrase, every expression inside out. The fascination began with the track’s unique blend of seething anxiety and broken resignation. It grew into obsession, however, on the basis of lyrics alone. The chorus is devastating:

“Hurt is in such moments of truth. Revelations shall reveal the truth won’t always heal – the truth won’t always hurt.”

Over the course of the song, Manuva sketches out a relationship between the troubled socio-political state of contemporary Britain and the troubled psycho-emotional state of its citizenry. Stephen Fry once posited that every great work of literature throughout western society can be boiled down to man versus institution, but Manuva avoids the adversarial nature of that relationship – commemorating instead the de facto relationship that exists between the two entities. ‘Revelation’ reaffirms the sometimes forgotten truth that we shape the world around us as much as we are shaped by that world.

As much as we’d like to pretend the entire world is arrayed against us, we are as much the victor as the victimised. Through documenting this relationship, meanwhile,’Revelation’ prompts an emotional reaction both potent and unique – because, in illustrating that we are personally responsible for the state of our society, Manuva also puts forth the equally inspiring and terrifying idea that we have both the power and responsibility to remedy such tragedies. It’s bittersweet on a soul-destroying level.

sonicanimation – ‘Will You Dance to This Song?’

Humour has such a weird relationship with popular music. Even after countless artists have demonstrated otherwise, there still seems a latent belief in Western society that one cannot be both truly exceptional at music and comedy. ‘Will You Dance to This Song?’, like previous sonicanimation cuts ‘I’m A DJ’ and ‘Super Showbiz Star’, once again shows the idiocy of such misapprehensions.

As a dance production, it’s a triumph. Everything about the tune is massive – from the chunky electro bass, to the synth-freakout bridges, to the surfeit of uber-catchy hooks and choruses. Lyrically, however, it’s also hilarious:

People like songs about girls, about drugs, about boys who do drugs, about girls who do drugs. If I mention the DJ, or boys kissing girls, if I mention the DJ, or boys who dig boys, or girls who dig girls doing drugs – will you dance to this song?

That is exceptional. In just a handful of lines, they take a nice broad swipe both at popular music and Australian festival culture – and they do so in a tune that seems almost custom-built to be embraced by the very audience they’re lampooning. The fact that the song is effectively a comeback single for the group only adds another layer to the general amusement – the vocal delivery is just earnest enough to suggest sonicanimation aren’t taking the piss so much as genuinely asking for help. It’s fantastic.

Minuit – ‘Book Of The Dead’

Minuit were instrumental to a personal shift in my perspectives earlier in the year. I’ve long had an obsession with perfection in music. I’ve always sought out acts with a precise set of artistic ambitions and a meticulous realisation of said ambitions. Minuit, however, introduced me to the simple joy of watching an artist attempt something different and enjoying the results regardless. Minuit don’t do anything in the ‘appropriate’ way. They seem to just throw different ideas and possibilities at the wall and see what sticks.

‘Book Of The Dead’ is in line with this approach. A sub-three-minute shuffle of tribal percussion, crushing sub-bass, ethereal synth work and tumbling, vaguely declamatory vocals, ‘Book Of The Dead’ often sounds like the trio came up with a handful of ideas and then just kind of got bored and decided to cut and paste them together into a track. Typically, that would be a criticism, but this kind of chaotic, celebratory pastiche is why Minuit are such a fantastic act. They have this angular, irrational, post-modern take on dance music that magically seems to always guarantee they land on their feet.

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