Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Review: 'Ocean Pearl' by J.C. Burke

Ocean Pearl by J.C. Burke

Reviewed By Anna Angel

J.C. Burke’s Starfish Sisters are back; or are they? The highly anticipated sequel to Starfish Sisters, which revolves around a group of teenage pro-surfers - Ocean Pearl - sees their friendships all but torn apart by secrets and lies. This book is bursting with teenage angst, but the well-developed characters give it a pervading sense of reality; readers will get tangled in J.C. Burke’s juicy teen drama, but with two feet planted firmly on the ground.

You don’t have to be a fan of surfing to appreciate these novels; you just need to have been a teenage girl, a friend, a daughter. Ocean Pearl revolves around the relationships these girls have, their lives, and their secrets; they just happen to be kick-ass surfers. The Starfish Sisters are: Micki, a passionate surfer whose desperate home situation leaves her with plenty to hide, Georgie, who’s straining under the weight of all her friend’s secrets, not to mention some of her own, Kia, who needs the Starfish Sisters to stay together, and Ace’s, whose self-absorption could see her lose her best friend, her boyfriend and her sponsorship, all at the same time.

Five months after the Starfish Sisters first drew readers in, the girls are again at training camp, vying for a spot on the Australian female junior surfing team. Unlike when they first met, the bonds of their ‘sisterhood’ are struggling under a whole pile of lies, backstabbing, and betrayals. They’ve made a pact to stick together, and to tell each other everything, but how long can that last? Ace betrays Micki, Georgie betrays Ace, Kia betrays them all, back and forth, until the plotline is sufficiently twisted, and resembles a real life group of friends. While these books are aimed at a female, teenage audience, they’re not all boyfriends, BFFs, periods, and pashes. Along with their fair share of the former, they feature heavy topics such as self-harm, drug addiction, body image, and self esteem. This is no Saddle Club, no matter how cute the name ‘Starfish Sisters’ may be.

Ocean Pearl continues to use the joint narration of the four very different main characters to highlight their individual problems, and reveal the intricate ways in which their reflected personalities hide their true feelings. The strength of the Starfish Sisters series lies in this style of narration, as the reader is allowed understanding of each character’s true selves, and therefore no character is left as a sidekick, or a two-dimensional prototype character. Despite this being the second book in the series, and by the look of things, certainly not the last, it stands well on its own. If you’re not familiar with the Starfish Sisters yet, now is the time to get reading. This compelling sequel will leave you guessing how J.C. Burke will weave the loose-ends left over by Ocean Pearl for the next instalment.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Interview: Phrase for Tom Magazine

For, and,


Melbourne hip-hop artist Phrase splutters, in the middle of a coughing fit, that he really doesn’t like doing interviews. Followers of his twitter page will know he’s "so sick of talking about myself!", but with his second record, Clockwork about to be released, the media-shy Phrase is busy doing just that. The album would have been out over twelve months ages ago if it wasn’t for record company dramas...

"It’s been ages - it’s just been sitting on the shelf. I’m really anxious to finally get it out there," Phrase - born Harley Webster - said.

The album takes a completely different direction than his first record, Talk With Force, which was written when Phrase was just 19, and, he says, "in a completely different headspace".

"There was a young male aggression coming through; I felt like I had to prove something to myself and to everyone around me. The new album is coming from a much calmer, more mature place."

Clockwork, which features a number of winning collaborations, was modelled on old Aussie releases, like Cold Chisel, that Phrase dug out of his parent’s collection. The record focuses on some very anti-government and anti-authority sentiments, which Phrase puts down to his troubled childhood.

"Growing up, I didn’t fit in at school," he recalls. "The schooling system doesn’t fit every kid, you know, you’re either academic or you drop out; you fit in, or you don’t. Life’s like that too - so the album represents being in control, and inspiring other people to do their own thing."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interview: The Veils for Tom Magazine

From and

The Veils.

It’s quarter to nine in the morning in London, and Finn Andrews is already on his second interview for the day, so you can forgive him if he sounds a little tired. Andrews, lead singer/songwriter, and the man behind London-based alt-indie outfit The Veils may not yet be entirely awake, but as he talks about their new release, it’s clear Sun Gangs is his little bundle of joy.

"It is very personal, and there was a lot of thought put into it," Andrews says quietly, "I’m really looking forward to getting out and showing it to people."

Andrews believes Sun Gangs, their third record, which he spent two years writing, is their strongest record to date, showing much progression from their critically acclaimed 2005 release, Nux Vomica.

"It’s hard to say what the main changes are, but this is the most confident record we’ve made," he explains. "It has the broadest scope, with extreme differences in mood throughout."

Sun Gangs, essentially a break-up album, maps the two years of Andrews’ life during which he was writing the record; beginning at the end of one relationship, and ending at the start of another.

"I write every day, it’s quite a routine manner. It’s hard for me to see, but my music progresses as my life does, you know? You try not to think about sounding like something, and just write what’s important to you."

"It’s the same as the music I fell in love with; it’s the storytelling, the words that I enjoyed."

When asked what music it was that first inspired him to tell his own story, he laughs, "I really need to think up some more obscure references. I had a really populist taste, I still do really. I was listening to Tom Waits, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan growing up. I always find myself going back to those records; I was listening to Rain Dogs by Tom Waits recently, actually."

Andrews grew up in New Zealand with his mother and sister, while his father, Barry Andrews, of ‘70’s rock group, XTC, lived in London. He originally planned to pursue a career in art, or film, but when he was 16, he found himself unwittingly following in his father’s footsteps, as he moved back to London to try to sign to a label.

"I don’t know if there’s some weird genetic predisposition to it, but it’s been nice having someone you can trust and confide in about your music, though".

The Veils, whilst essentially an indie/alternative group, follow a largely different path to the majority of indie groups of today, who favouring a retro-inspired, beat-heavy sound. The Veils have a theatrical and stirring style, almost epically melodramatic, with Andrews throwing chameleon-like vocals into the mix.

"We’re always pretty outside of what’s going on. I don’t understand how you end up with so many groups all doing the same kind of thing at the same time," he says. "I think growing up in NZ really helps with that, you’re quite secluded, you’re off in your own bubble. I don’t really pay attention to what else is out there, or what will get on the radio."

Andrews, who possesses wildly unique vocals that would be difficult to describe or compare, is constantly amused by the downright bizarre comparisons his music inspires.

"It’s great when journalists run off on a spiel, and you’re thinking "Oh, God" - you get some really fantastic things. Like, one journalist said I sounded like Van Morrison and Eartha Kitt, put through a vacuum cleaner," he laughs.

The Veils’ have finally settled on a band line-up, after the original group disbanded in 2004, and their keyboard player left the group following the release of Nux Vomica. Andrews enlisted Sophie Burn on bass, Dan Raishbrook on guitar, and drummer Henning Dietz to complete Sun Gangs.

"I always write the album and then get a band to put it all together, and it’s the first record with a band in existence while it was being written, so it was very freeing to not have to worry about that. It still begins very personally, I still write for myself, but I feel very close to them."

The Veils will be spending most of this year taking Sun Gangs on the road, leaving first for Europe, then heading to the US, Australia and Japan. Andrews is enthused to begin touring again, admitting that while his music comes from his love of writing, "performing for people really gives you a sense of purpose".

"It’s always amazing, the people that show up. We did a show in Barcelona a few months ago where we were expecting to play to a couple of hundred people, and there was over a thousand people lined up down the street," he laughs, still sounding astonished, "it was like being in a film - being in a film about a rock band."

Sun Gangs is out now through Rough Trade Records.

By Anna Angel

Review: 'When Giants Walked the Earth' by Mick Wall for Tom Magazine


Title: When Giants Walked the Earth: a Biography of Led Zeppelin
Author: Mick Wall
Publisher: Weidenfeld and Nicolson
Reviewed by Anna Angel

Forget sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. Mick Wall presents groupies in handcuffs, heroin addiction, and Led Zeppelin. When Giants Walked the Earth is an unrestrained look at the spectacular rise and eventual fall of arguably the world’s biggest rock band, Led Zeppelin. This is not just another half-arsed attempt at a biography by someone who knows little more than what a Wikipedia stub would reveal. Wall, a renowned music journalist who has been a confidant to members of the band for many years, presents the story as it is - no fluff, no favouritism. Comments from guitarist Jimmy Page, singer Robert Plant and bassist John Paul Jones, as well as other major figures, pepper the biography. Interestingly, Wall has used fictional ‘flashbacks’ to significant moments in the band member’s lives to introduce each chapter.

Wall follows the band from its formation in a dingy room in London’s Chinatown, where, as Jimmy Page put it, "It was like a thunderbolt, a lightning flash-boosh!" Led Zeppelin was born. The musical and personal lives of the group - often intertwining - are charted, noting everything from Page’s obsession with the occult, and the ‘jinx’ that many believed to be on the band, to the punches and TV sets thrown by John Bonham.

Their rise to fame saw them becoming ‘rock gods’ in a sense, untouchable, worshipped, and powerful. With this came a life of excess; excess drugs, booze, women, and partying. The tragic accidents, deaths, and drug addictions that plagued Led Zeppelin powered their premature demise and disbanding. When Giants Walked the Earth comments that even without such personal troubles, Led Zeppelin’s career was already heading downhill, in what was then a rapidly changing musical landscape.

The story of Led Zeppelin is funny, tragic, musically significant, and in no way dull. Wall has compiled a definitive and comprehensive account of the quintessential rock outfit, their music, the member’s lives, their reputation, and their legacy.

Review: 'Yes' by Pet Shop Boys for Tom Magazine



Yes (Parlophone/EMI)

Yes, Pet Shop Boys are back. The Boys aren’t getting any younger, but their brand of synth-pop doesn’t seem to be getting old. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, who make up Pet Shop Boys, picked up a Brit award for Outstanding Contribution to Music at this year’s ceremony. Having sold over 50 million records internationally, and with ten studio records to their name, it’s little wonder.

Yes opens with the lazily upbeat single ‘Love Etc’ that, through its catchy lyrics and infectious optimism, will have you believing in love again. Tennant sings "I believe, call me naive/ love is for free".

Other highlights include ‘More Than a Dream’, equally as optimistic, hypnotising listeners into a state of hopefulness with its anthemic lyrics, "I believe we can change/ we can make it more than a dream". In ‘All Over The World’, the duo sample Tchaikovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker’, creating an epic tribute to pop music, and the effect it has on people.

Whist the majority of the record is brightly nostalgic; there are some tracks that standout for their sobriety, almost overshadowing the up-tempo numbers. ‘Vulnerable’ and ‘King of Rome’ make the most of Tennant’s lingering vocals, creating emotional tension with low-key synth, while ‘Legacy’ is a beautiful slow ballad, with sharp, satirical lyrics, "have you realised/ your computer’s a spy/ give him a ring, he’ll explain why/ the bourgeois will get over it/ look at me, I’m so over it".

By Anna Angel

Monday, April 20, 2009

Review: 'To Lose My Life' by The White Lies for Tom Magazine



To Lose My Life (Fiction Records)

Lyrics like "The quilt of darkness dotted with our teardrops", and "I leave my memoirs in blood on the floor", could very well belong to a greasy-haired, pale-faced screamo band, sounding both angry and unintelligible. Instead, they’re the work of former indie-pop trio, Fear of Flying, who have reinvented their name and darkened their shirts and lyrics.

White Lies have travelled back to the eighties and brought Goth-rock and retro synth back with them. Constantly compared to Joy Division and Tears for Fears, these Brits have experienced an amazing amount of hype surrounding the release of their debut album, which went to #1 on the UK charts. Whilst they planned to record an album with a darker feel to it, I don’t think anyone expected it to be so darn depressing. Haunted fairgrounds, suicide pacts, murder, and unrequited love from the grave are all topics featuring in To Lose My Life. If these lyrics were any more macabre, they’d be pulled directly from a Bram Stoker novel. However, the sound is something entirely different.

Straightforward indie-rock with smatterings of synth and church organs make up the bulk of To Lose My Life. In fact, musically, the album is as harmless as sound-alike’s, The Killers. Vocalist Harry McVeigh’s unwavering baritone carries the record through with persistent emotion and strength, adding that something extra otherwise needed to make it really work.

‘Farewell to the Fairground’ is a paint-by-numbers guitar-pop piece complete with catchy hooks, about a haunted old fairground, that works surprisingly well. ‘From the Stars’ is a brilliantly depressive track about a man suffering a mental breakdown, during which McVeigh sings, "He catches raindrops from his window/ It reminds him how we fall/From the stars back to our seas/Where we’ve never felt so small". This proves itself to be really quite a decent album, one that should impress fans of indie-rock, retro Goth-rock, and poetry-writing mass-murders alike. It’s a strange mix, but it blends smoothly.

By Anna Angel

Review: 'Keep It Hid' by Dan Auerbach for Tom Magazine

From and


Keep It Hid (Nonesuch/Warner)

Behind a massive red beard hides vocalist and guitarist from the Black Keys, Dan Auerbach, with a new solo album of smooth blues/rock tracks that show he has a few tricks left nestled in his beard.

Possibly due to working with different musicians instead of his usual band, Keep It Hid features many instruments unseen on The Black Keys albums (keyboards, maracas etc.), giving it a unique feeling despite Auerbach’s telltale voice. The swinging, fast-paced, guitar-and-power-vocals-based sound of The Black Keys is replaced with a cleaner, down-tempo sound that serves to accentuate his vocals. The resulting tracks are powerful yet languid, and somehow feel deliberate, as if they’re taking the time to fully develop.

Recorded and written largely by Auerbach, aside from a few collaborative efforts, the record features a few standout tracks. ‘When the Night Comes’ is a soulful and evocative piece that shows the power of Auerbach’s voice as he gently croons, "When the night comes/Don’t be afraid/You’re only dreaming..." In contrast, ‘Mean Monsoon’ is an old-school blues tune with smooth catchy choruses - fit for a 60’s gangster film - where he sings "Put a dollar in the jukebox/But don’t you play our favourite tune".

While Keep It Hid is not a dramatic step away from his work with The Black Keys, Auerbach shows his talent as a solo artist on this record, most likely appeasing Black Keys fans, and hopefully, gaining him some in his own right. Just one listen takes you to a place where life is simple, the music is all blues, and the bars serve milk, if you just close your eyes.

By Anna Angel

Review: 'He's Just Not That Into You' for Tom Magazine


Title: He’s Just Not That Into You - The No-Excuses Truth To Understanding Guys
Author: Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo
Publisher: HarperCollins
Reviewed by Anna Angel

It was an episode of Sex and the City, which was then elaborated into a book, and recently made into a fuzzy chick-flick. It was an international phenomenon - hell, it was on Oprah. So, what’s the big deal about the phrase, "He’s just not that into you"? Mainly it’s that nobody would have ever said that to a woman before, for fear of having their eyes carved out with a nailfile. What you did say was, "You’re so hot! Of course he likes you, he’s probably just busy, /he’s just gotten out a relationship/he’s lying dead in a gutter so he wasn’t able to call." Why? Because it makes you feel better. It gives you hope. Greg Behrendt wants to take this hope and crush it into tiny little pieces. It all sounds rather gloomy, but it actually makes a lot of sense.

He’s Just Not That Into You, by a writer and a consultant of Sex and the City, hilariously outlines the common excuses women use to hold onto relationships that simply aren’t going anywhere. Most female readers will recognise an excuse they’ve told themselves, or told one of their friends, throughout the book. The authors don’t so much want to break the hearts of women everywhere, but to help them "set yourself free to find the guy who is really into you, and would love to show you how much." They really hammer the message home, with handy chapter titles like, ‘He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Breaking Up With You’, and ‘He’s Just Not That Into You If He’s Married (and Other Insane Variations of Being Unavailable)’.

Behrendt and Tuccillo say a guy is just not that into you if he’s not asking you out. For them, this means a girl should never ask a guy out (because if a guy wanted to ask you out, he would). They also don’t believe in grey areas - you’d be better off single than in an unsatisfying relationship. For a hopeless romantic this can seem a little depressing and jaded. If you’re not the rose-carrying, valentine’s-card-writing kind, you may just shrug your shoulders and say "duh!" Ultimately, though, there are some good lessons in here for every single woman.

It can seem a little silly and repetitive at times, with colouring-in exercises and fake reader scenarios throughout, all illustrating the same six words. However, most readers will at least come away with a sense of liberation, thinking "Hell yes, I deserve a fantastic relationship!" Whether or not this book can really help you get one is debatable, but it’s a sure esteem booster, and a welcome reminder that no woman should put up with crap for the sake of being in a relationship. Just try not to take it too seriously. No matter what Oprah says, this is a dating guide, not the bible.

Opinion: 'Tofu and Steak Sitting In a Tree'

Written with a vegan website in mind.

If you ever want to elicit a raised eyebrow and a snicker from a pizza boy, try the following order: one Meat Lovers with extra cheese and extra bacon, one Vegetarian with no cheese. Any vegan or vegetarian who, like me, has ever dated a hardcore omnivore will know you can sometimes feel like a bit of an odd pair, especially when eating out. It can also seem like their lifestyle so strongly violates your personal beliefs, that there is no way you can co-exist.

Having recently stood by my partner’s side as he chewed his way through a Hungry Jack’s Quad Stack burger (four beef patties, two rashers of bacon, four slices of cheese, no less) I tried my hardest to be as supportive of his lifestyle as he had admittedly been of mine, whilst fighting down physical repulsion. It was at that point that I realised his omnivorous diet is, if I’m painful honest, a downright unattractive quality to me. As I declined a kiss post-burger, knowing some part of the four beef patties he had just consumed surely would have remained behind, I was reminded of a news article I saw some months ago.

Annie Potts, co-director of University of Canterbury’s New Zealand Centre for Human and Animal Studies, coined the term ‘vegansexuals’ back in 2007, when her research into ethical food choices revealed a large number of veggos get squeamish at the thought of being intimate with partners who ate meat. I’m not convinced that a dietary preference for who you’ll jump into bed with constitutes a whole new sexuality to be formed – who needs more labels these days? Nevertheless, it does raise an interesting issue. It would certainly create less tension during mealtimes if both partners in a relationship were passionate about ethical lifestyles, not to mention the compassion often found in vegans and vegetarians could certainly be a positive quality in a prospective partner. Perhaps this is why a minefield of online dating sites have now become available to help vegans, vegetarians, and those favouring ‘greener’ lifestyles, find compatible partners. boasts over 2,000 members across the globe, ranging from hardcore vegans and raw foodists, to ‘vegetarian-ish’ singles. With several other veggie exclusive dating sites gaining members in the thousands, it seems there may well be more than a few ‘vegansexuals’ out there.

Whilst I would love my boyfriend to discover the joys of tempeh and embrace the vegan lifestyle, I don’t really see his partiality to bacon and pancakes (occasionally consumed at the same time) to be a deal breaker. Although I encourage him to try vegan foods and to make ethical purchases in the same manner I do anyone else, I believe it is important not to be overly aggressive. As vegans or vegetarians, we have certain expectations of those around us; we expect our loved ones not to be critical of our decision to lead an alternative lifestyle. In turn, we should show the same respect back to them. I have a sordid history of making nasty comments as my omnivorous friends consumed their carcass-based foods. I later realised this not only hurt my relationship with these people, but further alienated them from veganism. It helps to remember that constantly pushing omnivores to ‘convert’ could be as offensive as hearing “Just eat some god-damn steak”, as a vegan. When it’s obvious you aren’t judgemental of your partner’s choices, it can make it much easier for them to accept any ground rules you may need to lay down.

As with any other aspect of our relationships, the boundaries we enforce as vegans or vegetarians are highly personal to each individual. Some vegan friends of mine won’t date omnivores as a general rule, others are a lot more relaxed about their requirements. What you decide works for you all comes back to what you are comfortable with, and what you negotiate with your partner. Personally, I think I ask rather little of my favourite meat-eater. I can’t stand kissing after he’s eaten animal flesh, so as a courtesy to me, I ask him to at least wash it down with a drink beforehand. Friends I know who have the same issue request vigorous teeth brushing, others ask their partners not to consume animal products in their presence. Whatever your personal boundaries, it is just important that you make them clear from the offset to avoid conflicts down the track, and try to clearly communicate your reasoning.

Ideally, you and your omnivorous partner can reach a mutual respect for each other’s lifestyles. It may at first feel like too much hard work, but such contradicting lifestyles can co-exist harmoniously if both parties strive not to alienate each other, and to respect particular boundaries. Who knows, maybe one day after seeing how rewarding an ethical lifestyle can be, they’ll come around of their own volition. Just don’t count on it...

By Anna Angel

Opinion: 'Party Like It's the ICU'

Something I wrote an awfully long time ago.

I recently spent several hours in a public hospital emergency waiting room on a Saturday night. I prepared myself for the unavoidable paranoia that comes from sharing breathing space with a room full of strangers in various states of illness and disarray. I calmly accepted that I would wait it out in an uncomfortable chair to a soundtrack of screaming infants. This was all to be expected.

What surprised me about this particular clash with our buckling health system wasn’t that I saw a doctor not once during my seven-hour stay. My situation being far from dire, I had known I was in for a steamy all-night threesome with outdated magazines and vending machine coffee. Despite this, actually admitting defeat and returning home at four in the morning, sans medical assistance, was somewhat of a pain (read; freakin’ annoying!) What I didn’t anticipate was what kept me pushed further and further back in the waiting line.

The mind reels with macabre tragedies that might fill an early morning Brisbane emergency room. A three-car pile-up on the Story Bridge. A reclusive psychopath’s 2am stabbing frenzy. A freak smelting accident in the making of a late night snack. These were the kind of blood-and-guts disasters I’d been naively expecting. Instead, come midnight, the young girls started to stumble in, looking like a disco ball threw them up. Teetering in their high heels, the cackling groups would prop up their downfallen comrades. By three in the morning, the once passé waiting room looked like the hippest place in town to be severely intoxicated.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never indulged our current binge drinking culture. Unless you’re part of the monastery, chances are you have too. So naturally, watching the first few party martyrs sail past that elusive door which promised medical care, I felt a twinge of empathy. As the hours wore on my ability to feel compassion tapered slowly away. I witnessed an absurd number of drug and alcohol related hospitalisations that night, and it became obvious that hospital beds were quickly filling up with girls who just wanted to have fun.

I sleepwalked over to the Triage Nurse to check my standing in the perpetual waiting list, and overheard her speaking to a co-worker. “Here comes another one”, she said. In staggered a lone club-girl. I couldn’t help but wonder how the hysterical young lass, who soon became quietly fascinated by a nearby baby, had managed to transport herself to the emergency room. When I was able to speak to the nurse she told me flatly to save my time and go home. “It’s always too busy on a Saturday night,” she said, cocking her head towards the intoxicated blonde cooing incoherently to the child of a wary father.

Maybe I’m just bitter because I didn’t get to see a doctor, but there seemed something very wrong to me. You hear constantly how the younger generations are binge-drinking, hedonistic, slackers who leech off their parents. We very well may be. At the very least, there is a common mentality that our tendency to drink until we pass out in seedy public toilets is somehow normal. But I don’t believe it’s properly understood where this attitude comes from. What I saw was the sad consequence of a culture that is insistent on having fun, and so used to overindulging that it seems only natural to drink to excess as well. A few drinks out with the girls is one thing. After all, alcohol is widely seen as a social utility, with the ability to bring friends together. But let’s face it. When girls are wheeled into hospital in a state of semi-consciousness, how much fun can they possibly be having?

By Anna Angel