Need Your Lovin' Baby
Bloodlust (featuring Daniel Merrieweather)
Mesdames et messieurs, Nous présentons…..
PNAU – ‘SAMBANOVA’ (1999)
In teenage bedrooms across the world techhead boffins and wannabe tastemakers are creating music. They have the technology and they know how to use it. Most of them will wind up finding a respectable career, some will post their gear on the Net, fewer still will progress to become fully-fledged recording artists.
Then there’s Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes. They are Pnau. From the age of sixteen, without ever really knowing it, they’ve been preparing for this moment – in their bedrooms, in clubs and the whirlwind circling in their heads. You don’t end up with an album like “Sambanova” through sheer luck and whimsy. This is not Lotto. This is music. And Pnau know music.
” I don’t really think there’s an underground anymore. There’s just music again,” says Nick Littlemore. “Which is great, it’s probably more like what it was in the late 70’s. Music is out there and you either like it or you don’t. A lot of people have AC/DC and Pnau in their collection. I think that’s really cool.” After sitting with “Sambanova” for so long they have the benefit of doing more than giving birth to a baby and then jumping straight back in the sack to procreate some more. Nick and Peter have been there to see “Sambanova” grow through infancy to maturity.
” It’s been great to sit back and retouch bits but not fuck with the initial vibe,” says Nick. “I’ve been getting much more into writing songs and taking them on a journey, sonically.” “We’ve definitely got a crowd now in Australia. Fans are quite loyal because we keep fucking around and going overseas but they’re standing by us. It has never stopped growing, people are still playing it all the time. It’s cool, we’ve re-jigged it, it sounds fatter and the two new tracks are more of that classic structure, more like songs.” John Coltrane called his playing style “sheets of sound.”
Listen to any number of tracks on “Sambanova” (check “The Red Tapes” and “Meshes Of The Afternoon”) and you get the feeling Nick and Peter make music like they make their beds. And if a movie studio re-invigorates Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless in 2050, “Sambanova” will be the film’s new score. Sure, there’s jazz on there, there’s deep house, some dub, snippets of Latin and hip hop. Mostly there’s an atmosphere. A soundtrack to a journey. On your headphones at the beach, at 3am in smoked out clubs, in your loungeroom for some private dancing. When the light is low, the mood is right and your lover has that look in their eyes. It’s not music for lovers. It’s for lovers of music. Pnau are quite simply, amazing!
PNAU – ‘AGAIN’ (2003)
‘Again’ is the name of the record. It is, of course, the follow-up to Sambanova, one of the ARIA award winning most critically and commercially successful Australian dance albums ever. Don’t be expecting Sambanova mark II, though. The sensibility and the essence might be the same, but Nick Littlemore and Peter Mayes aren’t afraid to ring the changes. While their debut was an immensely mature album for two guys still in their teens, Again is more accomplished and sophisticated. It’s also bigger, stronger, tougher, deeper. Just check the title track and marvel at a hard, dark, almost industrial edge that would scare the hell out of anything on Sambanova.
Rest assured, though, that the deep funk that characterises Pnau productions has not been sacrificed in a search for visceral thrills. Most of Again may have been perfectly constructed for a peak-time dance floor in the world’s most discerning club, but it’s still got swing and groove alongside raw power. More than that, Nick and Peter confirm that they’re great at both big picture and detail. They never lose sight of what the tune is and what it’s supposed to do, but at the same time they realise that so many of the thrills in dance music can be found around the edges of the mix. Most importantly, and like its predecessor, Again boasts a certain indefinable magic, a sense of being so much more than the mere sum of its parts.
And what are those parts? The first two tracks – “We Love The Freshkills” and “Again” – are as thrilling an opening brace as you’re likely to hear. Then there are tunes like “The Hunted”, “Fear & Love” and “In The Valley” – deep and moody, but with toughness tempered by natural warmth. “Collision Course” verges on trance inducing without being ‘trance’, “Foreigner” is a gorgeous little breather that’s all too brief and “Bubbles N Mum” comes over like a vintage Roxy Music wig-out from back in the days when Eno still manned the keys.
Which leaves the vocal tracks. “Super Giants” offsets Surahn’s vox against the lush guitar of Jamiroquai’s Rob Harris to achieve an effect that’s simultaneously upfront and deep down. “Enuffs Enuff” is mutant R&B with a dash of electro featuring LA MC Abstract Rude. “Blood Lust” is as close to straight-up pop as Again gets (featuring the vocals of a then unknown Daniel Merrieweather), with its strings and hooky chorus. And “Lovers” features the beautiful voice of Royce Doherty (Kiva) in a song that manages to evoke a breezy Latin feel without a hint of corniness.
“We probably could have done another album straight after Sambanova,” says Peter. “But it would have been too similar. We don’t want to repeat ourselves.” Again is the proof, and the product, of time well spent. It’s a record you can play loud or soft, in your car or at home, and it’ll sound great. At the same time, it’s undeniably a club record that will sound awesome on a well-tuned system. Once again, welcome back.
PNAU – ‘PNAU’ (2008)
It seems though that great accomplishments come readily to PNAU. Aria award winning and in great demand for their live performances both overseas and at home, PNAU are constantly challenging themselves to remain at the top of the musical pile. Very rarely has any sort of emerging band received the acclaim and privilege awarded to Pnau over the years. It’s like they passed straight through the pages of the book on how things were meant to be done, and their ascent has been astounding.
Pnau’s success has been as deserved as it has been anomalous, and the band members themselves as curious as they are talented. Pete Mayes and Nick Littlemore, the Enfants Terrible of the Australian Music industry, have won the respect of their peers and the loyalty of their fans by consistently producing simple, intelligent hooks, fat sounds, and awesome imagery. Their third album ‘PNAU’ is an admission of sorts; Music is bigger than any one person and connected to absolutely everything.
‘PNAU’ is a sagacious offering; the act has mastered the art of reminiscence and innovation, abducting current trends to shear the way forward with this positive and futuristic, hybrid beast of a recording. There’s a clarity and awareness in the sounds and songwriting throughout. It’s bare and celebratory and in the buoyant key of Hell-Yeah – if it had hands it would slap you on the ass. The spontaneous moments are void of flippancy and the heavy moments are uplifting. There is real knowledge at work here, real skill, no bluff, no laconic bravado or dark humours. Maturity and sophistication are two words that will be bandied around for this work, but honesty and acknowledgement seem closer to the mark for an album that is poised to become a landmark recording.
With the release of the self-titled album 3, you’d be forgiven for thinking Pnau had finally fulfilled the epic destiny that many had been quietly waiting for them to realise. All the skilled bits and honed pieces seem to be coming together and we suspect they’re starting to take their talent seriously. If it takes a village to raise a child then it’s understandable that Pnau utilized their artistic community to raise album number three in the Fing Fang Fong studios. On ‘PNAU’ not only did we finally witness Nick’s vocal talents, however it was the start of a collaboration with Luke Steele from The Sleepy Jackson which resulted in the birth of Empire Of The Sun – as well as other matches made in musical heaven, including Pip Brown from Ladyhawke, Nik Yannikas from Lost Valentinos, and Michael DeFrancesco from Van She. Fabian ‘Mr Oizo’ Feadz of Ed Banger fame worked closely with Pnau on the first single release ‘Wild Strawberries’, and across it all Nick’s elder brothers Sam (Gwen Stefani, Black Eyed Peas, Tonite Only) was in control of the mix, while James has exerted his seasoned creative direction over the entire project.
‘PNAU’ is a timeless and positive album. If ‘Sambanova’ was an ass-grab, and Again was a casual fling, then ‘PNAU’ is a love affair that will endure. This is dance floor Pnau as you’ve ever known them, only better.
PNAU – ‘SOFT UNIVERSE’ (2011)
Soft Universe, is the finest example yet of Pnau’s epic techno pop. The faster, more up-tempo tracks – using their best-known songs to date, ‘Embrace’ and ‘With You Forever’ (the latter featuring Luke Steele of The Sleepy Jackson and Empire Of The Sun), as the template – are their most accessible and uplifting ventures yet into the territory of supercharged anthemica. But it is far from an album of club bangers: Soft Universe is a pop record in the traditional sense, one that sees PNAU’s Peter Mayes and Nick Littlemore branching out into classic songcraft, including subtly orchestrated ballads. It bears the influence not just of Empire Of The Sun, Nick’s award-winning, commercially successful project with Luke Steele, but of Bowie and Bono and Burt Bacharach as well as PNAU’s new mentor, Elton John. It feels big, ambitious, expansive – like a musical composed by U2, arranged by Prince and Giorgio Moroder, and based on the songs of Taupin and John.
“We’ve developed into better songwriters,” says Peter Mayes, who produced EOTS’ ‘Walking On A Dream’. “Our melodies have improved, as have our production abilities. This album is more about the songs than ever before, more about the melodies and traditional song structures.” Nick Littlemore couldn’t agree more: “This record is poppier and more structured,” he says. “We’re trying to move away from the club.” They wanted, he explains, to “create something bigger” this time, “for a bigger stage”. He adds of PNAU’s latest music and its huge commercial potential: “Sonically and musically it’s all about having our arms as outstretched as possible. Hopefully it will reach around the globe, reach to the back [of stadia].” But it’s not all fist-pumping anthems; there are moments of quiet reflection, too, such as ‘Waiting For You’. “That song was the first time Peter and I wrote a traditional song, just sat down at the piano and sang it. It was a trip for us.” They wrote it, a breathtaking ballad, after seeing Elton John working with his recent collaborator, Leon Russell. Seeing them in action, Nick was inspired. “It was kind of like, ‘Ah, that’s what they do.’”
It was while Elton was in Australia that he discovered PNAU’s music. Nick was in the dentists’ chair when he got “the call”. “It was so surreal,” he laughs. “He told me how much he loved our records. So we went and sang to him at his hotel, had tea and chatted. He said he’d do anything to help us. He likes the future; he’s into what young people are doing.” For Nick, Elton’s involvement has been a lifeline. “He’s been incredible at mentoring me through a period of depression,” he reveals. And PNAU have been able to return the favour, working on an album based on the songwriting legend’s massive back catalogue, on a project that will amount to a thorough re-examination of his work. It is bound to cause tremendous interest in 2011.
Soft Universe is a sort of dance-album version of Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, an exercise in catharsis. “It’s more postcards from the edge,” decides Nick, who describes the last two years as “the lowest point, emotionally, in my life.” But as he says, “It’s been very important to take something negative and turn it into something positive. It’s been absolutely essential for my survival – if I’d taken something dark and made it darker I would have slit my wrists. This has given me the chance to do something that makes me feel good and hopefully will make other people feel good.” No wonder ‘Everybody’ and the other tracks on the album such as ‘A Better Way’, first album single ‘The Truth’, second single ‘Solid Ground’ and ‘Unite Us’ surge with positive energy and a sense of the euphoria you get when you emerge from a period of despair. “We’ve taken a very personal experience and made it global,” explains Nick, who admits that Soft Universe makes sense as the follow-up to ‘Walking On A Dream’. “That album was a colourful thing that I wrote when I was deeply in love. This record is the logical extension. It deals with heartbreak; it’s about grief.”
Nick, who admits to being a self-taught musician lacking in virtuoso prowess, and Peter, who has been playing instruments since childhood, are the perfect team. Peter realises Nick’s lyrical vision; Nick puts flesh and blood on Peter’s musical bones. Together, they have produced an album that everyone can enjoy. “Really, it’s a record about Nick’s experiences,” says Peter, who compares his partner’s resonant croon to that of Jim Morrison or Michael Hutchence. Nick, who has also been busy composing music for the Cirque Du Soleil in Paris, describes PNAU’s songs as “performance art pieces structured like normal music”. Even though it’s their fourth album, Soft Universe has the urgency and immediacy of a debut.
“Every record we make feels like a brand new album from a brand new band,” says Nick. “We like to start with a clean slate. And this time the object has been to capture the human experience, and love and hate as the key experiences within that. Now we want to take those emotions and translate them to crowds of 20,000 – or 20 million.”
|TBC – keep watch for international dates||UK / Europe|
Albums / Lp’s