Column: CD Reviews
| Date Published: Wednesday, 17 March 10
| Author: Naomi Frost
| 3 years, 2 months ago
To perfectly demonstrate the influence of first impressions, by far the biggest let down on this live 18 track, two disc set, is the first track Overture. With messy string work, it immediately sets doubts in one’s mind concerning the band’s ability to compose orchestrated versions of their most highly acclaimed songs. Although, upon listening to the second track, it becomes clear that the first was really just a bad choice of track ordering. Here, the breathtaking and flawless vocals of Ian Kenny set themselves into the equation, singing the songs that are so widely known and loved, this time enhanced with delightful and flowing string work strewn throughout.
Throughout the first disc there are obvious flaws in the string additions, although if one is able to step over these cracks in the floor, the second disc will make up for everything. From the very first song on the second disc one can see that Birds of Tokyo had an idea, a crazy and dangerous idea, which miraculously they managed to achieve. Upon hearing Train Wrecks, the third track on the disc, all of your earlier assumptions are blown completely out of the water. From this point on you can feel the music swimming through your veins. With the help of great production and spectacularly skilled string musicians, Birds of Tokyo have managed in this album to improve songs that we had already thought to be perfect.
“Hi Joanna. Its Bill Callaghan. It’s been a while since I last heard from you. I’m just going back over everything that’s happened over the last decade and… Joanna, I want you back. The old days were amazing. Everything was just, well, simple. The way we were was right on for what it should have been. I’m very milk-eyed over this. I just want to mend it back to the way it was. Please return my call. Bye.”
“My dear! Van Dyke here. I see you’ve released a new record? My word! Don’t take this as inflammatory however why didn’t you contact me? We were fantastic together! We made a cosmia and this new thing just does not suffice in comparison. It’s paved with good intentions but with little to no provenance. The composition is as soft as chalk, empty almost and far too easy. Have one on me, it’s good but it could have been great. Next time I guess. Just get a release out before I’m 81.”
“Babe! Andy Samberg! I totally like just listened to ya new album and WOAAH like amazing. Only listened to the first album but I’m sure the rest is just as sick! Yeah! Love the parts at two minutes thirty and that other song at like six minutes and ten secs. We chucked it on while drinking. Tops background music! Maybe you should do that duet with MGMT!”
The title may remind you of a white knuckle flight through turbulent air, but it’s the self titled album of three-piece The Dread Sky from Newcastle. There are strong aeronautical threads running through this collection, from the lyrics, to the great cover art (with its rivets and vapour trails), to the fact that two of the band members are ex-military pilots. Their overseas travel layovers (they’re now flying commercial jets) enabled them to debut the album in LA. The music harks back to ‘70s style rock with driving chords and brash, punkesque vocals.
The Pilot carries a regional vibe and there are strong alternative country and folk influences prowling under the skin of some songs. These guys use intelligent lyrics in their work, with historical references aplenty in the lead track, and an inventive variety of arrangements in the songs. Blind Minister is a caustic political tale, with the opening beat getting faster and faster in its imitation of the frantic electoral roundabout. Maria employs clever theatrics in telling the tale of an endless obsession with a girl. Take My Hand may be the seemingly compulsory comment on climate change, but it puts its message across so well, as in “So I’ll see you down in Kyoto / We’ll take that great group photo”. These guys have a cynical string finger on the pulse of the world and this upbeat album is an impressive debut.
There’s nothing like a dose of top-notch indie rock to make the world a better place, and this 23 track Pavement compilation which coincides with the band’s reunion tour does just the trick. Pavement were the quintessential guitar band of the 1990s, and disrupting influences like the compromises required to achieve chart action on someone else’s terms were ignored in favour of an opened-up approach to songwriting and recording that allowed for a multitude of ideas to come together in any given song. This resulted in a succession of vitally off-kilter tunes attached to free-flowing lyrics that suggested many new possibilities. Early Pavement tracks like Box Elder offered a sardonic world view that seemed to resonate with those disaffected youth like myself who were looking for art that encouraged self-expression, and it was heartening to discover other bands like Nirvana and Built to Spill doing the same kind of things. On this first time compilation, which surveys five album releases and a handful of compilation and EP tracks, Pavement is revealed as a risk taking unit that enjoyed the esoteric post punk experimentation of bands like The Fall while also questioning the mainstream promotion of “attention and fame” that Pavement vocalist and main songwriter Steve Malkmus mentions in the catchy 1993 track Cut Your Hair. This tune happily reminds us that surface appearance doesn’t necessarily deserve admiration – whenever I look into the mirror after a messy night out, I must agree.
When discussing with my dearest the notion of discovering the sex of a child before it’s born, she was adamantly against it. “It’s one of the only bits of mystery left in life.”
This truism switched me onto what I love about Messrs Albarn and Hewitt’s Gorillaz creation; mystery and magic. And so it is with Plastic Beach, their third LP. Albarn’s turned his bulbous brain to consumerism this time around, and each track reads like an exotic dish. A downtempo opener with Snoop Dogg in spoken-word mode, backed by the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble (Welcome to the…)? Check. Traditional Arabic music melding into a charged electro/hip-hop melange with a side of retro game effects (White Flag)? Natch. A bed of melancholy surf guitar with moody Albarn vocal, topped with a veritable reach-for-the-lasers trance experience (Empire Ants)? O’ course. That’s just three of the 16 available. And like a newborn, once the mystery is revealed, the magic remains. They have an amazing ability to sample the world, combine the most unlikely sounds, and make it work. Not just work, make it fantastic. Do enjoy.
There is something achingly delicate about There is Love in You. Nevermind the glitchy samples of oft-female vocals that shiver and soar; never mind the electronics that sound like they were handpicked from an angel’s hand basket. It’s something vague, something that seeps into your pores and gives you a warmth that you can’t describe; a fragility that feels like fire (alliteration ain’t no thang). Opener Angel Echoes unfolds like a sunrise, cut-up vocal samples floating in on fluttery wings and promises of nirvana, whereas there is a hesitant bleep beat on second single Sing (man, I could do this all day).
Kieran Hebden’s Four Tet project is something to be marvelled at, something at once intelligent and meticulous; but again, it’s something else. Reverberated atmospherics wander aimlessly throughout, hovering above carefully pruned beats and occasional glimpses of robotic humanity, estranged syllables and melodies pieced together like puzzles. I believe this record has its own headspace. It has a life cycle. Like the proverbial circle of life, album closer She Just Likes to Fight starts with a beat resembling that of the opener, a four-to-the-floor bass drum coupled with tinkles of cymbals: but it doesn’t stop there. It then slowly peeks out of its cocoon, with beautiful low-key guitars scattered throughout, shaking off the bass drum’s fading vestiges of authority and dissolving into butterfly synths that leave us to wonder. What I’m saying is that this record breathes.
What a top bloke is Richard Kingsmill. It was he who came up with the idea of gathering together some of Australia’s top musos (Adalita, Bob Evans, Missy Higgins, Jae Laffer, Clare Bowditch, Dan Sultan et al) to honour and celebrate one of our true music greats. Paul Kelly has been in the business for 30 years now, and Before Too Long triple j’s Tribute to Paul Kelly, is a glorious, triumphant and moving testament to an artist who has consistently excelled and inspired.
You wouldn’t be blamed for thinking Before Too Long’d read like a live version of Songs From the South. Indeed, 15 of the 20 tracks on SFTS appear here, but they only make up half of the live discs (the third contains the originals - a very nice touch as, like SFTS, a Paul Kelly compilation is pure gold).
One of many highlights though is more recent gem Meet Me in the Middle of the Air from 2005’s bluegrass record Foggy Highway; beautifully breathed to life a capella by the Jays’ new golden girl Megan Washington. Along with They Thought I Was Asleep, from 2007’s goosebump-inducing Nothing But a Dream, sung tenderly by The Panics’ Jae Laffer, it proves that Kelly is not only an unbridled rocker and exceptionally brilliant balladeer, but a poet, too. It’s no wonder his lyrics are being studied for HSC English. Ever humble, Paul says larrikin-like at the end, “I heard youse all havin’ a party so I thought I’d come down and see if the lights were still on.” They’ll be on for a while yet, I reckon.