Column: CD Reviews
| Date Published: Tuesday, 1 February 11
| Author: Dan Bigna
| 2 years, 3 months ago
Much respect is due to the inventor of the wah-wah pedal because my general well being might not be the same without it. It kinda makes me think of the story about Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones that when he first heard blues guitarist Elmore James run his slide over the frets he felt the earth shudder, and I guess when I first heard Jimi Hendrix all those good bits well and truly shook. It turns out that Magic Lantern guitarist Cameron Stallones hits the right spots on the band’s second full length because he trots out the wah-wah effect as if his life depended on it.
Well, it certainly seems that way. What we get on Platoon is the slow burn rather than the short sharp shock. This is alright, as the most satisfying psychedelic music is often about a pleasant seeping into the inner consciousness that works well when the groove is a good one. In this case the grooves on opening track Dark Cicadas do the job when the urge takes hold, and significant musical precedents become clear. I still reckon Ozzy-era Black Sabbath is up there with the greats, and that particular influence comes out on Platoon at the right moments. Magic Lantern might not set the world on fire, but the band sure as hell know about those essential psychedelic ingredients, especially when it comes to giving the guitar a seriously solid workout.
For a few brief years in the fabled early ‘90s Tumbleweed were The Next Big Thing. Evolving from Wollongong local heroes Proton Energy Pills and The Unheard, their first single was produced by the skinniest man in, ahem, grunge – Mudhoney’s Mark Arm. The band impressed an Atlantic Records executive enough at a hastily organised showcase gig at the now defunct Hopetoun in Surry Hills to sign them to an international contract. Quickly enough they were supporting Nirvana on their only Australian tour, thanks to a Mudhoney brokered deal two years previous when both were unknowns. World at their feet. Just as quickly, Tumbleweed faded, ignored by label and public alike despite releasing albums for the rest of the decade. They remained loyal to revered Sydney label Waterfront, and this crucial collection proves Tumbleweed have aged better than every other feted early ‘90s breakthrough act. THC imagery looms large but they are far more than a stoner group; just as in love with overdriven superfuzz as they were with the taught, lean riffing of Celibate Rifles (Sundial), happy to meander in a locked-in Creedence groove (Shakedown) whilst laying on supple J Mascis styled licks over “pop songs” (standout Carousel). Almost every song on this compilation of early singles, EPs and the debut eponymous album is a reminder why Tumbleweed threatened so – they had it.
Like a ne-er do well club owner’s thinly veiled ‘Free champagne for the ladies before 11pm’ ploy, Brazilian D&B longtimer DJ Marky understands the concept: ‘entertain the women, and the men will follow’.
Alongside other exponents of musical (or, dare I say it, liquid) drum ‘n’ bass like Suv and Patiffe, Marky’s musical modus operandi has been the uplifting, vocal side to the genre that’s more at home on breezy sparkling-sipping rooftops than in the dank dungeons of D&B sporting clubs.
Indeed, the vocal slices on offer in this excellent mix provide the highlights, with Makoto & Deeizm’s Untold, Calibre’s Even If and the wonderful Die & Interface feat. William Cartwright’s Bright Lights (Rollers Mix).
But that is not to say the beats aren’t fat and the basslines bopping. O no; this is drum ‘n’ bass after all. Nor does Marky shy away from the more dub/neuro funk side of the genre, choosing the middle stages to explore a more stripped back sound that will have rudeboys reaching for their hoodies.
But ending his deft blend with his own soothing Mystic Sunset, Marky proves once again he can make soul nourishing tunes, blend them together expertly, and have the feet shuffling of both men and women. A true party starter with musicality to match.
Dylan Carlson steps through the opening chord, letting it ring. What follows is Angels of Darkness, Demons of Light I, a one hour-long drone that slowly and delightfully builds and decays over five parts. The follow up to the Seattle based band’s equally long-titled and critically acclaimed The Bees Made Honey in Lion’s Skull, Angels of Darkness sees the Carlson led Earth subtly develop their sound and move away from the strict minimalism seen on previous albums. The introduction of cello arrangements adds another layer to Earth’s usually stark compositions, yet sometimes clutters the mix and stifles the slow riffing. Perhaps most rewarding about this record is its more unstructured approach and the willingness to meander without a consistent reliance on hooks. This is most notable in the title track, which gently unfolds itself, punctuated by Carlson’s trademark spooky guitar and carried by the measured drumming of Adrienne Davies.
For those who have not listened to Earth before, Angels of Darkness is perhaps the perfect place to start. Those elements familiar to previous Earth releases are still there: the often glacial place, variations on a theme, riffs that sound sinister yet redeeming at the same time. Earth albums reward the persistence of listeners, slowly revealing their beauty over the course of time. This effort is no different.
Full of melodic genius, gentle homage and the hypnotic thud of house beats, Cut Copy are leaving the women and children behind with third album Zonoscope. Opening track Need You Know is dripping with regret as a gospel choir props up frontman Dan Whitford’s hurting vocals. The chant-heavy Where I’m Going kicks happiness into overdrive with cheers of “all you need is a dream/and a lover too”, complete with Who-
esque breakdown. Jungle fever strikes Take Me Over, as rollicking rototoms stride “through the jungle/through the night/forever”. Pharaohs and Pyramids and Blink and You’ll Miss a Revolution take a pornographic soundtrack turn, whereas Hanging Onto Every Heartbeat has a real swagger to it with acoustic guitar flourishes. The intimidating 16-minute long Sun God closes the album with three epic sections of massive drums with tribal chanting, moving into INXS sex-funk territory, counterpointed with chants of “you’ve got to live” and “love won’t give you enough” then heads into acid-drenched oblivion with a clusterfuck of pulsating, laser beam, shoe gazing Kraut-rock madness. Surrender now or forever hold your peace.
Flotsam and Jetsam, despite some solid efforts – especially their 1986 debut, Doomsday for the Deceiver- in the eighties and nineties, will always be known as the band from whence Jason Newsted sprang to join Metallica after the untimely demise of Cliff Burton in the mid eighties. To their credit, despite that fact overshadowing seemingly everything the band has done, they’ve been an almost constant fixture on the metal scene ever since, releasing nine studio albums. Their tenth, the one you’re reading about now, sees the return of guitarist Michael Gilbert to the fold after a 13 year break, and –coincidentally? - his return sees the band recording their best work in aeons.
It’s meat ‘n’potatoes, thrash-tinged trad metal all the way here, with a man of the match award going to vocalist Eric AK who hasn’t sounded this enthused on a FaJ album since 1992’s Cuatro. He puts in particularly compelling performances on the slightly progressive Blackened Eyes and the epic-sounding Better off Dead, but there isn’t a song on the record that isn’t in some way enriched by his warbling.
Indeed those two tracks are the best on offer here, both slightly deviating from the orthodox path to break things up a little, though really if this style of well-played, thoroughly professional trad metal is what floats your musical boat then you’ll struggle to pin point any real highlights here – as the young people say, it’s all good.
Samuel Beam, the man behind the moniker, likens this record to “the music people heard in their parent’s car growing up”, and if that’s the case I really wish my parents had a copy during those long car rides to god knows where. Beam’s voice, like honey and wine and all manner of good things, really pulls out all stops on this delicious slice of nostalgia, harmonies and dreamy days. First single Walking Far From Home is a breezy yet compelling song that hypnotically circles around a single-line refrain, building in textures - piano, strings, and studio static - with a warbling backer. Monkeys Uptown is devil-may-care and catchy, with a pretty big dose of funk, which has until now been unexplored territory for Beam. Change is a big theme on this album, with electronica and twangy beats getting their foot in the door, and while this may be a difficult pill for some seasoned listeners to swallow, Beam proves himself a master of all genres. This is especially evident on the album’s halfway point, the spacey and multi-instrumental Rabbit Will Run, which strangely puts you in the heart of the jungle.
Given all the changes, it would have been easy for what we’ve come to expect to get lost, swept away by the next big thing. However, Beam remains true to what he does best, with glorious crescendos, thoughtful lyrics and a whole lot of soul making up the album’s backbone. This one’s for everyone, the fans, the different and the dreamers.