The Panics - Rain on the Humming Wire [Dew Process]
The second album following their change to Dew Process has moved The Panics into a bigger world. The ex-heroes of Perth, now Melbourne based when not on their frequent sojourns across the briny sea, have delivered a collection of panoramic breadth. Rain on the Humming Wire combines brilliant musicality with the rich vocals of frontman and songwriter Jae Laffer that engulf the listener at every turn. His voice is at its most impressive on One Way Street, welling up deep and dark like hot honey. A key feature is the sheer diversity in the different characters exhibited by the tracks. You’ll quickly learn to love the orchestral timpani rumble at the start of the album opener and first single Majesty andthe keyboard notes in Not Quite at Home that cascade like raindrops on a window. Or rejoice in the interplay between the instrumentation in the glorious Creatures. Song stories reflect a nostalgia that arose from feelings of isolation created by long absences from home whilst touring and recording. Written in the UK but recorded in an out-of-the-way studio outside NY, this is an album of many moods, against which to match your emotions. The Panics play ANU on Wednesday September 21.
Where does it end? 2011 will surely go down as the year when everyone who was anyone in the ‘80s – as well as a few who were complete nobodies – released a comeback album.
Take Airrace, for example; not quite nobodies, they still only managed an amble around the foothills of notoriety in the early ‘80s – and much of that was because they featured Jason Bonham (son of Led Zep’s John) on drums. A perennial support act, they failed to make a dent on the collective consciousness and fizzled out like the proverbial damp squib.
Vocalist Keith Murrell’s day job was for many years the important role of Cliff Richard’s backing vocalist, but that sort of heady rock ‘n’ roll activity only sustains a man for so long, so maybe it should come as no surprise that Airrace reformed in 2009 for another shot at the title. The result, Back to the Start, is a pleasant enough attempt to recreate the mid ‘80s heyday of AOR via a selection of songs that sound like they were plucked from American FM Radio in around 1985. Survivor, Journey, Toto, Foreigner – they’re all here in one guise or another (as well as a plethora of less celebrated names that only AOR anoraks such as myself remember). If there’s a scintilla of originality here it escaped my attention, but that’s not necessarily the point of nostalgia, is it? Pleasant enough, but ultimately disposable.
In recent years, soothing yet complex electronically based songwriting (as exemplified by The Album Leaf, Caribou, Baths, Gold Panda, et. al.) has led to some truly beautiful pieces of music. The problem with such music is that if its makers err towards complexity their songs can lose their human element and become impersonal; if they are understated without being engaging you just have background noise. What W&W has achieved is a pathetically bland middle ground. After a debut EP, Life of Leisure, that has been called “genre defining” more than once, this is W&W’s debut feature album and its title fits like a glove. With the exception of two tracks, Soft and Far Away, this album sounds like the comforting yet lacklustre tune that a doe-eyed set of girls (e.g. All Saints) sung over in the ‘90s. The two aforementioned tracks stand out only for the fact that elements of them poke subtly through the grey wall W&W has built, conjuring a moody softness, but neither are brilliant. Elsewhere the vocals are reminiscent of tuneful, drawn-out yawns. The beats are unimaginative, never-ending snap and clap loops. The instrumental hooks are predictable dabs on a piano shadowed by bloodlessly long synth tones. And if all that weren’t bad enough, W&W submerged every sound they used to make this album in some sort of static well. This album just sounds lazy and self-indulgent, really. It’s an exercise in forgettable tones. Boo.
In 1986, R.E.M. were in the latter part of their first big transition phase. The soft pastoral mumblings of Murmur and Reckoning made way for a more confident and raucous band. The previous year’s Fables of the Reconstruction was the shaky start; a fine album suffering a clear lack of focus. This album is where R.E.M. Mk II really kicked in and set in motion a path that created the first true arena crossover act of the alternative era. The opening double whammy of Begin the Begin and These Days is revelatory. Never had Michael Stipe sounded so clear and defiant “We are young despite the years we are concern/We are hope despite the times” he exhorts in the latter or “The insurgency began and you missed it” in the former. Even now, it sounds revolutionary. And never had Peter Buck swung between loose-limbed power chords and lush arpeggio prettiness so fluently. Garage rave-ups like Just a Touch rest neatly against Civil War ballads like Swan Swan H and sound perfectly simpatico. This 25th anniversary remastering has lifted the record immeasurably – non-vinyl versions were wan and unrepresentative. Lifes Rich Pageant is an exciting record and easily one of the band’s greatest achievements, as well as possessing the highest ratio of fan favourites to ‘Best Of’ selections. This is a good thing. If you haven’t heard this album and think you know R.E.M. – you don’t.
Despite being one of the pioneers of the D&B scene and overseer of the mighty Metalheadz label, Clifford “Goldie” Price – now 44 (turning 45 on September 19) – has been relatively quiet on the release front. It could be due to the recent birth of his second child. Perhaps it’s preparation for his imminent Aussie tour. Or it may be due to preventing ravenous rioters from pilfering his tasty beats. With a new album on the horizon and this, a new mix for the formidable Fabriclive series, the gold-teethed D&B baron is very much back. In June he told London’s Time Out magazine that he wants “to move ahead, to celebrate that I don’t need to be dark, I don’t need to be light, I just wanna do something with the energy that I feel right now – and I feel good.”
This philosophy radiates throughout this excellent mix, and much though I despise the term ‘journey’ (thanks largely to reality TV) that’s exactly what this is – starting with insistent strings, squelchy D&B-esque techno and earnest vocal of Rido’s Twisted; moving into pure Metalheadz territory with Lensman and Need for Mirrors; seeing old school beats meet sinister synth with DJ Fresh and Hazard; guiding it into vocal/lighter territory with A Sides and dBridge; taking a brief detour into bass territory right at the end before ending with J Majik plus well known favourites from Commix (Be True) and the classic Timeless from the man himself. At 70 mins it’s not a moment too long and provides a wonderful exploration of what D&B has to offer – an excellent intro to the initiated, or a timely reminder to the veteran.
The hype surrounding Watch the Throne was understandable; two of rap, nay pop music’s biggest names conspiring to produce an LP. With Kanye West and Jay Z almost representing the gold standard of contemporary music, the possibilities were both tantalising and endless. Recorded in hotel rooms and studios all around the world with a roster of heavy weight producers and featuring appearances from the likes of Beyonce and Frank Ocean, Watch the Throne had everything going for it.
The more I listen the more I find myself wishing it was something different. What has been proffered by Messrs. West and Z is not really that exciting. Sure the production is class, but what else should you expect? By and large the album sounds confused and like two utterly talented artists struggling for control and ownership.
Where Watch the Throne really falls down is with its lyrics. The themes dealt with feel bloated, derivative and distant. At times the album seems more like a platform for the pair to sing their own praises and boast about the fact that they are who they are (notably in single Otis). The two obviously are not the most humble of superstars and don’t mind sharing this fact with paying customers.
When push comes, give me Graduation or The Black Album any day. It really is nice knowing how rich you are, but it’s also nice knowing how talented you are.
Calling All Cars have long impressed with their frequent full-blooded, rock out gigs in Canberra, either in support of such worthies as The Butterfly Effect or headlining their own shows. Their sophomore effort is chockfull of great lyrics, marauding guitars and dirty riffs in a celebration of all that’s best in Aussie garage rock, as witnessed by the shamelessly indulgent guitar licks at the tail end of Reptile. While still paying homage more to grunt than melody, songs such as the title track occasionally see them verging into the slightly smoother sound adopted by bands like Gyroscope. In doing so they face the clear and present danger of becoming house trained. There is a popular route followed by bands that started out raw and edgy and end up becoming noticeably smoother and more melodic. They’d be better off avoiding that crowded end of the marketplace, where it can be hard to tell bands apart. There’s more mileage in sticking with the VB and Jim Beam consumer’s camp, in which Calling All Cars are still firmly lodged for the present. So crank up the volume and slam the kitchen wall to the crescendo of guitars in She’s Delirious, the wall of noise in Fireworks in a Hurricane or the rapier thrust of sound in the closing seconds of Autobiotics. Calling All Cars have stayed true to ‘in your face’ musical mayhem.