Question: What does an ex-Crowded House/Split Enz legend do in the evenings when the kids have left home and the TV is boring? Answer: start jamming with the wife. So, take Neil and Sharon Finn, add fellow Kiwi Sean Donnelly and drummer for hire Alana Skyring (fresh out of The Grates) and you have Pajama Club. The name comes from the band’s late night genesis. The result is quite unlike Neil Finn as you’ve ever heard him before. The first trio of tracks are pretty random, which had me thinking that this is what happens when a bloke lets the missus get involved in his work. But wait! From then on it gets genuinely interesting. The feature of this album is the sheer inventiveness and daring of the sound, throwing together an unconventional mix of melodies and fooling about with vocal combos. Sharon, on bass, takes a minor part in the vocals in most songs (sometimes just a few sighs), but her contribution is often a key part in forming the character of the individual track. From a Friend to a Friend impresses with a mish-mash of distortion and delicate notes that comes together so well. Dead Leg has a special charm, with a sound that raises a faint spectre of Split Enz and TNT for Z is a ballad with the beautiful solemnity that characterises many Crowded House hits. Other highlights include the boppy Daylight andthe blues approach to Diamonds in Her Eyes.
Like many of his peers, UK-based dubstep producer Distance (real name Greg Sanders) has formative roots as a teenage metal fan, but despite these portents this latest eighth volume in Tempa’s Dubstep Allstars mix series certainly isn’t some Skrillex-style distorted bro-step extravaganza. On the contrary, this 25 track mix sees Distance practicing subtlety above all else, and eschewing massive peaks in favour of a continuously rolling sense of momentum. For the most part, the first 20 minutes here are spent slowly winding the levels of tension up, with Distance’s own Mind Control laying down the path for Cyrus’ Soulseeker and the eerie Predator soundtrack samples of District’s swaggering, steelplated 3.5 Grams. By the time the spooky detuned synth chords of Tunnidge vs. Distance’s Blame slot into place, the scene is pretty much set for a descent into the heart of darkness, with Kryptic Minds’ Transcendent and Benton’s booming 20/20 locking things down into a relentlessly moody cyborg grind. Bonus points arrive here for the inclusion of Benga’s stellar Chemical Compound, as well as an appearance from New Zealanders Truth and an inspired dubtep retooling of Above & Beyond’s Sun And Moon by Distance himself. In this case, it’s Distance’s keen deployment of subtlety that makes Dubstep Allstars Vol. 8 a consistently gripping mix session that’s perhaps most geared towards late night headphone listening, whilst also easily living up to Tempa’s established high quality standards.
Tropical Paradise is the debut from Canberran punch-pop-punk outfit The Fighting League, and at its best this album is reminiscent of the pent up London Calling-era Clash. It’s discordant and melancholy, packed with life and growling youth. Their proposed aim in the stripped-down production of this record was to “reproduce the energy and anticipation of a live show”. Unfortunately, this goal has undermined the music on a couple of occasions. The punchier numbers would have benefited immensely from individuality, something to distinguish them. On the other hand, the gutsy franticness of the high energy tracks was made for this sound. The charged melodic numbers also cut to the bone, Sacrifice and Tropical Wasteland especially. Then there’s the fireworks. Think of that beautiful smashing in The Clash’s cover of I Fought The Law. TFL jump nimbly from hillbilly rock to uncompromising bluesy gnarl and almost every track starts with a riff that gets you by the teeth. On album highlights Bad Attitude and Like The Rolling Stones the droning choruses torn through by Dominic Death’s piercing vocals are wonderful. On 4 Square you can feel yourself going mental in the mosh. On personal favourite 19 the infectious lyrical hook scrapes on this rough surface like grit between bricks. Overall, this album might have benefited from simple brevity, a couple less tracks. That said, a band with such potential couldn’t be blamed for wanting to deliver on a first record. And they have.
That’s right fleet of foot and wide of pupil dance denizens, it’s 2003 all over again with stalwart Dave Clarke’s addition to the ever expanding, ear demanding Fabric mix series. Via 17 tracks, Clarke has put together a fitting homage to a club night out, with careful selection and deft mixing to resemble the build up, crescendo, and inevitable comedown of a rinsing night on the tiles. Starting with the swift and effortless movement of Crotaphytus’s Chemidophorus Sexlineatus into Tommy Four Seven’s Armed 3 into Marc Romboy/Paris The Black Fu’s Dark N Lovely, the stomping four-four beats and moody bass conjure images of a club’s dark recesses as it begins to fill. From here the sound is ramped up further with a section that includes the highlight of the disc; the insistent thumping, stripped back Silence Complot by Cute Heels, a pure techno track if ever there was one. The mix is steered into old school territory with Exzakt’s Clarity, continuing for a time before easing the foot off the pedal for the final comedown tracks.
Clarke’s mix immediately cakes the skin with that 4am post-club grime, summoning nostalgic feelings of grotty, sweaty euphoria. This is a hugely enjoyable snapshot of club life perfect to warm up or cool down a night out, or to simply remind you of another time while you chip congealed baby milk from your shoulder.
Much has been made of Dick Diver's 'Australian-ness', perhaps because it's still reasonably rare to find a band writing about this country using distinctly Australian cultural references. Until recently, it did seem that it was considered a bit naff for local musicians to write directly about their homeland. It's a point that's hard to avoid with the Melbourne indie-pop band, whose lyrics mention Hills Hoists, Omo and Kerri-Anne and include memorable lines such as “Bird shit splats into a Southern Cross.” Canberra even receives a slightly unflattering nod in Interstate Forever, when a friend's decision to move back to the capital prompts the narrator to consider “the link between planned cities and Hitler.” Across the album, guitarists Rupert Edwards and McKay, bassist Al Monfort – who plays in The UV Race and Total Control – and drummer Steph Hughes – also of Boomgates – all share singing duties. The band wander around the suburbs, observing the glow of TVs through screen doors and scenes through shopfront windows and spend long afternoons in backyards and on river banks, baking in the sun.
The music establishes the languorous summer vibe: shuffling drum beats, loping basslines and wavering, occasionally trem-armed guitars. Album closer Head Back sees listeners off with an understated drum and bass groove, featuring dryly-delivered lines such as “There's no rules, be yourself, burn the flag” and culminates in call-and-response guitar leads and, finally, a harmonica solo. Lovely.
As a longtime outsider to the cult of Chisel I’ve no particular barrow to push. Growing up in their heyday – the cusp of the ‘70s and ‘80s – it was impossible to escape their presence; the great Australian hard drinking, hard fighting, sweat drenched wild men of pub rock. In the intervening years they became talismans for ute/yobbo rock. It’s difficult to disaggregate the band from the myth but in hindsight they were utterly unlike their peers. Grafted onto the standard 4/4 blues-based rock band found at any pub on any Saturday night was one critical element: Don Walker – co-songwriter, calm head and source of their unique sound. Walker’s piano dominates every song but is never overpowering or distracting. Even on basic rockers like You Got Nothing I Want, Walker’s Jerry Lee Lewis-like runs hover in the background, adding much needed complexity. Of course Cold Chisel were also a democracy with each member penning classic, definable Chisel songs: Ian Moss (Bow River), Steve Prestwich (Forever Now), Phil Small (My Baby) and Jimmy Barnes (You Got Nothing IWant). So when they clicked they were more than the sum of their parts; the luminescent Saturday Night for example. The tribute album (Sarah Blasko, Ben Lee, Living End etc) from a few years back tried to rebirth the band, but you know these songs already and either love or hate them. It’s unlikely All For You will encourage widespread side-shifting or revaluation.
I left Canberra just before Cat Cat came into existence. All their members, to me, were part of that cute little gang of youngsters who would go to Dappled Cities shows at The Green Room. Warmed the cockles. This year, they have upped and moved down to Melbourne and with their move completed their vinyl/digital only album Uralba, and it’s remarkably pleasant. Kicking off with the bold Bobby Killed The Cat, Cat Cat introduce themselves to us as a band that busts out distinct riffage, some vocal harmonies, clattering cymbals and pop sensibilities all over the shop. Like a laidback Love of Diagrams, Water Goes and Keys and Locks suck you into the trance that the engaging, slightly mathy nature of the songs weave, enveloping you in a fuzzy warmth that is missed once you turn the music off. The band is charming – there is something very beautiful about a band with the unashamed confidence to regularly harmonise as men, and this comes around on four or five of the songs. This is a fabulous release and one that should garner them a fair few new fans, without alienating the old.