British electro quintet Hot Chip’s fifth album In Our Heads is their first for Domino Records and their first laid down in a professional studio. The result is impressive – an album with stand out dance floor tracks as well as tracks that are better suited to lounge room environs.
Motion Sickness gives an anthemic start to the album, a mixture of fantastic synths, that lovely Hot Chip vocal and some neatly placed brass samples in there too. Don’t Deny Your Heart is bursting with delicious ‘80s pop and goes heavy on the synth – in a good way – while Look at Where We Are and Let Me Be Him slow things down considerably. The slower tracks give the album great balance and a deep narrative, in between what are sure to be some indie dance hits.
Alexis Taylor’s vocals and that wonderful falsetto work overtime on this album – the pared back intro on Flutes lets it shine – likewise on Now There Is Nothing.
Five albums in, Hot Chip has the indie-pop hipster-house market cornered, with no one else sounding quite like them. In Our Heads sees the band producing the goods with another synth-filled LP that’s familiar but far from boring. There’s nothing especially new here but the very catchy tunes, addition of some new instruments and top-notch engineering and production is sure to keep fans more than satisfied.
After two tracks of the latest FF opus, The Industrialist, you could be forgiven for thinking ‘so what?’ and moving on to something a bit more stimulating. Not that those tracks, the title track and Recharger are bad – far from it. It’s just that they offer nothing new to anyone who has been involved with this band for a while, seemingly happy to retread old ground whilst still managing to singe off a few eyebrows in the process.
Track three however, gets the juices going nicely and starts to enthuse the listener about the prospective delights to come. New Messiah is a spectacular success, fusing ice-cold eighties synth lines to the usual rifferama in spine tingling fashion on the instantly memorable chorus add some squelching keyboard parps on the verse for extra atmosphere and you’ve got yourself something of a latter day FF classic.
However it’s back to business as usual for God Eater which is run of the mill Fear Factory in excelsis; extreme background music, but background music nonetheless. Depraved Mind Murder is much more like it. Whereas the previous track just slides through your consciousness without leaving a trace of ever having entered your ears, DMM stoves your head in courtesy of some titanic double kick work (courtesy, I think, of a Doktor Avalanche-style drum machine, though I may be wrong) and a storming chorus that will stay with you for hours after first contact. Add in some stentorian hardcore style-bellowing at the end from Burton C. Bell and you’ll have been jolted fairly and squarely out of your God Eater-induced reverie. Virus of Faith keeps things ticking over nicely, featuring as it does another of Bell’s trademark ‘clean soaring’ choruses and some surprisingly tasteful axework from Dino Cazares. Just when you’re thinking you might be able to do without The Industrialist, it’s these little touches that keep you hanging in there, rooting for the band.
This is especially true of the fabulous Difference Engine. The icy sheets of eighties synthwork that underpin large parts of this song suggest that at last the band are following their hearts and wearing those post punk and gothic influences a bit more to the fore on sleeves that were first revealed all those years ago when the band first covered Gary Numan’s new wave classic Cars; that or they nodded off at some point during mixing, allowing producer Rhys Fulber the opportunity to add some blitz-dancing panache to proceedings. Either way it’s a welcome break from the norm and the album’s high point song-wise.
Disassemble is a bile-spitting, futuristic hardcore romp carried by the sheer spite and conviction of Bell’s delivery, it’s insistent, driving ‘chorus’ will blow the roof of wherever the band plays on their upcoming North American tour, of that I’m sure, and the song – easily the angriest of the album – ends on a pleasantly muted note, bringing some much needed respite to the senses after the battering they’ve just received.
Of course, some might say that the whole ‘loud-quiet’ thing is this band’s only trick, and to a point there’s some mileage in such an accusation. However, while they continue to execute the plan this well I can’t see many long-term fans having many qualms about such matters. That said, the seeds have now been sown, and I for one would like to see the band move away more radically from the norm on their next album and experiment a bit more with those synth sounds found on Difference Machine if this isn’t all going to start getting a little played out. Adapt or die!
Spirit Bird is the seventh album by Xavier Rudd. At a bit over an hour long (one track alone goes for ten minutes) and featuring songs about Xavier’s favourite political issues (environmentalism and indigenous rights), this record could be self-indulgent and sanctimonious. But it’s not. Yet again, in the hands of the immensely talented Xavier Rudd this material is deeply personal, meditative and beautiful.
The album includes big, sweeping tracks – such as the opener Lioness Eyes, the aforementioned ten minute epic Full Circle and the title track Spirit Bird, all of which feature yidakis (didgeridoos), guitar, amazing percussion and bird calls – and stripped back, deeply personal tracks such as Paper Thin and Mystery Angel. In Paper Thin, Xavier reminds us that he “is only a man with a heart that is paper thin” and it is this heart, with both its both political and personal passions, that is laid bare for us: a rare thing today.
The more I listen to Spirit Bird the more I hear this melding of personal and political and the more I’m entranced by Xavier’s music and poetry. All this is encapsulated in Creating A Dream, the last song on the album, which has particularly poignant lyrics. Xavier asks us to “imagine if industry just had to obey,” to “imagine if things were always crystal clear, imagine if the mind never interfered.” Xavier Rudd does his own thing and he does it bloody well.
When heavy hitters Kyuss took their Marshall amps to the desert in the early 1990s to jam a sonic maelstrom, a few hallucinogenics were most likely packed into the overnight bag. The effect on the music was the summoning of an earthy heaviness that happened to be intensely psychedelic.
And so it went for fellow travellers Sleep who, as the story would have it, collectively pursued a state of heightened consciousness during the recording of Dopesmoker. When putting their sound together Sleep drew on significant ancestry in the form of Black Sabbath, who began churning out those magical riffs in the late 1960s to remove the gloss from the sunshine and flowers vibe then on the road to nowheresville and plug the listener into a starker reality – albeit with the psychedelic good bits locked in place.
When bands like Monster Magnet, Cathedral and Sleep started on their respective Sabbath-inspired trips in the late 80s/early 90s a potent blend of lysergic vision and monster riffage popped up once again. With this in mind, Sleep’s 1993 album Holy Mountain is the beautifully formed offspring of Black Sabbath’s majestic 1972 classic Vol. 4. But around this time Sleep also began working on their magnum opus, Dopesmoker, conceived as a celebration of psychedelic delight wrapped in intense bowel-quaking grunge to make all those half-arsed imitators run for cover.
Presented in 1996 to the major label that had unwittingly funded this extraordinary experiment was one hour-long track with a slow moving riff cluster achieving total heaviosity, mantra-like vocals and lysergic lead guitar shaped by a pulsating, hazy logic and shrouded in a total no-compromise aesthetic. London Records subsequently freaked out, refused to release the album and the band parted ways shortly after. The always reliable Southern Lord label has now lovingly resurrected this long mistreated masterpiece and made it available to all. It’s about time.
It's been seven long years since Garbage last delivered a new album, in this case 2005's Bleed Like Me, a collection that received mixed reception and saw them split suddenly during their ensuing tour. This comeback effort, Not Your Kind Of People, sees Garbage continuing the shift towards more alt-rock grounded territory in evidence on that preceding collection and indeed this is some of the most hard-edged and confident sounding pop they've crafted in some time.
Rather than reinventing the wheel, the 11 tracks here see Garbage continuing to hone the fusion of layered electronics, howling guitars and Shirley Manson's barbed relationship-centric lyrics that's served them so well in the past. It's a proven combination that arguably works best when deployed on the heavier tracks such as Control's dark grunge-meets-goth guitar fuzz, tribal drums and Reznor-esque electronics, and I Hate Love's descent into bleeping synths and clattering breakbeats.
By contrast, it's the more downbeat, ballad-oriented tracks that often feel like filler here, with the title track's wander down into wailing seventies soft-rock guitar and gauzy backing vocals straying on the wrong side of tepid, while Manson's attempt at a more 'urban' pop vocal style on first single Blood For Poppies also provides one of the more lightweight moments here. While Not Your Kind Of People probably won't convert non-fans, it's easily the strongest album Garbage have released since their self-titled debut.
The Hello Morning has become to me exactly what its name suggests; the blisteringly uplifting opener Poolside Lover now wakes me up, walks me out the front door and follows me all the way down the road. The Hello Morning havea strange power of brightening the day of anyone who hears them. Grass seems greener; air seems fresher and magpies less annoying. Musically, they find a balance of slow, homesick and heartfelt country ballads and foot-stomping rock ‘n’ roll anthems. There’s an array of instruments on display here, with three guitars, organs, string sections and horns. You can tell these guys love to experiment with different sounds and instruments. But under all the layers of dense production these songs could be played with just one acoustic guitar and have the same effect.
Vocally, lead singer Steven Clifford croons and yelps in a heart-on-sleeve fashion reminiscent of The Replacements’front man Paul Westerberg and the iconic Neil Young. As a person who grew up listening to the likes of Wilco and Ryan Adams, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of nostalgia listening to this record. However, despite the immense familiarity The Hello Morning have produced a record that feels fresh. All the songs have been expertly written and crafted in a way that adds new light to the alt-country genre. Their sound is always interesting and never feels tiresome. Standouts include the grand sweeping Stone Cold Lover, the solemn Don’t Wait On Me and the Big Star-sounding Heat. This is a stunning debut and I know exactly how I will be greeting my mornings for the next 50 years.
A cross-country trip out Tarago way was the perfect backdrop for soaking up the third album from folk/blues warbler Liz Stringer. This collection takes on a more contemporary sound coupled with a pleasing emphasis on stronger guitars, as seen in Colourblind. There’s a meatier sound delivered by a bigger backing band and the injection of horns and organs into the mix. Tracks In Anybody’s Language and Glutton (both album highlights) feature melodies that are catchy and hard-driving. There’s a lot of alternative country vibe in the LP too. Songs such as Heart’s Been Trembling serve up tastes of the tension that exists between city and country and the pull of the big smoke, while Matt Walker’s lap steel work in Angela adds a special rural spice. Lyrics carry strong waves of emotion and struggle, in relationships and against the bottle. The passionate realism of their delivery hints that Liz has drawn some stories from her own hard knocks in life.
Her work is distinguished by graphic song writing, all conveyed by a voice of incredible depth, with its vast huskiness that is so suited to the subject matter. Liz’s musicianship impresses too, as she cuts the air with acoustic, electric, baritone, 12-string and Nashville guitars. She also contributed some banjo work in a recent Jed Rowe Band record. Warm In The Darkness delivers country-style music with street cred.
Blur guitarist Graham Coxon always seems to be one of those artists who constantly reacts against his preceding work, with this latest eighth solo collection A&E being no exception. While Coxon's last album The Spinning Top saw him operating in acoustic folk-based territory, the ten tracks here see him getting considerably more spiky and distorted, with processed guitars being thrown to the forefront alongside synths and drum machines. Indeed, it's this increased gritty edge that perfectly suits the seedy, late night territory that much of the tracks here inhabit lyrically.
The self-explanatory Meet And Drink And Pollinate fuses Bauhaus-meets-garage-rock guitars with a deliberately dead-sounding vocal that perfectly suits the monotonous drum machine rhythms. While there's sheer despair lurking at the heart of What'll It Take's bright electro synths, the “I don't really know what's wrong with me” hook adds a hollow undertone to the deceptively danceable beats. Elsewhere, the dark throbbing The Truth charts brooding electro-goth territory as chugging processed guitars growl alongside spooky synth tones, while the jagged, Wire-esque Running For Your Life recounts a night out at a house party in London gone sour, complete with threats of violence.
Coxon's rough-edged and frequently distorted production approach acts as the perfect counterpoint to these grimy snapshots of the darker side of UK nightlife, with Blur's self-titled 1997 album particularly popping up as an obvious sonic comparison point here.
Picture this: a harmonica as soulful as the whistle of a distant train, wood-smoked vocals and fiery guitars. So begins Castlemaine, the country-folk opener to Jed Rowe’s second release. The songs have a comfy, living room feel but the themes are overwhelmingly dark, with tales of lust, lies, infidelity, early death and domestic violence. Although Jed hails from northern NSW, the lyrics have a parochial Victorian flavour, with a mix of country towns and big city starkness: “Harsh light of the 7/11 shining in your face.”
Bloodlines is a highlight with its Jeff Lang-inspired barbed riffs and turbulent wah-wah guitar. Indeed, Australian blues legend Jeff Lang had a major role in delivering this baby. It was recorded in his studio, produced by him and he also plays guitar on some tracks including Good Thing Gone. There’s much to like here. Across the Water is a blessing delivered as a gentle alt-country foot tapper with gospel elements.
This Love Divine carries the most bewitching melody on the CD, with a tune that came to Jed in his sleep. He left his bed at 3am to write it down before the moment was lost. The track combines the richness and impressive range of Jed’s vocals with the haunting melody spun by a string quartet. Rowe’s lap slide guitar playing rules in I Wonder Why You Hide. This release combines musicianship to die for with beautifully crafted songs. It’s roots music magic!
If the interviews leading up to the release of The Only Place were to be believed, Best Coast were really planning to push the boat out with this, their second album. There were eyebrow-raising comparisons to The Eagles and mentions of leaving the bored-and-heartbroken-slacker-stoner shtick behind. But despite some superficial differences, not too much has changed.
The slick production is the most notable switch up, lifting the veil of reverb on Bethany Cosentino's voice and pushing it even more to the fore. The lyrics, which rely less on Cosentino's fallback lazy/crazy rhymes, tread familiar second-album territory, dealing with newfound fame, its associated pitfalls, life on the road and the subsequent disconnection to life back home.
Perhaps because of the duo's lovelorn lyricism, Best Coast have long drawn comparisons to '60s girl groups. On The Only Place, the band lives up to those references: the influence of The Ronettes is clear on the slow waltz of No One Like You which, with its layered vocal harmonies, mines classic tearjerker territory. But while the songwriting on Best Coast's debut Crazy For You was admittedly basic, there was a sense of effortlessness in the way Cosentino and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno turned out their pop gems. Here, the tunes feel laboured.
It seems somewhat ironic then, considering how much Cosentino has complained about being bored in her songs, that The Only Place emerges as, well, kinda boring.