Spit in my eye if Dallas Frasca does not possess one of the best female rock voices in the country. Her second LP was a record determined to be born in spite of dramas. It survived a robbery that saw her seed funding – gained through touring – lost. Then came the rock attack on her New York taxi and the temporary loss of the laptop with the album hidden in its ones and zeros. The undoubtable strength of the Melbournian’s fan base crystallised in the form of money raised by punters to move the album forward.
Recorded in Brooklyn with producer Andy Baldwin (whose credits include Björk, The Living End and The Cat Empire), the live-to-tape format has stamped the results with a special authenticity and achieved spectacular results. Delivered with Dallas’ throaty roar, there is so much melody intertwined with frenzy, all cast out at V8 speed to a blasting bass drum, with a little blues and funk mixed in. Coming Home climbs the walls with savage riffage and pulses of energy. Better Without You is the most free-spirited track in the collection. It comes complete with vocals that alternate between chanted and screamed and rhythms that vary from deliberately measured to a frenzied crescendo. Tough and triumphant, the spirit of the album is declared in the lyrics of Anything Left to Wonder: ‘You will have to punch me harder.’
My pleasure bits tingled upon learning that one of the most compelling and mysterious bands in popular music was going to remaster the two albums released in its lifetime – both classics and worthy of attention. This was back in 2008. My Bloody Valentine songwriter and producer Kevin Shields had done some good work on the Lost In Translation soundtrack and the band’s music always remained startling and exciting, but it is only now that the remasters have appeared.
Sound-wise, these could never hugely add to what had already been pristinely recorded, but the bass guitar does sound more sexy on the superb 1988 album Isn’t Anything, as does the oceanic wash on tracks such as Cupid Come. The superb Soon from the band’s second masterpiece, Loveless, now sounds more intoxicating, confirming it as a near-perfect song. Of the reissues, I am particularly satisfied with the EP collection which brings together peripheral material as good as the stuff on the albums. The way punk rock meets ethereal harmonies and roaring guitars on opener You Made Me Realise sounds pretty amazing when sitting alongside mind-blowing album tracks like Feed Me With Your Kiss.
My Bloody Valentine may have derived inspiration from all those classic walls of noise but always sounded unique. This EP collection runs over two discs and every heavenly harmony and burst of psychedelic guitar needs to be soaked up.
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do or, for brevity's sake, The Idler Wheel is Fiona Apple's widely acclaimed fourth album. A seven year hiatus has done nothing to dull the power and raw emotion of Apple's songwriting, complemented on this album by beautiful acoustic arrangements and her unmistakable voice.
A musical Virginia Wolfe, perhaps, or a female Nick Cave, intense doesn't begin to explain Apple's lyrics. Obsessive, nihilistic, dramatic and masochistic tendencies all rear their heads in her stories of low self-esteem, uncaring partners and disillusionment. Third track, Valentine, gets heavy with lyrics: ‘While you were watching someone else/I stared at myself and cut myself/It’s all I’ll do ‘cos I’m not free/A fugitive too dull to flee.’
In the catchy Jonathan she sings, ‘Just tolerate my little fist/Tugging on your forest chest/I don't wanna talk about/I don't wanna talk about anything.’ The jazz-filled Left Alone is a standout and beautifully demonstrates Apple's striking voice and lyrical intensity: ‘How can I ask anyone to love me/When all I do is beg to be left/When all I do is beg to be left alone.’
This is an album that challenges the listener, and is as complicated as its somewhat neurotic name. But fans who've adored Apple since 1996's Tidal and remember belting out Criminal as an antidote to their own teenage woes, will equally adore 2012 Fiona Apple.
Los Angeles-based MC/producer Jeremiah Jae has been affiliated with Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder label for the last few years, and in the wake of remixes for Gonjasufi and last year's mixtape with Teebs, Raw Money Raps is his debut album. It's certainly a collection that firmly conforms to Brainfeeder's established left-of-centre aesthetic. Indeed, the abstracted and free-flowing nature of the 18 tracks gathered here frequently conjures a sense of listening to a mixtape of sketches more than anything else, with an emphasis on the sorts of lo-fi beats and instrumental backings you'd associate with Anticon. Above all, there's a sense of honesty throughout, whether in the form of Money And Food, which sees Jae tackling the subject of money through three different vocal personas of varying affluence, or closing track Cable's weary-sounding lyrical introspection, as his bravado completely falls away against blurred string loops and funereal sounding beats. Guns Go Off calls to mind some meeting point between Company Flow and Suicide, as relentless retro synths buzz away against rattling percussion and Jae's relentless verbal flow. Guerilla (Evolution Pt.1) meanwhile manages to showcase this album's more eccentric end, representing little more than a half-heard phone conversation over loops of what sounds like cartoon orchestration. While there's an occasional sense of self-indulgence and deliberate impenetrability here, Raw Money Raps offers up plenty of intriguing experimentation.
The dorky cover should have warned me (where did she get that hat?) and curtailed my anticipation of more gems from this muse. Regina’s sixth studio album is unusual in that it includes several old live songs which have not previously been captured on disk. She co-produced it with Mike Elizondo, well-known for working with such hip hop artists as Eminem. The opener teases with rippling keys and ‘that voice’, which is loaded with such wonderful inflections. Then that irrepressible Spektor quirkiness rocks up, producing a surprising variety of shifts and mood changes in the one track. Disappointment continues with Oh Marcello,whichcould be a song from a B-grade musical. The keys impress but the scatting and the campy Italian accent do not. All The Rowboats and How provide glimpses of her masterful piano skills and unique vocal tones. However, the pretty songs such as Firewood lack real sizzle and tracks such as Ballad of a Politician have an annoying theatricality. Open should be the best song on the CD by far, until Regina makes a sound like she’s repeatedly gagging on pizza. This release is no Begin To Hope and nothing approaches such tracks as Fidelity, which crowned the success of that album. To her credit, this LP is undeniable proof that Regina shows no sign of bowing to mainstream pop, but it is a record only to be appreciated by true fans.
The collaborative project of Numbers' Indra Dunis and former Rahdunes man Aaron Doyes, US-based duo Peaking Lights have been prolific over their comparatively brief lifespan, with Lucifer offering up their third album in just four years. The minimal disco explorations of last year's 936 album have left a discernible impression upon the nine tracks here, with an increased emphasis on propulsive rhythms firmly in evidence.
By contrast, there's far more of a sense of meandering looseness in place on tracks like Moonrise, which brings out the dreamlike and hypnotic qualities of the duo's curious blend of krautrock, down-tempo electronics, blues and leftfield folk to even more potent levels. The gently swaggering Live Long ventures much further into swinging reggae and dub styles than Peaking Lights have previously ventured, while the jazzy Cosmic Tides even sees hints of flashing African highlife rhythms locking in against the vintage drum machines. More than anything else, there's a sense here of Dunis and Doyes absorbing the influence of their undoubtedly eclectic record collections and using them as impetus to create something cohesive and personal, rather than a record that's simply eclectic for its own sake.
In short, Lucifer proves to be something of a sleeper favourite that proves stronger and stronger over repeated listens, and it's also possibly the duo's most fully-realised collection to date. Australian tour, please?
A Is For Alpine is Alpine’s debut album and follows, after a two-year gap, their debut EP, Zurich. They’ve kept two songs from the EP – Villages and Too Soft – and the transformation the songs have undergone in those two years tells a great deal. Led by two female vocalists, the key to this instrument-based, electro-inspired six-piece band is simple: they are accessible but sonically complex, catchy not vapid, and their complexity is something they have cultivated to excellence.
The album opens with two close-to-instrumental tracks: a simple set of lyrics repeated in harmonic, resonating waves over a backdrop of pushing cymbals; a cavernous and comforting synth echo; a muted guitar riff that hooks the song in familiar territory; and the two lead vocalists’ breathed tones. Both with wispy voices, the singers are key to the fine, airy atmosphere of the songs. Though they never raise their voices, they create lingering waves one moment and catchy, fluting refrains another. They have a feel for the kind of ethereal throbs and snaps a voice can create and this feel for sound extends to the band at large. The Strokes-like guitar riffs; insistent keyboard stabs that herald the arrival of bass-heavy synth choruses; clapping drums that keep a firm rhythm to songs that need them; and the intimately captivating breakdowns to vocal harmonies, drums and guitar, before the wall of sound falls again: all are executed (and produced by Dann Hume) to perfection.
The messages within are simple – heartbreak, self-doubt, sexual and emotional frustration – but are delivered with effortless purity, their potential self-consciousness a non-issue.
Alpine are a band about whom it is easy to be sure. There has been no alt-indie record this year as qualitatively well-crafted and splendidly accessible as A Is For Alpine. This album’s key tracks (Gasoline, Hands, Villages and Lovers2) will appear in films, ads, bars and on radio stations everywhere. If you ask only not to hate it for its inevitable over-exposure, you have asked enough.