“I don’t find anything particularly worthwhile or clever about this beat,” muses Sunny Cologne on album closer ‘Snow In Paris’. It’s a sly nod to the collaborative nature of an album that plays out like a history book, documenting the transient relationships forged in a changing music scene.
benjamindrury admits that his tastes and interests have evolved in the three years since he wrote and recorded Sentence Fragment: Consider Revising. References to more mainstream artists like Kanye West and Earl Sweatshirt shine through on the machine-like ‘Distable’ and the darkly cinematic ‘Revision’. So too, verses from local heroes such as Heti and SayanD MC from Beneath Benetta are snapshots of a time and place.
But it’s Drury’s obsession with sound as a raw material that sets Sentence Fragment… apart. ‘Revision’ begins as a (more or less) conventional R&B tune featuring jazz vocalist Tahlia Makunde as well as a barely recognisable Kid A sample. Eventually, the track disintegrates into its constituent parts, with glitchy, beat-repeated drums and washed-out samples creating a collage of Drury’s individual inspirations.
The end of ‘Intergration’ features a field recording from inside an ANU School of Music practice room. An unnamed student improvises a crooning piano ballad as the microphone picks up everything that’s happening in the room. It’s a beautiful and unscripted moment on an album of whacked-out, deconstructed hip-hop.
Whether intentionally or not, Drury has lovingly collected the sounds of a scene in flux. The real irony is that the beats really are tight and clever. This record isn’t just worthwhile. It’s an important statement about how the process is just as vital as the finished product.
It speaks volumes of Heti Blaazer-Grossi’s attention to detail (as both a songwriter and producer) that every repeat listen of her debut EP reveals something new and fundamental to her sound.
Everything about 26 Letters, from the arrangements to the cover design, is minimal. On ‘Fading’, h. slowly introduces distant piano and percussion in tiny bursts. It’s enough to make the six-minute song feel light and effortless. “The last thing this old world needs is a middle class kid playing a thousand dollar instrument”, she sings, commenting on the struggle between sincerity and self-indulgence.
h.’s groove-based guitar work on ‘Intro’ will be instantly familiar to fans of local hip-hop outfit Beneath Benetta; it’s sparse and rhythmic, touching on folk and blues. This makes the arrival of the Rhodes and saxophone in the last part of the song feel like a continuation of a previous thought.
h.’s pallet on 26 Letters is beautifully restrained. This intensifies her frustrations and makes it clear that these thoughts come from somewhere genuine and very personal. Even indie folk gem ‘Passion Pop’ is limited to guitar and banjo, never straying far from the nucleus of the song. h.’s lyrics become the focus, with the unnecessary being stripped away so that the EP’s literature shines through.
When the piano on ‘Fading’ decays into dissonant cluster chords, you can almost feel h. pushing her fist into the instrument, trying desperately to prove herself. And prove herself she has. If being limited to little more than guitar and voice produces something this accomplished and nuanced, this old world needs to hear what happens when h. has a full ensemble to lead.
With a moniker that was around before the infamous virus grabbed all the attention, local singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Zika Vuletic has released his sophomore EP. Like the debut album Solaris, it was produced by Cub Callaway (past member of The X-Men and The Saints) who also played a variety of guitars in the creation of Melaleuca. Heavy on electronica, the material involves a complex interplay between a large range of instruments, with an emphasis on the special qualities of glimmering synths to provide the necessary ambience.
Zika keeps closely to the feel of the previous album, with its atmospheric vibe and free flowing construct. There’s a strong link to the natural world in song title, CD art (which incorporates the National Gallery’s outdoor sculpture Cones) and the lyrics of the title track, with an unrestricted, expansive mood that opens itself to the appreciation of nature. The EP also takes a poetic turn, drawing on ideas from the work of William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.
Opener and disk highlight ‘Melaleuca’ has strong prog rock overtones, with a succession of shifting sounds and emotions. It opens with a throaty sax, succeeded by stairclimbing guitar, before sax and guitar embrace to highlight each other’s strengths. Generally contemplative in its stance, the EP mould was broken for ‘Sunlit Garden’, which carries a more insistent, driving rhythm. In the opener, Zika’s breathy vocals recall the sound of The Church frontman Steve Kilbey, while elsewhere he conjures up David Bowie in his more dreamy songs. The delivery is more veiled in the semi-hazy ‘Cyclops’ with its stumbling, syncopated percussion and distorted guitar play, while the spaced out instrumental ‘Lyrebird’ is pure drift-away material.
The Universe By Ear are a Swiss three-piece formed in 2015 “to lead rock to places no one has ever set foot before” – Universe By Ear press release. They describe themselves as a fusion of psychedelic, prog and blues. With a vocal and musical sound akin to the prog bands of the early ‘70s, there is none of the polished technical finesse of modern prog bands. Their sound is dirty and dark, with a definite blues edge, but with unusual time signatures. The album is full of rich textures and grooves, with some great guitar solos thrown in for good measure. All executed with the precision of a Swiss watch.
Favourite track, ‘High on The Hynek Scale’, has a beautifully infectious guitar groove that roles through the verse into a big airy chorus. The Hynek Scale is a method for classifying UFO encounters and it definitely comes through in this track and the album as a whole.
The Universe by Ear is a real slow burner; the first listen through will have you scratching your head wondering what’s going on. But after a few listens it starts to sink in as your ear cuts through all the grittiness to the musical gems inside, while at the same time you find yourself wondering what are these guys on! It’s not as chaotic as a Mars Volta album, but has more than a few similarities, so if you are a fan of them, you will probably get into The Universe By Ear.
3-and-a-half out of 5 green men with guitars!
The newly released Jim Jarmusch documentary on the Stooges should have fans salivating in anticipation, and a taster to get the juices flowing is this relatively brief, yet hard-hitting soundtrack compiled by Jarmusch and Iggy Pop. Like Memphis band Big Star, The Stooges were the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll band that never made the charts, and although sustained by a cult following in the early days, the Stooges were finally recognised as musical masterminds when championed by the class of ‘76 punk rockers.
Opening with the original David Bowie mix on the menacing ‘Gimme Danger’, the soundtrack provides a concise, yet potent overview of the three albums recorded before the band imploded from drugs and disillusion. The music is highly charged garage rock that smacked of danger and subversion. Every one of the 14 compiled songs is a red hot classic and the hot-wired propulsion of ‘Loose’ from album masterpiece Fun House is guaranteed to put the hormones into overdrive.
First rate additions include the MC5’s sizzling ‘Ramblin’ Rose’ that appropriately complements whatever wasted noise The Stooges were making in the early days. The soundtrack also features a number of non-album tracks including downer outtake ‘I’m Sick of You’ and Fun House outtake ‘Lost in the Future’ that comes across as slow burning blues, revealing an expressive musical range that expanded on the three chord punk of ‘I Wanna Be Your Dog’. Then you come across incendiary nugget ‘I Got A Right’ that pretty much kick-started the US hardcore scene while heading for the extremities of sleazy cock rock. The collection finishes with a free-form freakout titled ‘Asthma Attack’ that set the scene for all that uninhibited noise lurking in the murky corners of the music underground.
SOHN’s music came as a surprise. His PR photo, with hat, said folk/country, but this producer is an electronic troubadour for this century. Under the moniker SOHN, Englishman Christopher Taylor, now based in Austria, named this LP (German for ‘run’) after his hectic lifestyle, which involved non-stop global touring. He then settled in one spot in California to write the material, before recording it in a mix of nations.
Let yourself fall into the digital embrace of this musical carpet, comprising an RnB underlay with a thick electronic rug on top. Themes go from the intensely personal, due to major changes in his own life, to the more political, which announce his concerns over the turmoil that bedevils the wider world. While it follows the recipe of his 2014 debut long player Tremors, this release has a different, more coherent feel about it due to the artist’s deliberate approach to limit himself to three core musical elements to each song. There’s one element for the rhythm, one tricky hook sound to give each track its individual personality, and a third one for the enveloping cool vibe that characterises this very chill release. All this musical wizardry serves as the base for SOHN’s amazing voice, which arcs up incredibly high.
Besides 1s and 0s, SOHN also employs the percussive qualities of everyday domestic items. Highlight opener ‘Hard Liquor’ features the hard impact core beats, striking signature sound (in this case a rapid tattoo), swelling vocals and shimmering synths that, in one guise or another, flow through the track list. ‘Dead Wrong’ shines with its tap drip intro, pneumatic synths and a finger snapping finish, but the title track is undoubtedly the song of the album, with its haunting tune and soulful vocals.
Robbie Miller came to notice with his 2015 debut EP The Faster the Blood Slows, which showcased his gentle, dreamy folk-pop. His debut placed an emphasis on acoustic and piano lines, with plenty of space inside the songs. Recorded in both the Northern Rivers Region of NSW and metropolitan Melbourne, with the assistance of Oscar Dawson (Holy Holy and Ali Barter), this release is less folky, with a move to a greater use of electronica.
Songs in Closer to Home have followed the pattern of the ‘The Pain’, the most outstanding track from his debut. The spaces inside songs have gone and all the joints are plastered over with an electronic filler. The result, and the change in vibe from his previous release, is remarkable. This EP projects a very polished image, running as smoothly as oiled roller bearings and providing a perfect platform for Miller’s incredible voice. His delivery is so fluid, it is sometimes difficult to separate the lyrics from each other.
Opener ‘Road’ emerges softly on warbling synths before a steady beat cuts in. ‘This Death’ possesses a slightly more folky texture with a prominent, pretty acoustic guitar pattern. ‘Fire’ treads firmly on spaced piano keys and it is arguable whether it or ‘So Long’, which follows, takes the cup for the highlight song in this release. The closer ‘Me and You’ plays around with echoes and curious shuffling, scraping overlay effects.
Impressive as Miller’s latest move is, I have to wonder if the switch to a more producer oriented sound is a wise career move in a market saturated with clever producers and their soulful, hired gun (feat) vocalists.
Local five-piece PJ Michael and The Banditas has renewed itself with a line-up change, introducing Matt Barnes on drums, and launched a new EP. The sound, alt-country with a blues chaser, comes under the leadership of Canberran PJ Michael who fooled around with a guitar before trying his hand at original music, having been inspired by the likes of Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt and The Black Keys.
There’s an earthy honesty in the simple guitar, bass and drums arrangement, with only a violin to sweeten the sound. PJ’s voice can flip from a gravelly drawl to a lower, darker sound reminiscent of Nick Cave.
Tragic in title, opener ‘Love You and Die’ has an old-time vibe as it progresses around a virtual sheep shed dance hall in a sedate 1-2-3 beat. While melancholy in message, there’s an undeniable appeal in its foot tapping rhythm as a muddy voiced PJ and a softer toned Liz Boylan combine gracefully in the singing. The violin features strongly, giving the song a woodgrain finish.
The title track picks up the tempo, lifting its chin with a more cheery demeanour. The music stops briefly as PJ chants triumphantly, “I got a girl, she’s waiting on me,” before the track winds up with a hand clapping, singalong finale.
‘King of Terrors’ squints through cigarette smoke, imparting the best blues vibe on the disk. The most complex melody mix here, it bears a catchy chorus tune and injects a little honky-tonk piano. CD highlight ‘Leave a Light On’ brings up the rear, with its elegant, sparse plucked tune. The power of the song rises as a sharp drum sound cuts into PJ’s smoky singing and the violin spurs the mood higher.
The Sweetest is the debut EP from one of this months’ featured artists, Moaning Lisa.
The four-track EP begins with ‘Shoe-In’, a song that’s unpleasantly familiar for many; making childhood plans for success, only to find out how unrealistic they were as you grow up. The pop-flavoured song isn’t pessimistic – instead, it’s the acceptance that we’re never truly in control, and the realisation that the most important facets of life can’t be measured by money or power.
Track two, ‘Song 1’, is powerful, painful, fast and loud. The long, rhythmic sentences become increasingly frantic throughout the song, as Moaning Lisa showcase their punk influences, and their ability to instil raw emotion through both words and music. ‘New Age Boy’ is a song that is both soothing and disquieting. It captures the feeling of what it’s like to be a queer woman falling in love with a straight girl – being an experiment, a ‘favourite toy’.
‘Time’ is the final song. It’s dark, haunting, slow and simple – but never boring – building to a crescendo before fading out into fuzz and static. It is, for lack of a better term, the perfect ending.
A motif that ties these songs together is ‘expectation’ – something we all know too well.
The Sweetest is a cohesive technical and melodic gem. Beautifully paced and composed, this is an EP that will linger in your brain for a long time. Moaning Lisa are an intelligent and thoughtful band who know exactly who they are. Tongue-in-cheek and sardonic, The Sweetest is made up of juxtapositions: relatable, yet unique. Unpredictable, but perfectly tailored. It’s the one we’ve been waiting for.
Kingwood’s latest album is what you would expect from the band, and that’s not such a bad thing. After Hours, Close To Dawn is the Melbourne band’s second effort, and a big stylistic change from their debut album, Microscopic Wars. AC/DC-inspired riffs and Zeppelin howls have given way to Beatles-style harmonies and Marvin Gaye grooves. The former pub rockers have essentially made their take on a soul record.
There is no doubt that from the opening song, ‘Looking For Love’, the album will polarise the band’s fans. Beginning with a piano and vocalist Fergus Linacre’s almost Broadway-esque croon, After Hours, Close To Dawn is shy of guitar, focusing more on creating smooth soundscapes with organs and horns. The lack of pub rock guitar anthems will undoubtedly disappoint a few, but Kingswood prove they are capable of recording great songs without them.
The record is quite diverse in style. ‘Rebel Babe’ is the track closest to Kingswood’s previous releases due to its fuzzed out guitar riff. ‘Big City’ is an acoustic country ballad that sounds like it could have been an Eagles outtake. The highlight of the record though is the slow burning ‘Belle’, its laidback groove impossibly infectious.
While many will disregard After Hours, Close To Dawn as a rock band selling out, those who are not afraid of change will see it for what it is: a pub rock band proving they are something more. Kingwood have proven they can smash everybody’s expectations which begs the question, what do they have in store next time around?
Hollow Coves is the fusion of Brisbanites Matt Carins and Ryan Henderson, indie folkers who issued their debut EP Drifting in 2014. That mini release included ‘Heatwave’ with a pure acoustic guitar line, dreamy vocals and a pretty tune, plus two other tracks. Now those extra two songs are back, plus three others in the more substantial EP Wanderlust. The name was inspired by the duo’s enthusiasm for travel, which necessitated an unusual process where they created songs by communicating with each other, and their friend and producer Hayden Smith, from different parts of the planet.
There is a simple, dreamy vibe to the songs, capturing in their lyrics the message that there is happiness to be found in a less complex, less competitive life, appreciating everyday pleasures and the beauty of the environment. ‘Coastline’ employs a beguiling acoustic tune and the graceful vocal harmonies of Carins and Henderson in this tale of travel, summer and romance. The clear, soft delivery breaks into a run as drums cut in and pick up the pace, before being boosted by warm brass notes. ‘We Will Run’, about the joy of moving through nature and the need to make the most of your time, comes with a wistful tune and an elegant arrangement that makes good use of well-placed pauses in the song. Chunky chords step out in a measured pace in ‘The Woods’ before well-spaced keys join the mix, while the pretty plucked tune and soft, sighing oohs of ‘These Memories’ create a soothing mood.
Wanderlust carries an uncomplex, homely appeal but is rather ‘vanilla’ in its consistent sweetness. There is wisdom in its messages, but the one track, tree-hugging theme does get overplayed.
Dune Rats have become Australia’s premier punk rock slackers. Hailing from Brisbane, the band started as a duo, eventually becoming a three-piece. The Kids Will Know It’s Bullshit is the band’s sophomore effort and carries on the beach punk vibes of their eponymous debut. The record is fast, punchy and catchy with not a single song over four minutes long. It is with this tried and true punk formula that Dune Rats thrive.
The Kids Will Know It’s Bullshit was produced by Zac Carper, of FIDLAR fame, and his influence can be heard all over. Raucous choruses are defined by infectious chants and high energy drums. Every track on the record is fun, cheeky and downright catchy. With tongue firmly in cheek, Dune Rats epitomise getting drunk, getting high and having a good time. It is almost impossible to not succumb to the infectious melodies.
Vocalist Danny Beausa moves from Ramones style chants to a hardcore-influenced growl within seconds. ‘Six Pack’ is the band at their deviant best. An ode to underage drinking, the chanting of the chorus will inevitably hook you into singing along, “My brother bought us a six-pack / Bad smokes and a cask of ‘we don’t care’”. This style of contagious, delinquent energy is continued throughout the whole record.
Despite the influence from FIDLAR’s Carper obvious on the record, Dune Rats have still maintained a sense of themselves. They may not be defying genre with this record, but they have shown they are the masters of Australian slacker beach punk.
Ryan Adams proudly wears musical influences on his sleeve and this would only be a problem if the music was overly derivative for the sake of it. Everything is alright though, as this singer/songwriter follows a muse that is distinctive enough to stave off the copycat syndrome. This means it doesn’t matter when familiarity kicks in on any given album as long as the reference points are good ones.
Adams’ creative sensibility has at its core an affinity with alternative country music that emerged from the modernised, achingly intimate outpourings of Gram Parsons, Guy Clark and other essential artists such as Townes Van Zandt featured on the Heartworn Highways soundtrack. His work in early band Whiskeytown was very much of the countrified post-punk variety but each subsequent solo album has looked further afield and the Grateful Dead references on such an album as Cold Roses with backing group The Cardinals expanded upon the basic template without resorting to slavish imitation. It is not often that a songwriter does his best work with 16 or so solo albums in the can but Adams’ voluminous output is becoming more compelling as time goes on. Random oddities like the full album cover of Taylor Swift’s worldwide smash 1989 aside, Adams continues to have his shit together when it comes to crafting songs that express innermost feelings.
On the self-titled album from 2015 he decided to plough head first into 1980s power-pop with the grandiose likes of Foreigner and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA entering the mix. The results could have been disastrous in lesser hands, but in fact confirmed how Adams can absorb a wide range of sounds and sprinkle them into his lovelorn take on the world. This latest album continues in the same vein and is equally admirable. The Pitchfork review of Prisoner suggested tongue-in-cheek that a sticker should have been placed on each copy confirming that the major theme is Adams’ response to his marriage break-up with starlet Mandy Moore. This becomes immediately apparent on the simple, direct lyrics of the opening song ‘Do You Still Love Me?’ with Adams all vulnerable and lost in a cruel world repeating the song title in the chorus as a way of daring himself to confront what he already knows, while the music aspires to the soaring heights of stadium rock. It shouldn’t work but somehow does.
Adams then gets right to the point on the title track in which he sings, “I am a prisoner for your love”. This song contrasts musically with the opening track as major key power ballad is now replaced with minor key intimate rumination that sounds suspiciously like The Smiths. Adams has a lot on his mind and wants to remind the woman he loved that she once felt the same with lines such as, “My love, you said you’d love me now until doomsday comes”. But weary resignation is never far away and the knives come out on ‘Shiver and Shake’ when he lets loose with, “Close my eyes, I see you with some guy / laughing like you never even knew I was alive.”
The 12 songs on Prisoner effectively capture the hurt with redemption an unlikely outcome, but everyone should be allowed time to wallow in self-pity when relationship suffering strikes. All of Adams’ musical tics and lyric motifs are present on this album and the appeal boils down to a matter of identification – we’ve all experienced horrible heartbreak at one time or another. I know I have.
You always have to admire an artist with the guts to try something different. Unfortunately for both artists contributing to ‘Something Like This’, it seems like a combination of the exact same fucking thing they always do. Take one part of Coldplay’s arena-pop lite schtick, add two parts of drop-heavy EDM fuckwittery (The Chainsmokers) and leave to ferment until my ears fucking bleed.
Everyone likes a slice of good ‘n’ dirty garage-pop, right? The Courtneys, a three-piece out of Vancouver, have carved out a nice piece of it here on ‘Minnesota’, with the pop doused in a heavy cloak of fuzz. The result is a pretty nice balance of hook heavy rock and roll, going on about winter love.
To be blunt, ‘Ravens’ is about death, and an intensely personal one at that. After a couple of years off, Phil Elverum returns by writing what he experienced during that time, notably the birth of his first child and the death of his wife. ‘Ravens’ is a fragile track, with a raw-sounding acoustic guitar offsetting the raw emotions on show. One to chuck on in a quiet room, away from the world.
If you haven’t hopped on the Genesis Owusu bandwagon yet, now is the time to do so. One half of The Ansah Brothers, Genesis has been dropping killer track after killer track for a while now, setting the pace for the local hip hop scene. ‘Mama’s Baby’ is no different, with an idiosyncratic delivery and atmospheric production creating a sound like not much other local stuff around. This is, quite simply, good shit.
Pick yer poison.