CD Reviews  

Discology

Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
[Aftermath/Interscope]

As the newly self-anointed Kung-Fu Kenny, Kendrick Lamar charges into his patchy fifth album with a ‘FEAR.’ of ‘GOD.’ and a ‘LUST.’ for ‘BLOOD.’ As signalled by the all caps one word song titles, Lamar is targeting subjects slightly less grandiose than the kaleidoscopic jazz-hop chef d’oeuvre that was 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly.

Conceptuality shouldn’t be prerequisite for a release to be successful, but the cinematic narrative that was so spectacular on Kendrick’s previous releases is missed here. There is still however, a continuous thread contextualising the fourteen tracks; DAMN. is Kendrick exploring his interior, after exhausting the exterior.

Kendrick agonises over a despondent mantra: “Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me”. He is suffering, feeling unable to speak for others while struggling to reconcile every facet of his own psyche. When the album begins, Kendrick’s turmoil is conveyed powerfully: ‘DNA.’ is a bombastic assertion of black heritage and status. It ricochets off samples of Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera’s denouncement of Kendrick’s anti-police sentiment to spit indignant realities of cyclical African American issues back in his face. ‘XXX.’ features breathtaking beat-switch ups, as Kendrick pummels police sirens, disjointed bass squelch and a surprisingly adaptable U2, contrasting American morality with his own.

Poor old Kung-Fu Kenny however, concludes that the depression tormenting him is his own fault for failing to embrace true God. The religious overtones become questionable, manifesting as self flagellatory non-solutions that leave a sour taste in the mouth. It’s disappointing particularly after the clarity of perspective displayed throughout his last two LPs.

To make matters worse, the record features a few bona-fide clunkers like ‘LOVE.’, a half-baked Drake impersonation. The menacing sex-waltz of ‘LUST.’ does its best to stem drab superficiality, but the record is already fatally weakened.

DAMN. is Kendrick Lamar as a trembling beacon of humanity in hip-hop celebrity, and by virtue a flawed personal work that trades experimentation for varied brilliance within conventionality.

JOSHUA MARTIN

Father John Misty - Pure Comedy
[Sub Pop]

Pure Comedy is Father John Misty laying his gradually constructed worldview bare, scarcely filtered through his persona’s former charade. The man behind the mask truly embodies his priesthood moniker to deliver a quasi-sermon-narrative, chronicling the absurdity of existence from birth to acceptance.

Anyone familiar with Josh Tillman’s work as Father John Misty should know him as an auteur of post-folk indie irony, with the ability to craft pop magic without sacrificing the purity of his lyrics. This third LP marks a distinct change from the grippingly open-hearted I Love You Honeybear, to something more bleakly cynical.

Misty’s sequencing of these 12 tracks is crucial; in order to traverse life’s grand comedy, he begins with bemused detachment from the human race. The opening title track bemoans the failure of political solutions for the human experience and is an Elton John-esque piano ballad to boot. Songs following play like a nihilistic fever dream, a paranoid highlight being a raucous speculation on the trajectory of entertainment on ‘Total Entertainment Forever’, ironically (but no doubt intentionally) the most entertaining and concise pop song on the whole record.

The album completely changes gear by the 15-minute centrepiece ‘Leaving LA’. Misty approaches his existential disaffection from the best practical human example he can offer: himself. Appropriately bare-bones, only wailing strings and guitar intrude on a flooring introspection. Misty reaches a zenith of self-awareness while recalling the bizarre emotional tightrope of his life. From here onwards, the record attempts to piece together his shattered soul with love, narcissism and considered mortality. Special mention must also be given to ‘The Memo’, a country tinged skewering of modern America.

Pure Comedy makes its mark as a singular effort toward the reconciliation of human purpose, one where Misty tumbles out of the overwhelming void of culture and consciousness to reach peace by its end.

JOSHUA MARTIN

Zara Larsson - So Good
[Sony Music]

The newly released album from Zara Larsson is bound to get you out of your seat and moving. Born and raised in Sweden, this 19-year-old singer-songwriter has been on the music scene for almost a decade. So Good is the first international album for her.

So Good is an amalgamation of pop spiced up with soulful 90s-inspired R&B, as well as relying heavily on dance music. While the lyrics are very simple and repetitive, the musical element makes up for it. The catchy beats make you want to get up and dance along, and the vocal runs are astounding. Throughout the album, piano chords are the basis for each song, layered and strengthened alternately with drums, guitar, and 808 bass effects.

This is the kind of album where you don’t want to skip any tracks because each one brings something different to it. ‘I Would Like’ stands out as a pop track that plays out as a fun dance anthem. The infectious beat tied together with a hook that gets under your skin making it difficult to stop listening. The title track ‘So Good’ brings 90s-inspired R&B laced through modern day vocal stylings. It’s a nostalgic sound, similar to songs that were released in the late 90s and early 2000s.

For someone so young and to release an amazing collection of songs as their first full-length album, it is setting Larsson up as a force to be reckoned with. If you are a lover of pop music, you need to listen to this. Starting strong and ending even stronger, this album is so good.

MORGAN HAIN

Voyager - Ghost Mile
[IAV Records]

Now, Voyager is another interesting band to come out of the prog-metal scene in Australia, but I fear I may have repeated myself. Progressive bands will always offer up a curious melange of other genres and bizarre time signatures. That doesn’t necessarily mean such oddities are accessible to the general public after one listen. Or even a few listens.

Being in such a small niche in such a sparsely populated country, like bands like Ne Obliviscaris, Voyager have been forced to crowdsource the funds to continue recording and touring. The generosity of their fans however, knows no bounds and here we are at album six: The Ghost Mile.

Voyager have been around since the turn of the millennium and almost two decades of graft and relentless touring has lead us to this point. The content of The Ghost Mile could really be sculpted to the uninitiated as a compendium of dreamy atmospherics punctuated by the chugging of a riff-loaded locomotive that occasionally stops at a level crossing to let the keyboards take the lead. The multifarious approach Voyager have hitherto been known for employing has definitely continued and the microcosm of the whole album would be on ‘Disconnected’ which gives you a glimpse of the many masquerade masks the band will shuffle through at will during the course of a single song. Harsh. Soft. Gentle. Thumping. Dreamy. It’s all there.

Luckily, if you enjoy what you’ve heard on SoundCloud or the various other media you use to get music off the internet (not judging anyone), they’re actually touring the country during May. This includes The Basement on Saturday May 20. They’ll be on the road with French progtronica producer The Algorithm. What a mix! A mix that needs to be seen to confirm its authenticity.

PATRICK OGISI

Timothy Nelson - Words Like Young
[Independent Release]

Perth singer-songwriter Timothy Nelson has struck out from the shallows with his debut solo record. His latest material is distinctly less indie than some of the songs from his time with Timothy Nelson and the Infidels or High Horse, and less bluesy than his The Kill Devil Hills participation. Tracks on Words Like Young follow a more pop, alt-country path with rock overtones. One important virtue that does flow clearly from his prior work is Nelson’s ability to craft easily accessible melodies. 

Nelson’s debut launches with the power pop meets alt-country ‘Explain’, which grabs the ear with its easy, swinging, finger-snapping rhythm. ‘It’s a Shame’ is catchy pop with the strong uplifting chorus which is a winning feature in Nelson’s songs. A more complex work, it weaves in vocal distortions, synth effects and electric guitar highlights. The softly delivered ‘New York’ beckons with elegant keys and a vibe like The Whitlams, while ‘Up to No Good’ recalls Crosby, Stills and Nash in its high-pitched chorus. ‘Hard to Find’ employs layered effects and muffled vocal overlaps.

Like the album title, the focus of song themes is often obscure; mainly relationship-based, their meaning remains a little cryptic. The songs with the clearest intent are among his best. The pop/alt-country ‘Living Saloon’, about his car, comes with a rock ‘n’ roll bridge and a singalong chorus. Similarly, there is no confusion in the message within the acoustic minimalist love song ‘Good As It Gets’, which shows a different side to Nelson’s singing with its introduction of falsetto. Leaving one of his best to last, the collection finishes strongly with ‘We Never Change’, with its softly glowing start and brightly burning ending.

RORY McCARTNEY 

Sleigh Bells - Jessica Rabbit
[Torn Clean]

Didn’t care for some of New York noise pop duo Sleigh Bells’ earlier material, as it was too much noise and too little pop? Times change, and this band has constantly sought out new musical pathways. After experimenting with jarring sounds and dabbling in a little metal, Derek Miller and Alexis Krauss found that their consistent drive to radicalism was becoming a constraint when considering new material. As a result, their fourth LP, while still including plenty of jagged sound injections, has moved closer to indie pop, at times recalling the sound of Grimes, but without the danceability.

On opener ‘It’s Just Us Now’ the music does not flow, so much as arrive in disparate packets of energy, like photons. It comes in both raged bursts and needle-like flashes, with drums appearing in staccato clumps. ‘Lightning Turns Sawdust Gold’ is more fluid, with bright keys set against dragging synth sounds.

‘I Can’t Stand You Anymore’ is more poppy yet, with a catchy chorus and slashes of distorted guitar. Other highlights like ‘Crucible’ demonstrate that the band can incorporate plenty of varied textures into an attractive package. There is a brief descent into a slower, darker atmosphere in ‘Loyal For’ and ‘Hyper Dark’, but they are in the minority. ‘I Can Only Stare’ brings an 80s synth aspect, while ‘Throw Me Down The Stairs’ has a harder rock edge and ‘Unlimited Dark Paths’ comes in rapid, automatic weapon bursts. Sneaking in at the end, closer ‘As If’ comes closest to a true noise pop format.

So bright it dazzles, Jessica Rabbit is a more accessible album, while still retaining plenty of thrills. There are enough sharp sonic slashes to ensure the Sleigh Bells brand is unmistakable.

RORY McCARTNEY 

Shrapnel - Tranceplanetsugarmouth
[Coolin’ By Sound]

Western Sydney underground music machine Sam Wilkinson got bored with his lonely, solo pursuit of making weird indie four-track recordings in his home studio and decided he should expand his boundaries by creating a band. Wilkinson’s early offerings such as Tobacco Dreams, released on cassette (yes, cassette in 2014–15) in keeping with his unorthodox approach to music, were synth-focused with a lesser emphasis on guitar participation.

The change to a band format has increased the opportunities for Wilkinson to find even more ways to promulgate his particular brand of distortion. The singing may sound disinterested at times, but it takes considerable commitment and inventiveness to make something so musical, and yet so frequently unmelodic at the same time. Catchy opener ‘Backseat Driver’ drapes flat-toned vocals in casual injections of off-key sound and an overall air of randomness.

A tormented melody struggles to escape from the surrounding haziness and dry, laboured vocals on ‘Big Mouth’. ‘Leap Year’, from whose lyrics the CD takes its name, stands out because of its sheer lack of off-kilter effects. Rumbling Wurlitzer-toned keys give ‘Carpet Yankers’ a deceptively conventional start, before a constantly morphing guitar, camouflaged by layered electronica, stages a successful coup d’état. The disk highlight comes in the funny, appealing pop-punk ‘Chicken Fantasy’, its staccato beat accompanied by a shout out chorus that is made to sing along to. The opening notes of ‘Drop Shot’ repeat themselves, like a record stuck in one groove, before bursting into a more conventional tune. The reprise of ‘Another Year’ features a tortured guitar that moans, buzzes and emits blackboard fingernail quality screeches. This climax solidifies Shrapnel’s place as a quasi-experimental, deliberately non-conformist outfit which revels in cacophony.

RORY McCARTNEY 

San Cisco - The Water
[Island City Records]

Fremantle-born quartet San Cisco have been bringing out catchy pop tunes for some time and their third album The Water will not disappoint long-time fans. Writing and performing together since 2009, San Cisco have slowly but surely made their way into the charts and the hearts of many music lovers. The electric vibes of their indie pop tunes first came through the airwaves in hits such as ‘Fred Astaire’ and ‘Awkward’.

This album was written by lead singer Jordi Davieson over a relatively short time-span at the start of this year. He believes it is a good snapshot of his life and headspace during that time and it certainly gives us fans something to sink our teeth into.

San Cisco’s 2015 album Gracetown captivated audiences with its mix of unstoppable energy in songs like ‘Too Much Time Together’ and slightly softer, more introspective material such as ‘Snow’. For beloved followers, their newest album will hold only more foot-tapping and ecstatic jumping as it leaps from one synth-driven anthem to the next. Carrying the same energetic and positive emotions as their past music, The Water is another perfect showcase of what San Cisco do best. Featuring classic disco styles in songs like ‘SloMo’ and producing more of their catchy love songs with tracks ‘Hey, Did I Do You Wrong?’ and ‘Make Me Electrify’, the album can’t go far wrong.

I have been aware throughout writing this that as a San Cisco fan I may be aurally ingesting this album through a rose coloured ear piece; but damn it, they do what they do really well!  If you don’t like the synth pop of San Cisco probably avoid this one, but personally it makes me feel like a teenager in sunny 1980s era San Fran skipping down the street with my adolescent lover. And I only want more and more.

CLARE BRUNSDON

Methyl Ethel - Everything is Forgotten
[Dot Dash/Remote Control]

Methyl Ethel is the stage name of former Perth-dweller Jake Webb. On his CDs, Webb does the vocals and plays most instruments himself, but Methyl Ethel becomes a trio for live shows, with Thom Stewart on bass and Chris Wright on the sticks. Webb differs from your average bedroom producer in that, while they are prominent, the keys do not obliterate everything else and there is a pleasing balance in percussion and bass in most tracks, giving them more body and a stronger indie band vibe.

Webb sets himself up as a man of mystery, being non-specific about song messages and leaving them to the listener’s interpretation. His enigmatic song titles also hint at his appreciation of other art forms. Webb has a great ear for conjuring up catchy melodies and rhythms and jigsaw-piecing them together in crafty combinations. Opener ‘Drink Wine’ is typical of his sonic patchwork of songs, with thrilling synth lines. Equally danceable is ‘Ubu’ which is constantly shape-shifting and full of subtle audio touches.

Webb enjoys crescendos, where the sound builds and builds power and a playful bass line is also a prominent feature of his work. Some vocal tones make you suspect a female backing singer was employed but no, it is all Webb’s own work. There is an 80s feel to the deep synth rumble in the shadowy, segmented track ‘L’Heure des Sorcieres’, while the harpsichord keys of ‘Groundswell’ echo into the abyss, before getting lost in a general synth torte. ‘Act of Contrition’ stands out with its acoustic guitar intro, French spoken word insert and eerie electric slashes.

Whatever meaning you draw from it, this is seductive indie-pop.

RORY McCARTNEY 

Kit Warhurst - Colour Wheel
[Sunshine Club Records]

Veteran of a number of bands and thrasher of a few different instruments in his time, Kit Warhurst is best known as drummer for Aussie rockers Rocket Science. Warhurst has now launched his debut solo LP. This debut owes very little to Rocket Science’s desperate rock music, whose songs were stained with a frantic wildness. Rather, Warhurst’s songs share DNA with the sound of the 70s and 80s, and a rock and roll tradition stretching back even further.

Songs have a simple, uncrowded format, with minimal effects and an emphasis on guitars and drums. The instruments, all played by Warhurst, were recorded in just one or two takes. The vocals bear a slightly fuzzy edge while guitars have a garage rock rawness and the percussion arrives in short, quick strikes. The opener is energetic and catchy, springing to life with a choppy, poppy melody, in a pattern that occurs frequently in the track list, particularly the fast, super-appealing title track.

‘Eighteen Year Old Drunken Survivor’ slows down to a strolling pace as it unrolls its tale of the tragedy of a young life in peril. There is a more urgent mood in ‘Man on Wire’ with its riff rising to a dramatic edge. ‘Rose Red City’ zips along on galloping drumbeats, with a power pop chorus, while closer ‘Life on a String’ captures something of the effervescence of Elvis Costello’s more poppy songs.

Anyone who took a liking to Warhurst’s early single releases ‘Nothing in Melbourne’ or ‘Oliver Never Knew Sunshine’, will like the album, as those songs are caught up in its track list and the rest of the songs follow a similar vein of sound.

RORY McCARTNEY 

Dorsal Fins - Digital Zodiac
[Dot Dash]

A bit different from your regular band in composition, Dorsal Fins is more of a collaboration. Leader of the push Liam McGorry (from Saskwatch) and vocalists/songwriters Ella Thompson and Jarrad Brown are the creative core. Ideas from the trio are then thrashed about with the other six band members to generate the final form of a song. There’s a curative process involved too, with guest singers (including Mick Vorrath from Custom Kings and Tim Nelson from Cub Sport) selected to feature on some tracks.

Indie pop with an electronic accent, there has been a noticeable jump in quality since the band’s 2015 debut LP Mind Renovation. Digital Zodiac’s tracks are more sophisticated, possessing greater depth and appeal. The album layout is more structured too, with a deliberate fault line between the perky first half and the more subdued remainder of the LP. Opener ‘Romeo’ has the catchiest tune in the disk, with a chunky flow that adds to its charm. The bouncy feel is maintained through the single ‘Sedated’, while ‘Roll Back the Years’ morphs to a slow, smooth, soul sound. The mid-disk change in mood shifts vocal styles, with a conspicuous drop-off in effects. One of the best tracks appears in this moodier half, in the slow, sad ‘Blind’ (as in “You only love me when you’re”), particularly when they switch to a cappella. With McGorry in charge, it is no surprise that some tracks have a decidedly Saskwatch feel, especially ‘High Low’ and ‘When it All Comes Down to Love’. There are glimpses of 60s vocals in the vibe of some songs like ‘Man Versus Woman’ with the style updated for this century. The album represents a more seductive offering from the band, with great interplay between male/female vocals.

RORY McCARTNEY 

Big Smoke - Time is Golden
[Barely Dressed]

What sort of record does a person make when they know they are dying? David Bowie’s last album had some bleak stretches, but that was not the approach of Melbournian Adrian Slattery when faced with this stark decision. With time against him, he assembled Big Smoke and captured his songs in four months, interspersed with periods of surgery and chemotherapy.

Knowing of Slattery’s condition, it is possible to see the threads of it woven into some song themes. However, without that knowledge, the stories could come from any songwriter’s tales of the ups and downs of life. The mood is optimistic from the get go, with opener ‘Something Good’ speaking of not giving up, and making a bad situation better. The style is rock mixed with alt-country, with a sudden unfocused synth period inviting a period of refection mid-song. The largely instrumental title track carries a solemn elegance, borne along on keys that morph as the track advances, before being overshadowed by a guitar that turns from a wail into caressing licks.

‘Wrong’ is another star track, its catchy tune combining indie-pop and alt-country sensibilities. The shifting tempo in ‘When You Dance’ injects a slow waltz into the chorus, enhancing the romantic, emotional impact of the song, which comes with a beautiful, long saxophone ending. Antique Wurlitzer notes and sprightly harmonica liven up the foot tapper ‘Woman’ while the fast-moving ‘Honey I’ closes the record with a bright vibe. 

The lyrics in ‘Best of You’, a song full of the spark of life, claim “I won’t sleep till I’m dead”, which is pretty much what Slattery did, leaving this monument to his love of music as his legacy.

RORY McCARTNEY 

GoldLink - At What Cost
[RCA Records]

D’Anthony Carlos, a 23-year-old rapper from the DMV (D.C, Maryland and Virginia) area, cemented himself as one of the central pillars of the newest wave of hip-hop artists with March 2017’s At What Cost. Carlos, who raps as GoldLink, released two projects prior to this – The God Complex and And After That, We Didn’t Talk. GoldLink created a name for himself with his unique ‘future bounce’ sound on his first project, before creating a more mature concept album with And After That, We Didn’t Talk.

At What Cost, is the logical culmination of the first two projects. On this latest project, GoldLink combines the best aspects of his first two creations – the irresistible, hedonistically pleasing sound of The God Complex with the structure and narrative arc of And After That, We Didn’t Talk. At What Cost is GoldLink’s largest project, at 14 tracks, and has six features. Although GoldLink has historically been at his best rapping solo, some standouts from At What Cost include features, most notably the single ‘Meditation’.

This newfound collaborative ability flexes the artistic growth he has gone through, and his best songs are where GoldLink is unapologetically himself – open, brash and oozing personality over a beat. Louie Lastic’s production is inseparable from the artist’s ability, and GoldLink is clearly most comfortable rapping over these beats.

At What Cost is an early 2017 highlight, particularly for Australian fans. Catching the vibes displayed on ‘Kokamoe Freestyle’ or ‘Herside Story’ in the late summer Australian sun is an experience beyond replicating. However, these Caribbean-infused tracks are guaranteed to bring you to a warmer place in preparation for a CBR Winter.

4 stars? Is that a done thing?

MATT PARNELL

Asta - Shine
[Independent Release]

Tasmanian Asta first came to notice with a win in the 2012 Triple J Unearthed High competition. Having dabbled in power pop with a prominent acoustic core, she kept to a predominantly guitar and drums path for follow-up songs ‘Escape’ and ‘I Need Answers’, with a strong keyboard element in the latter. Then ‘Dynamite’ signaled her evolution towards a more electro-indie sound similar to Owl Eyes. 

Her debut EP Shine maintains the electro-pop vibe with a set of new songs, marking a break from the Asta you may be familiar with. Slow keys and a staccato beat lead the way in the funky opening title track. Asta gives her vocals a flick up in pitch at the end of lines of lyrics, and the track ends cleverly with its title in the very last word of the song. Its message could be about struggling to succeed in romance, music or life in general. EP highlight ‘Saturday Night’ comes with great dance qualities and a winning treatment in the choruses, boosted with an extra rush of vocal overlaps. The song, speaking of the dichotomy of the attraction and repulsion of the pressures of a big night out, comes with unusual hooks in the form of bursts of metallic ticks. It is a natural for clubbing remixes. There is a change in mood to the soulful ‘Doin’ What You Want’ and ‘Art of Escape’ (not to be confused with the song by Hein Cooper) comes complete with dazzling power choruses.

Asta’s new vibe, brighter and more highly polished, has proved its dance credentials, but also acquired a softer edged, more highly produced feel which lacks some of the bite of her earlier material.

RORY McCARTNEY 

Endrey - Lost + Found
[Independent Release]

A smooth voice that flows over you like melted butter, dreamy chords and piano keys to graze your ears gently, the occasional strum of a guitar or ambient sounds wafting across your consciousness … the debut album from Endrey, Lost + Found, is a captivating pleasure for the senses.

Listen closer, and you’ll find an album which sits comfortably in the acoustic-indie category but with lyrics looking to challenge the status quo and address some sensitive topics. The man behind the music, Canberra’s own Chris Endrey, fills this album with 13 hypnotic and at times melancholic tracks. Songs cover all-consuming loneliness, feeling misunderstood, the harsh clarity of hindsight, the danger of apathy and the perils of contemplation.

“As a young guy without much capacity for introspection, I discovered that the things that you need to learn the most in life, you often learn the hardest. Together, these songs are a single journey through that lament,” Endrey has said.

From an album that was almost never made, it has been shaped into an impressive first offering; a compilation with an identity, a soul and a distinctive sound. Lost + Found was recorded at Studio 68, produced with Louis Montgomery (whose recordings with SAFIA earned an ARIA nomination) and mastered at Studios 301 by Andrew Edgson (Matt Corby, Sarah McKenzie, Mark Ronson). Standout tracks for me include ‘Sentimental Days’, ‘Say This’ and ‘Lost + Found’.

An intensely personal album, Endrey has laid himself bare on Lost + Found, an undoubtedly brave and difficult decision for any of us fragile and delicate humans. I both applaud and appreciate his bravery, and I think you will too.

JESSICA CONWAY

Allday - Speeding
[ONETWO]

Allday has a distinctive style – smooth, casual vocals paired with contemporary electronic beats and varying tempos on his new album, Speeding.

To be honest, on first listen I enjoyed the Aussie hip-hop artist’s second album, but after getting more familiar with it, there is a sameness that appears. Allday’s (a.k.a. Tom Gaynor) rhyming is pretty simple (‘morning’ with ‘falling’, ‘real’ with ‘congeal’ etc). While excellent production and varying tempos keep you engaged, again this becomes a familiar pattern.

The lyrics and themes are pretty standard; those of unrequited love, lacking connection and getting wasted. There are some clever and funny lyrics peppered throughout. ‘No Saint’ contains, “cops used to stop me and say I need your name and address / I’d say Usain Bolt and then gave it the legs” while ‘10 Drinks’ has a little pop culture reference: “Her house big like ‘90s clothes, shit got an echo-echo / And I’m spacey, Kevin, and we racing to heaven”. Some part of me wants to compare Allday’s sound to a more upbeat version of The Weeknd’s ‘The Hills’ or Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’, but it’s just not of the same calibre.

The Adelaide-born Gaynor has embraced more singing than on his debut album, but his voice isn’t anything especially trained. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, making it good to sing along to without sounding like a cat in the midst of a street battle (a la me vs. Adele).

As an album to kick back to, Speeding is solid. I love ‘Sides (feat. Nyne)’ which has already seen radio love, along with ‘In Motion (feat. Japenese Wallpaper)’ and ‘Raceway’. The few female collabs standout, and I’d like to see more voices on his next album. In summary, will I play Speeding again? Sure. Am I excited to hear Allday’s progression? Hell yes.

JESSICA CONWAY

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds - Lovely Creatures: The Best of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
[Mute]

Passionate creative expression was the inevitable trajectory when Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds came on the scene. Before The Bad Seeds there was The Birthday Party, notable purveyors of extreme rock music who were comfortable with the view that walls of noise from the likes of The Stooges and The Saints were merely the starting point for something even more intense. A group so defiantly anti-mainstream was always destined to burn out fast, so it came as no surprise when The Birthday Party finally imploded around 1983. Nick Cave remained in Europe and formed an embryonic version of The Bad Seeds that recorded the gritty swamp blues album From Her to Eternity in 1984. Its title track mired in obsessive desire introduces this comprehensive survey of Nick Cave’s remarkable body of work with The Bad Seeds, and is an appropriate entry point for a collection of songs that never once made a concession to the mainstream. 

The track listing comprises highlights from each studio release up to the mournful 2013 album Push the Sky Away and Cave’s relentless quest to comprehend the absurdity of human existence through observation and metaphor never wavers. Thought and emotion seep into each narrative and deeper explorations of flawed and vulnerable humanity are marked by shifts in the musical expression that over time have turned the harsh angularity of From Her to Eternity into a more linear and atmospheric form. This started happening more noticeably around the time of the 1990 album The Good Son from which the two prominent tear jerkers ‘The Ship Song’ and ‘The Weeping Song’ are included here.

On the first disc of a generous three-disc set plus DVD, fire and brimstone sermon ‘Tupelo’ becomes transformed by a shift in perspective into weepy love song ‘Straight to You’ from 1992 album Henry’s Dream. On the former, God’s wrath wreaks havoc. But on ‘Straight to You’ the turbulent observation that the “seas are all drunk and howling at the moon” is shrugged off by the narrator who will battle through the apocalypse to be with his lover. The music on ‘Tupelo’ pulsates with menace but ‘Straight to You’ is more melodramatic swoon. This contrasting dynamic in words and music plays out throughout the collection. The powerful expression of desire on ‘Do You Love Me?’ from the swaggering 1994 album Let Love In and the bloodbath detailed in ‘Stagger Lee’ from Murder Ballads contrasts sharply with the stark intimacy on ‘Into My Arms’ and ‘(Are You) The One That I’ve Been Waiting For’, both from The Boatman’s Call, an album that made waves on the charts. This signified a surprising turn of events for an artist who once made it his mission to freak out audiences with the brutal aural assault of The Birthday Party. 

Less prominent songs are also included such as the nasty ‘Scum,’ recorded around the time of the magnificent 1986 album Your Funeral…My Trial. With wounded pride, Cave hurls vitriol at unsupportive music critics and black humour reigns supreme. You could begin thinking that maybe he doesn’t really mean it, but the sheer forcefulness of the delivery makes you wonder. The standout selection on the collection, and possibly Nick Cave’s greatest musical statement, is ‘The Mercy Seat’ from the suitably ragged 1988 album Tender Prey that sets out a scene of guilt and self-redemption worthy of Dostoyevsky to a musical firestorm. Nothing else in popular music is even remotely like it and if Cave never wrote another song his reputation as one of the great literary songwriters was sealed by the greatness of this harrowing epic. But every song on this collection is a winning combination of thought and expression with the additional DVD featuring interviews and live performances providing a worthwhile visual accompaniment. Kirk Lake’s liner notes are thoughtful and suitably interpretative but the cover image and booklet style format of the collection don’t add much. This doesn’t really matter though as the music is simply sublime.

DAN BIGNA

Mastodon - Emperor Of Sand
[Reprise]

They’re back! The sludge kings from Georgia, USA! After a three year gap since their last album, Once More Around The Sun, that was punctuated by various tours, festivals and acting stints on HBO’s Game of Thrones, Mastodon have returned with their seventh studio album Emperor of Sand. And it’s a funny little fella with one unifying theme that permeates throughout the record: death, and the resilience that accompanies it.

A concept album is a somewhat more cerebral offering in musical terms I feel. It’s like a singing, strumming, tom-filling storybook for adults. The synopsis of the story, without giving too much away, is that it’s about our protagonist being handed a death sentence and being condemned to wander the endless sands of the desert for eternity. This is intended to be a metaphor for battling the tyranny of cancer and the various kinds of sometimes pernicious treatments that combat it. This fixation comes from a sequence of unfortunate personal events that beset several members of the band in the lead up to recording, all of them oncologically related. That’s just the surface. As you might have guessed, listening to the lyrics intently is a big part of the experience, lest you end up coming out of the conceptual book having only looked at the funny pictures without having actually read any of the words.

The fact that Emperor of Sand is a little bit attenuated in a technical sense compared to 2009’s critically acclaimed Crack The Skye or anything that came beforehand shouldn’t scare away the Mastodon purists. It still has its merits in the same way Avenged Sevenfold’s Hail To The King and Metallica’s Black Album do. Stripping things back to be more concise and less meandering isn’t always a bad thing when you have an overarching theme that unifies all the songs together and makes them one big, interconnected chimera of a thing. This chimera isn’t meandering at all, clocking in at just over 51 minutes. But thankfully, it’s nowhere near as diluted with pop hooks as 2011’s The Hunter, which was an attempt by the band to lampoon themselves for the MTV crowd (the song ‘Show Yourself’ notwithstanding, which I feel is definitely an attempt to lampoon themselves for the sake of radio airplay).

Three of the band’s four members take turns at singing and this presents a diverse range that can swap at several points during a single song. Which is important this time around because it’s plain to see, for me at least, that the lyrical content has taken the front seat as opposed to their signature undulating topography of alpine riffage and noodling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if that oscillating vista has become the flat, desolate landscape featured in the album’s story, it’s just that it has gone from being a towering Chimborazo to a sanded down Kosciuszko.

Emperor of Sand is okay, a little on the average side for these guys. It makes up the numbers in Mastodon’s discography. That’s not to say that it’s bad, because it’s in some extremely coruscating company. It may sound like I’ve stuck the boot in here, and I have a little bit, but that’s because I know this band’s strengths and what makes them unique. It seems as though they’re content to now stick with the pack, albeit still with their own idiosyncrasies, not too dissimilar from the high school kid that ditches his glasses and walks around half blind and bumping into bins just to fit in, but still sucks his thumb.

PATRICK OGISI

Gorillaz - Humanz
[Parlophone]

“The sky’s falling baby drop that ass ‘fore it crash,” muses Vince Staples on ‘Ascension’. He’s one of a heaped handful of feature artists lending their voices to Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewletts’ latest chronicle for the end of the world.

Humanz is the first Gorillaz release since 2010. That’s not to say that the two real-life humans behind the world’s most famous virtual band have been quiet. Albarn has resurrected Blur and put out a record under his own name, Everyday Robots, in the intervening time and his visual collaborator Hewlett rebooted Tank Girl and put together his first exhibition, The Suggestionists. In truth, such an outrageously large creative output is both Gorillaz failing and its reason for existing.

Gorillaz, like Atoms For Piece and Discovery, began as the means for someone at the helm of a world-beating rock band to indulge their other musical interests. For this reason, Gorillaz has always felt like a mix of genres, but on Humanz, that comes across as mismatch rather than melange. 

Gorillaz have never truly been about suspending your disbelief – Albarn and Hewlett have always been open about the relationship they have to their cartoon counterparts – but where Humanz loses out is in the disconnect between the virtual and real-life band members.

The Caribbean-tinged ‘Saturnz Barz (feat. Popcaan)’ is wild and incisive on repeat listens, but lacks the instant captivation of Gorillaz’ debut record. Damon Albarn claims that part of the rationale behind his collaborations was to impress his teenage daughter. And to his credit (or that of his pulling power) the long list does include some undeniably hip artists; notably alt-RnB rising star Kelela, Jamie xx collaborator Popcaan and Savages frontwoman Jenny Beth.

In the past, big-name collaborators like De La Soul and Mavis Staples breathed life into Albarn’s warped pop music, but on Humanz their main purpose seems to be to validate Albarn himself.
As a result, Humanz is more playlist than album. Albarn has never concerned himself with limiting his output after all. 2007 brought D-Sides, a double-album of demos, B-sides and remixes and in 2010 we were given the “world’s first iPad album”, The Fall, that perhaps no one actually asked for. This time around he seems even less concerned with refining the shape of the record. Heck, Humanz ships with six bonus tracks on release. Humanz may be a playlist for the end of the world, one which projects a Trump-era future, but I can’t help feeling like these insights come fifteen years too late.

If Humanz is the sound of 2017 then this year looks set to be remembered for what it’s repurposed from other eras. ‘Strobelite (feat. Peven Everett)’ is a homage to disco that feels about as revolutionary as Random Access Memories does four years on (i.e. not very) and the not at all subtle calls-to-arms on ‘Interlude: The Non-conformist Oath’ and album closer ‘We Got The Power (feat. Jenny Beth)’ don’t have the nuance of ‘Don’t Get Lost In Heaven’ and ‘Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey’s Head’ from earlier in the Gorillaz timeline.

And perhaps that’s the biggest unfairness Humanz faces: Gorillaz’ back-catalogue. Originally designed to be an outlet for Albarn’s creative indulgences, the curse of making wildly popular music means that we’ve come to expect outstanding insight and world building from Gorillaz. Humanz is a politically charged album with the same future-pop core of Demon Days and Plastic Beach. Sadly, Gorillaz’ days as a truly pioneering outfit may be behind them.

HAYDEN FRITZLAFF

Featured Singles
Shannon Noll - ‘Southern Sky’

No musician has done more, intentionally or not, to tie themselves into the mythos of the Aussie Battler than Shannon Noll, down to his Southern Cross tattoo. Now often reduced to a fodder for memes for the internet set, Noll returns with a track that tries to cram in every single Oz cliché imaginable into three and a half minutes. The result is a flat dance ballad that lacks any real identity or passion. 

Rebel Yell - ‘High Authority’

This one is for the after midnight set; a track far cooler than I have the right to be listening to. Harder dance grooves compete with a clattering beat, and the repetitive chant of “I’m the boss” underscores the intensity of the track. ‘High Authority’ is on the punishing edge of engaging, pushing the envelope of the more left-field end of dance pop. 

Slow Turismo - ‘You Were Dead’

For a while Slow Turismo has threatened to be the next big thing out of Canberra; with catchy guitar pop and melodies for days. On ‘You Were Dead’, the quartet nearly go a little more soft psych, and take the tempo down a bit. The hooks and harmonies are still definitely there, which is what (at its core) makes Slow Turismo an extremely hypeworthy band.

Kirklandd - ‘Dynasty’

Kirklandd is yet another Canberra hip hop artist who is on the sharp rise right now. The sound on ‘Dynasty’ is extremely here and now; aspirational, swelling verses with a big, reverb laden chorus. Flashes of hip hop eras past come through the beat in the back half of the song, but more to add depth rather than date it. 

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