Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A song a day: Florence + The Machine - Only If For A Night

I've been listening to Ceremonials for a while now and it seems like a very big, focussed record. Strangely, that is the biggest criticism I've heard of this record because apparently ambition and a big sound is automatically a bad thing in music journalism now (The Joy formidable received similar criticism and I wonder if this is a trend in music writing now - Billy Corgan would be fucked if he released Siamese Dream today - what do you mean he did? Again? Anyhow, I digress...) Apart from that one song that sounds like ELO (Breaking Down), the whole album is incredibly strong and Only If For A Night seems like the prototypical Florence song - big drama, big chorus, big everything. Forget the Kate Bush comparisons, they're just lazy - Florence is her own thing...


Monday, November 28, 2011

Award ceremonies... groan... 25th ARIA Awards

"Critically acclaimed across the world, that's why Grinderman 2 is nominated for album of the year. Next up Delta Goodrem and the Wiggles..."

I've said this before: if there is a music awards show on, I'll watch it even if it's the 83rd Annual Pan Flute Awards. So it was last night I was watching the Australian music industry's "night of nights,"™ the ARIA awards, now in its 25th year. For a culture that can either engage in cloying parochialism or cringe inducing displays of "we're a small country making it big on the world stage," the 25th Aria awards were largely bland, probably in reaction to the disastrous ceremony last year where they tried to make it off the cuff and casual which led to a shambolic breakdown of proceedings. As with all award shows, it turns good comedians into bumbling unfunny presenters while the crowd is treated to awkward acceptance speech after acceptance speech - "I didn't really expect this so I haven't prepared anything..." Really, you were nominated, it didn't occur to you to do something just on the off chance you won...

To be honest, I'd never heard the big winners Boy and Bear before (probably because I've been overseas for the half the year) and am less than enthused by Australia's big buzz artists such as Cut Copy and Gotye. I was delighted to see Grinderman nominated, cutting a volatile edge of danger through the antiseptic proceedings even if it was the bearded presence of Jim Sclavunos looming ominously in background of the occasional camera shot or was that Noah Taylor? (all those bushman beards start to blend into one...) It also led to that little voice over throw away quoted above which would be surreal in any other context than an awards show. Another band I love dearly, The Middle East, were nominated but missed out. Usual suspects the Living End won for best rock band and burned so bright in their live performance that their was an energy and anger that seemed to be in spite of the evening itself. Kylie and the Wiggles were inducted into the ARIA hall of fame which I have no problem with - Kylie has been consistently producing above average pop songs for years while the Wiggles have been consistently acting as a babysitter for almost everyone I know with a kid forever.

You may ask yourself, why do you bother to watch these shows if they're so annoying? The reason is simple: occasionally something that is truly unexpected, moving or simply transcendent sneaks past the carefully stage managed sterility of the event. It has happened at the ARIAS before. For example, following the suicide of Crowded House drummer Paul Hester, Neil Finn came out to sing Better be home soon as tribute to his fallen comrade. The agony and confusion of one man and his guitar transforming a love song into a plea for his lost friend is incredibly moving - it's heartbreaking to see him almost stumble on the first line. Its a moment that moved beyond the event and highlighted that music can be a vehicle for emotions greater than we can convey with words. His performance is below:

The closest last night got to being amazing was when best female artist award winner Kimbra came out to duet with Gotye. I had only heard of her after seeing her on Rockwiz a few weeks ago but she is definitely a talent to watch. Sharing the physicality of PJ Harvey - a small woman with a big, big voice, she practically stole the show. Watch her performance on Rockwiz below for a taste of her sound.

Anyhow, as the ARIAs stumbled on, I eventually got sleepy and decided to go to bed. Most of the categories seemed to have predetermined winners and when I read the results this morning, things had transpired pretty much as I'd imagined (I'm still shocked to see Front End Loader had won something - one of the greatest underground bands in Australia in the 90's). Anyhow, another awards show, another wasted night - what can you do?


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Death to the musical

On my way to the train station yesterday, I was walking behind this old guy who was singing this beautiful song in Japanese at the top of his lungs. As his voice echoed down the platform, everyone stopped to look in a curious, slightly stunned way - it was one of those rare moments where something slightly strange seeps into everyday life and somehow makes the day better. As I listened to him sing until the train pulled in, it made me think "this guy is living in his own musical... Goddamn, I hate musicals." It's true, I hate them except for the Blues Brothers and the South Park movie.

Grease? Never seen it. Moulin Rouge? Worst film I've ever seen in a cinema. Annie? Despite my girlfriend's uncanny resemblance to an adult little orphan Annie, hate it. I haven't even seen Dirty Dancing because I suspect it's a musical even though I'm assured it's not. While I love music, the combination of music and film makes me unreasonably angry and I'm not really sure why. Maybe the thought of going about your every day business only to be confronted by a big song and dance number weirds me out. However, in the context of the old Japanese man singing at the platform station, I let him finish his song before I called security...


Saturday, November 26, 2011

Ty Segall - Goodbye Bread review

Bare with me because I sound like a crazy person in this review and maybe it's wrong to write a review so quickly but fuck it, whatever. While I'm loathe to talk about the Beatles - ever, when I was growing up I heard them a lot because of my parent's love of them. In particular, my Dad was really taken with John Lennon's solo work and the Shaved Fish compilation was played a lot around our house. The thing about Lennon's solo stuff is that so much of it is so weird and seemingly off the cuff, that had he lived it's hard to fathom the kind of work he would have produced as he got older. While I love Oasis (I do), their Beatles obsession was closer to idolatry than inspiration and while they got the sound down, they never really got the vibe. I don't think anyone really has until I heard Ty Segall today.

Yep, that's big statement, total hyperbole and I know it but I'm a bit gushy and lovesick after listening to this album. I'm not suggesting for a second that his music sounds like or is equal to the Beatles and there are a lot of other influences I can pinpoint (Syd Barret/T Rex etc) but what Goodbye Bread immediately reminded me of was the off kilter, rough hemmed magic of Lennon's solo work. Even though there's a little vocal similarity, Segall has his own thing going on - it's just that indefinable spirit that he shares which is so striking. From what I've read, Segall is a classic rock acolyte and maybe that's where I'm getting this impression from but this is a rough and ready album that is endlessly entertaining and endearing.

When I say endearing, look no further than Comfortable Home (A True Story), 60's-esque singalong where Segall wails "She said she wants to buy a couch/I said, why do we have to buy the couch?" This is part of the joy of the record, the songs are filled with small domestic moments and sentiments which are relatable and authentic. The love ode You Make the Sun Fry is a sunny blast which is instantly memorable while the winding and clattering pop of The Floor is one of the albums highlights. Even better still is Where Your Head Goes - a mini pysch rock out which ticks every box for late nights, booze and good music. The album veers between a scratchy garage rock sounds to more straight up pop shenanigans but it is never less than breathtaking.

Sure it's lo-fi and all the internet banter is about the similarity to Jay Reatard but forget all the comparisons (mine included) as I really think Segall has something special going on here. If this review sounds like I'm a little drunk, I must apologise - it's rare that I get such an instant connection and excitement from an artist on first listen but that in itself speaks volumes to me. This is one of those records that I missed earlier in the year but I'm hooked and will immediately hunt down all his other stuff. I suddenly have a new contender for album of the year.

*Thanks to Adam for putting me onto this.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Review catch up: The Drums - Portamento

There is a real danger in reading music reviews online (ironic much?) because it's pretty easy to dismiss a record after reading a few bad things that google spit out at you. I know this because I read a bunch of them (what's up with the Guradian music reviews these days?) about this album but they seem to be misplaced. The Drums have received largely negative reviews for this record and this criticism seems to be based on Portamento being a much more melancholy record than their debut. As I've only heard the singles from the first record that critical baggage doesn't exist for me and in it's absence, this sounds like a pretty tight and enjoyable album to me. It's not without flaws as it is probably too samey in places and a bit twee for its own good but if sad lyrics are a problem it might be a good idea to burn all your Smiths and early Cure records. Oh my lord, sad music - how we ever survive?

I purposely mention these bands because there is something of Morrissey's melancholy misxed with the wirey bass driven sounds of the first two Cure records to the Drums sound. To me, that's not a bad mix and songs like Money, I Don't Know How To Love and If He Likes It Let Him Do It exemplify what was great about 80's English indie music. That being said, it never feels like revisionism or plagiarism, the Drums have their own sound and vibe but there is something unrelentingly 'British' about them so if that's not your cup of chai, look elsewhere. This is a small record about heartbreak and betrayal but it is a good one if you're in the mood.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

Tribute: Bob Mould

This is a bit of a nothing post but if I was an independently wealthy man with a private jet, I would have flown over to see the Bob Mould tribute show which was held in LA a few days ago. The show featured Dave Grohl, Ryan Adams, No Age, Britt Daniel (Spoon), a couple of dudes from the Hold Steady, Grant Lee Phillips and Margaret Cho which is well and good but I'd really just go to see Bob play. I've been a Bob Mould fan for over twenty years and for most of that time, most people's response to my unwavering devotion is "who?" I'm that guy who buys every record in multiple formats, has posters and shirts and is probably obsessed in a way that verges on creepy. However, as a fan, it's good to see one of your heroes get some recognition and the release of his autobiography along with a high profile guest spot on a Foo Fighters song has seen a lot more press and internet chatter about him this year. I'm not sure if that translates into record sales but I hope he's had a little bump in income for his retirement nest egg.

Anyhow, most of the performances form the night are on youtube in varying levels of quality and it's nice to hear Bob run through some old songs (Ice Cold Ice - awesome!). And even if you don't care for Bob, make sure you watch Grohl cam on New Day Rising... That guy is an animal on the drums...

Oh yeah, how great is Jon Wurster from Superchunk - such a good drummer.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

All I need - call for submissions

This might be a terrible idea that probably won't work but bare with me. I figure if you're reading this blog you're probably passionate about music or stumbled across it on google looking for some legitimate music journalism - sorry about that. Whatever the case, as the end of the year approaches, I'm predictably starting to think about my end of year lists which will probably be the ten best albums and ten best songs of the year.

As such, I'm looking for anyone who wants to submit their own list to be published on this blog. The list can be similar to what I'll be writing or anything you want to write a list about (Best hardcore records, best hairstyles in music videos, best pop songs, ugliest bands, ten reasons why the new Nickelback album is a sign of the impending apocalypse) but the only stipulation is that whatever it is has to be related to the music year 2011 (unless you're talking re-issues which are about albums recorded in another year but re-issued in 2011 smartypants). Essentially, I want to hear your badass opinions on music in 2011.

The reason I'm doing this is because as much as I love banging on about music, I'd also love to hear what your music year has been like... and then disagree with you. Also, feel free to promote your own blog or music with a bio about yourself if you want. I have to right to veto your contribution if you're trying to sell viagra at discount prices though or you're Jim DeRogatis.

So come on, submit your list and be read by potentially tens of people. Depending on the number I receive (if any), I'll be putting them up in the final week of the December so the deadline would be 20/12/2011 (or 12/20/2011 if that's your style). Come and join the 'fun'.

To trick the spambots, the email address to submit your list to is metal.only.no.rubbish (at) gmail (dot) com. You can contact me there if you need any viagra too...


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Various Artists: (AHK-toong BAY-bi) Covered Review

(AHK-toong BAY-bi) Covered (I see what you did there) highlights the joys and peril that can be found on compilation albums. This atrociously named record features some big names paying tribute to what I believe is U2's greatest album and apart from the proceeds on the sale of the album going to charity, there are at least four or five great covers here that are worth your money.

The real joy or sorrow on this record can be how attached you are to the original record. For example, Zoo Station on Achtung was a shock for U2 fans - framed by a soaring buzzsaw riff that alerted fans to the fact they were listening to a new iteration of the band. Named after the Bahnhof Zoo in Berlin, it seems that Nine Inch Nails uses the Trans Europe Express to get there as Reznor takes an icy Kraftwerk approach to the song. To be honest, it could have used a bit more of NIN's distorted grit to set it on fire and it appears to be a understated meditation rather than grand narrative changing statement it was conceived as.

This isn't to say that direct homage is necessary as the best tracks on the compilation swing between faithful renditions to total deconstructions. In the former camp, Glasvegas make a fair fist of Acrobat while the Killers come closest to actually sounding like U2 on Ultra Violet but more based on their stadium ambitions than sound. In the other camp, Depeche Mode* turn So Cruel into a subterranean hymn which resonates with the same sadness of the original. It is an elegant re-imagining which is probably born from the Mode being the closest fellow travellers to U2 on the record. I would imagine remaking Mysterious Ways would be a challenge for any band but surprisingly Snow Patrol's deconstruction and slow build approach to the track is strikingly effective. However, the best track on the record is easily Jack White's Love is Blindness. The standout song on the original record, White brings the crazy and turns it into the unfettered primal scream that it was always meant to be.

The record features some songs which are ok but I find problematic. Damien Rice's cover of One is a delicate acoustic waltz which is beautiful but let down by his decision to change the narrator's perspective. So for example, the original went:

Did I disappoint you
Or leave a bad taste in your mouth
You act like you never had love
And you want me to go without

Rice's version goes

Did I disappoint you
leave a bad taste in my mouth
I act like I never had love
And I want you to go without

Ultimately, this detracts from the song and makes it seem far more egocentric than the original. If you can ignore this, it is an achingly beautiful cover but what is it with sad acoustic folk singers who want to make the drama all about them? Patti Smith makes a noir vamp out of Until The End Of The World which is more interesting than enjoyable while Garbage's cover of Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses sounds exactly as you imagine it would. Gavin Friday's The Fly is a little perplexing, seemingly too much studio time and too little focus, it's all over the place.

The only two real misfires on the record are by the Fray and U2 themselves. The Fray are a pop band that try to make Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World into an FM radio ready drive time hit - it fails on every level. The Jacques Lu Cont mix of Even Better Than The Real Thing turns the original song into a thumping disco number which highlight how great Bono's original vocals were but little else. U2 have dabbled with dance remixes throughout their career but I can never remember any of them being particularly successful (and let's not mention Pop - ever).

Ultimately, this is a pretty good collection of songs but as expected none of them come close to the original record. If anything, it actually highlights how great Achtung Baby is and that in retrospect, it is a miracle that record exists after the self destructive impulses of Rattle and Hum. Again, for me, it depended on how attached I was to a notion or intent of the original as to how much I enjoyed the cover which is probably unfair but I hardly care about what's fair. More a curio for U2 fans than a satisfying record in its own right, the highlights are indeed great and worth a listen.

*I could write a thesis about why I think Depeche Mode tried and failed to have an Achtung Baby-like reinvention on Songs of Love and Devotion. However, I choose not to...


Monday, November 21, 2011

There is no way back Gotye...

Ambient artist Tycho is a pretty talented guy as not only is he a musician, he's a designer as well. On his blog, ISO50, he regularly posts a playlist of music and my brother-in-law was playing the latest one yesterday. At a certain point, the last Gotye single came on and I'm not sure why I never heard it before but his singing voice is exactly like Sting* - almost shockingly so. I'm sure every person who has ever heard him has realised this, I'm just a bit slow. Anyhow, it made me go back and listen to his first record and yep, he sounds like Sting on that too, I just never heard it or made that connection. I'm sad to say there's no way back for for me Gotye (or Wally as his Mum calls him), all I can hear is the distant echoes of Dream of the Blue Turtles... It's funny how once you hear something like that you can never, ever get it out of your brain.

*Disclaimer: I'm talking about Sting as a solo artist here. Sting is awesome in the Police and has exactly one good solo record (The Soul Cages), but the rest is a bit shit...


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dashing through the snow part 2

I'm not really familiar with the whole twelve step recovery program thing but I imagine this can be the explanation for this video. Surely, this is some step where you atone for past sins by singing Christmas carols while dressing like Don Draper after a four day bender. Either that or Weiland is back on something again... big time.

I think Neko Case sums up Christmas albums best...


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Saturday night list: reunions I'd like to see...

I was talking to my good friend Katie the other day and she said that when she took a writing course one of the things they taught was that it's a bad form to write a list. Being a bad writer, that seemed like a great idea so here's my first Saturday list. In light of the Stone Roses reuniting (as well as Pixies, Soundgarden, Slint, Pulp, My Bloody Valentine etc etc...), it got me thinking about the bands I'd like to see reform. This isn't a call to reform but a fervent prayer... Here are my top five:

5. Sugar: Bob Mould has categorically ruled out any chance of a Hüsker Dü reunion and no amount of money would entice him back to play with Hart and the moustache guy again. However, I'd love to see a Sugar reunion because even though Bob drove the band, David Barbe and Malcolm Travis were more than mere sidemen ably matching Mould's intensity. A Don't Look Back concert with Sugar playing Copper Blue - I'd pay to see that...

4. The Smiths: The most famous Morrissey quote regarding a Smiths reunion is that he'd "rather eat my own testicles than reform The Smiths, and that's saying something for a vegetarian." So, I guess if Morrissey ever gets the taste for meat again we might be in with a chance.

3. Straitjacket Fits: I was saddened to hear of Straitjacket Fits bass player David Wood died a few years ago. While Shayne Carter still plays around it's be great to see a reunion of any remaining members as they were one of the best live bands I've ever seen.

2. The White Stripes: Yeah, I know they only officially announced their break up this year but I think I like Jack White in this context - just howling and scorching away on his guitar with minimal percussion behind him. Get back on that wagon Jack, that's why we love ya....

1. Ride: Hey guys, stop arsing around with Oasis or whatever it is you're doing and get your shit together...


Friday, November 18, 2011

Sigur Rós - Inni Review

I'm going to say something controversial so all you soft hearted Sigur Rós fans should avert your eyes. I saw Sigur Rós on their first tour of Australia and I was so, so excited. ( ) is one of my all time favourite albums and the anticipation was huge (it seemed every person I'd ever met in my life was at that show). The problem was that when Sigur Rós took the stage, within in two songs I was totally bored. While my friends were having fits of ecstasy, I was thinking "gee, my feet are sore." In the wash up, it occurred to me that standing in the second row at a concert was not the way to enjoy Sigur Rós, lying on a couch with your substance of choice is. I think back to that night and wonder if I'd had a couch to lie on and a glass of wine in my hand whether that would have been the greatest gig of my life.

So, to listen to Inni, I made myself comfortable on a couch with a glass of red and it turns out my instincts at the concert were correct - this is the perfect way to see/hear Sigur Rós live... I mean it's not like anyone is going to start a mosh or anything. As soon as the submarine pulse of Inni's first track Svefn-g-englar starts, I am immediately reminded why Sigur Rós is such a singular band: simultaneously transcendent, sublime and gorgeous, this is music that sends shivers up the spine. What is so compelling is that the band are operating as a four piece on this record but the sheer sonic density sounds like there are many more players on stage. In particular, the earlier songs, stripped to their essence sound rawer but no less elegant or epic. I must confess that I became less interested in the band around Takk as their music became more conventional but having listened to Jonsi's solo record (and excellent accompanying live album) pretty consistently for the last year, those latter day Sigur songs make more sense to me now. If anything, Inni does lean heavily on those later albums but it is a joy to hear old faves Ný batterí, E-Bow (Unititled # 6) and Popplagid (Untitled #8) in this context.

Unifying the album is Jonsi's voice which for all it's otherwordly weirdness is an incredibly strong and consistent instrument. I think your love of this band is dictated by how much you like his voice so to all the people who write it off as irritating whale music don't even bother as there are more whales on this record than a David Attenborough documentary. While this cd/dvd set acts as an interesting document (the biggest attraction for fans being the one new track Lúppulagid), ultimately I'm not sure it's a record that people will be thrashing over and over again. Sigur Rós create such perfect studio records with such considered sound, these tracks have little hope of usurping the originals. Still, with a glass of wine and a comfy spot, this is a pretty nice overview of Sigur Rós' career. If you're fan you've already bought it and I'm surprised you've read this far...


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Review catch up: The Joy Formidable - The Big Roar

Now I'm getting closer to forty, I often wonder what will happen to kids half my age when they form bands. When I was growing up in the 70's and 80's, my experience of mainstream music meant a lot of Wham, Billy Joel and various other miscreants - this wasn't stuff I chose to listen to, it was just always there. I always wondered what would happen to those kids who became musically aware as bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead fleetingly became the mainstream. How would the bands of people with that musical education sound? My guess is that they're sound like the Joy Formidable. Taking the unabashed epic scope and ambition of the Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead but toning down the angst and then filtering it through a modernist kaleidoscope, they sound like the logical conclusion of the 90's alternative promise. I don't think it's any mystery as to why they're supporting the Foo Fighters on their US tour right now.

Unlike my other favourite Welsh three pieces (McLusky, Future of the Left), The Joy Formidable contain no self consciousness, left field weirdness or irony, it's just big time, fun rock music. To be honest there is a wee of angst here but songs like The Magnifying Glass, Whirring, Cradle and Chapter 2 are all throw your devil horns to the sky goodness. Even better is Buoy, a slow burn and churn that is somewhere between Mogwai and the Smashing Pumpkins if such a thing could exist. As I said with the We Were Promised Jetpacks review yesterday, while I might not be playing this record a year from now, right here and now it sounds pretty damn good.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review catch up: We Were Promised Jetpacks - In the Pit of the Stomach

Earlier in the year I lamented the pointlessness of the Explosions in the Sky single Trembling Hands (I've probably softened on that appraisal now somewhat). It seems that whatever Explosions were drinking when they wrote that song We Were Promised Jetpacks were sculling by the pint with a Jägerbomb chaser. Their debut album was an ok collection of ragged pop songs with a pleasing Scottish lilt. For the follow up, Jetpacks have upped the testosterone and rock action which seems a million miles from their mild mannered first record. The driving rhythms and slash and burn guitars is somewhere between post-rock and shoegaze. Album standout Hard to Remember is a slow burn terror while the minimal vocals of Act on Impulse is a direct lift from the Explosions playbook. Human Error is also a great song towards the end of the record and the more I listen to it, it might be a contender for my favourite songs of the year. To be honest, I'm not sure that this new intensity carries across the entire album as the overt rockiness starts to bleed from one song to the next making them slightly similar. As such, I'm not sure how this album will stand up to repeat listens but as casual fan of the first record, the change in dynamics and sound is a shock and a delight. If that's your type of sound, worth checking out. Whatever the case, they still have a cool name...


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Review catch up: Seeker Lover Keeper

Listening to Seeker Lover Keeper is like being allowed access to a secret society or being able to eavesdrop on a group of close friends talk intimately. Part confessional, part love-in, SLK is an Australian super group made up of indie pop pack leader Sarah Blasko, understated folkie Holly Throsby and slightly leftfield Sally Seltmann (who used to be known as New Buffalo and happens to have co-written one of the most famous songs in the world). SLK builds on the strengths of each of these performers resulting in a beautiful and focussed record.

In feel, the album is closer to Blasko's last record As Day Follows Night than the other artists' records and it must be said that Blasko's voice dominates as she takes more of the lead vocals. Given the otherworldly quality of her voice and her ability to convey emotion through the simplest turn of phrase, that's not a bad thing but Throsby and Seltmann both get their turns to shine. Throsby steals the show with the single Even Though I'm A Woman (written by Seltmann) and We Will Know What It Is while Seltmann burns bright on the (almost) rocking Every Time and the mournful On My Own. Blasko shows why she is such a loved figure in Australian music on all her tracks especially Theme 1 and opener Bring Me Back.

The album is largely acoustic so on first listen it can sound a little bit samey. Repeated listens highlight the real joy which can be found in subtle instrumentation that underpins the songs such as the restrained electronics of Rely On Me, the messy handclaps on Light All My Lights and the unmistakable subversion of Jim White's drumming everywhere (can we have a new Dirty Three record please?). Further, with three of Australia's best singers on record together, there are some gorgeous backing vocals and harmonies. This isn't a record for everyone but if you like female singer-songwriters or ever loved any of these artists solo work, Seeker Lover Keeper could make you swoon a little bit.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Review Catch Up: Wild Flag

Sleater Kinney's final record The Woods was a slightly schizophrenic listen as it was filled with classic sounding SK songs as well as these off kilter rock monsters - big riffs, heavy fuzz, heavy drama. Since the split and the subsequent release of a solo record by Corin Tucker and now Wild Flag which features Carrie Brownstein and drumming bohemoth Janet Weiss, it's now very evident where that divide came. Tucker's record comes off like a toned down SK record while Wild Flag have returned to the garage to rock the fuck out. Both records are great but Wild Flag has the edge.

In Wild Flag, Brownstein and Weiss are joined by Rebecca Timony (Helium) and Rebecca Cole (The Minders) who seem dedicated to exploring nuggets era garage rock through a post punk sensibility with a bit of psychedelica thrown in for good measure. Seriously, Glass Tambourine gets all White Rabbit on you but it doesn't sound affected, ironic or out of place, it just rocks and allows Weiss embrace her inner Bonham in the freak out finale. First single Romance is less about romantic love than the romance of music and the listener, a theme that seems to run through the album. While Timony and Brownstein trade vocals, the difference is less noticeable than the SK dynamic but Brownstein seems intent on embracing the rockier side of the band. Songs like Boom and Racehorse are all rock n' roll grit and strut and Brownstein plays and sings as if her life depended on it. Given how great Portlandia is, it'd wouldn't be surprising if she didn't return to music at all but it's obvious this is where her heart lies.

For me, SK reached a creative highpoint on One Beat and the messy Woods seemed to highlight internal conflicts in the band (although it featured the phenomenal Entertain - holy shit that song is great). Wild Flag more than makes up for SK's absence which I never thought was possible. This album is a hearfelt fireball of pure rock action and worthy of your attention.


Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Fauves - Japanese Engines Review

You'll have to indulge me for a second here. In 1998, I went to see Hunters and Collectors on their 'farewell' tour at the Revesby Workers Club in Sydney. This was ironic for two reasons: 1. H&C seem to reform whenever their is money offered so the 'farewell' part of the tour seemed a bit of a joke, and; 2. in my mind I imagined a workers club to be a run down, stinking old pub filled with blue collar men drinking beers. It was an actually a gigantic Las Vegas style establishment with flashing lights and a million pokies - not very working class at all. On that fateful night, the Fauves played support to a largely disinterested crowd - imagine a big room of about a thousand people with 100 of them in front of the stage enjoying the band, a huge gap and then the other 900 storming the bar at the back of the room.

Despite this, the Fauves played one of the best sets I've seen by them (they blew the well oiled but lifeless Hunters off the stage). I have a vivid memory of lead singer Andrew Cox who is good with a quip and the occasional onstage rant, break down one of the songs to implore the crowd to "think of the Revesby workers" and then rattle off a hilarious rant about Marxism and the working class before launching into a chorus of John Farnham's You're the voice. It largely went over the (very non-working class) crowd's head but thinking back on it now while listening to Japanese Engines it occurred to me that the Fauves are the Revesby workers of the world. They play on, plugging away with their own brand of indie rock (often thanklessly) but with the necessity of men who know that the job must be done. The Fauves are the working class of Australian music.

Now I say that not as an insult or to be funny. The Fauves had fleeting mainstream success in the 90's but have released quality records for the last twenty years regardless of how many they sold. The thing about the Fauves is that while their songs are filled with self-depreciating humour and irony, they never stray over the line where the punch line is more important than the song. At their heart, the songs are explorations of small moments and things that make up everyday life that are always relatable. For example, first single You're my type explores looking for love later in life:

But you're my type (yeah) apart for several minor things which I can forgive
You score six out of ten, the highest possible score for a human

The Fauves humour is steeped in that honesty that all know will get us into trouble if we vocalise it but on Japanese Engines, there is less joking around and more resignation. There seems to be a lot of heartbreak and loss on this record. Opener Don't Say When is an impassioned plea not to break up after things start to head south in a relationship. Darker tracks like Write Yourself Off Today speaks of modern dissatisfaction and life on the road with the choruses plea "Write yourself off today but leave a little bit for me." That's not to say the old sly Fauves aren't here as 3 Minute Mile is the essentially Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner recast as a suburban jogger's dilemma to continue despite the fruitlessness of the sport.

Musically, the Fauves live in the same world as the Lemonheads - country tinged, indie pop. It's a sound that is largely unchanged for the last twenty years but the music is perfect in its own way. The Fauves know that this release will not be huge as even their website says "the band has an extensive 2 date tour booked to promote the new release." It's a shame that this record might not make a wider impact than the Fauves core fan base because it is an excellent record. If you've never heard the Fauves, you'll get a taste of them on their website (be sure to readthe news section featuring a hilarious press release announcing the album's release).


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Future of the Left - Polymers are forever ep review

In my mind and heart of hearts, if this world had any taste Future of the Left would be the biggest band in the world. Travels with myself and another was easily one of the best records of 2009 and if rock music fans were literate, discerning disciples of excellent music it should have sold about a billion copies. I'm sure that not what the band would want but their brutalist yet absurdist take on angular rock is easily one of the most endearing and enjoyable sounds going at the moment. Polymers are forever is a stop gap ep before the release of their next album and proves as a reminder of what makes them great. Sure, there's nothing here which is as strong as their best but it's an adventurous journey through the many moods of FOTL.

At the centre of their sound is Andy Falkous' spoken word to a scream bark and witty yet obscure lyrics. The title track encompasses the keyboard squelch/stop/start guitar attack that was featured on Travels and it is fitted with a grand breakdown featuring typically obtuse lyrics which could be about drowning or macromolecular science - it's a little unclear. With Apologies to Emily Pankhurst carries on in the quick, fast punch in the jaw of Travel's Chin Music while New Adventures is a jaunty singalong about failure and addiction - good times. My Wife is Unhappy is similar mould to Travel's Lapsed Catholics but slightly more sinister - a more serious fucked up little sister if you will. Dry Hate vaguely sounds like it's name while the closing mini opera destroywhitchurch.com shows the lyrical and musical dexterity of an band striving forward. It is this track which is the strongest, starting as a writhing beast that fades in an ambient hush of discontent.

This ep is the first music released with the band's new line up but it really feels as if it's business as usual. To be honest, listening to this record just makes me miss this band more and hope that their new record is not too far away and delivers on their considerable talent. Here the full ep here.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Music doc rock off: U2 From the sky down vs Pearl Jam 20

The two documentaries U2: From the sky down and Pearl Jam 20 essentially cover the same themes: fame, band dynamics and reinvention but there is one small moment in both documentaries that highlights the stark difference between them. Both films feature a moment where each band is being courted by Time magazine. In the Joshua Tree era where U2 are running towards fame with open arms, Bono excitedly yells "they wanna put us on the cover of Time magazine!" Meanwhile, the similar moment for Pearl Jam resulted Eddie Vedder agreeing with Kurt Cobain to not participate in a Time article on grunge and to his disgust "they put me on the fucking cover anyway."

Of course, that difference is not surprising. U2 had been in existence for over ten years before the giddy heights of the Joshua Tree where Pearl Jam's first record thrust them into frenzy of instant fame, authenticity debates and general craziness of the grunge explosion. While Pearl Jam's reaction to fame is often bemused and horrified, both bands want their music to reach a wide audience but what happens when you get it? What do you do with it? In the case of U2, they make the misguided step of Rattle and Hum which cast them as self important arseholes and in Pearl Jam, they awkwardly try to sidestep the adulation which seems to make things worse. In the wash up, U2 reinvents itself to subvert their stoic persona into something wittier, personal and profound while Pearl Jam retreated from the spotlight to create a Dead-like cult following which exists outside the mainstream. In that respect, both bands struggle internally and externally as they redefine their identity as a group.

From the sky down essentially tells the story of how Achtung Baby came into existence and its troubled birth as U2 try to find a new sound and identity. The film unfolds slowly giving an overview of their history to Rattle and Hum but cuts pretty deep. U2's wild eyed idealism is quickly replaced with wild eyed shock when the band members realise that they've painted themselves into a corner. Even the purest intentions have been misconstrued and they find themselves being an entity they can't recognise or relate to anymore. Commenting on the end of the Rattle and Hum tour Bono says "let's get a big fucking chainsaw and cut down the Joshua Tree." The pain and division in Achtung Baby's birth threatens to break up the band as Bono and Edge strive to redefine themselves while Larry and Adam are unwilling passengers in that reinvention.

Pearl Jam on the other hand forms in the aftermath of Andy Woods' death and explodes in an unforeseen way. When the band forms, Vedder is very much adding his baritone to the music written by the other members but the instant fame is crushing and harsh. Vedder, reeling from Cobain's death, takes control of the band's direction causing friction and a change in the internal dynamics. Vedder wants to make the band smaller based on a Fugazi model while the rest of the band wants to be Zeppelin but eventually it's about the band taking control of their destiny. Some of it is well intentioned and slightly fruitless but they feel their way to a place of comfort.

Both films (Sky directed by Davis Guggenheim and 20 by Cameron Crowe) are skillfully put together and centre around moments in time which shape the bands. For U2, from the low of Rattle and Hum, the film ostensibly builds to the writing of One which kick started the stalled writing of Achtung Baby. Pearl Jam's run from fame, it's fight against Ticketmaster and the death of nine fans at the 2000 Roskilde festival are the telling points in 20. Being a U2 fan, it's interesting to watch the internal struggles of the band and how candid they are about their individual failings. I'm hardly a Pearl Jam fan but their story is compelling and they actually seem like reasonable people in a slightly strange position of dealing with instant fame.

I watched the films as a double feature one afternoon (confession: if there is a documentary about music, even stuff I don't like, I'll probably watch it) and it worked well as a contrast. From the sky down is a far more objective documentary where Cameron Crowe is obviously a Pearl Jam fan and there is a certain pandering in that. Despite this, he doesn't shy from the ugly moments in the band (even if they gloss over the revolving cast of drummers in the band). Bono and Vedder come off the worst in the films but I guess the ego of the lead singer probably casts them in an unflattering light but they are true their respective crusades. Both films feature some amazing scenes, Bono's hissy fit as the band struggles to make the leap from smaller shows to stadiums while fleeting footage of Cobain and Vedder dancing together is strangely moving. In the rock off, U2 wins but both of these films are worth your time even if you're not a fan.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Queens of the Stone Age = 666 + breaking news

Sounds about right...

In breaking news, a new Lanegan album entitled Blues Funeral will be released on February 6. Also, Tomahawk have announced a new album is coming. Good stuff.


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tycho - Dive review

As summer hits the Southern Hemisphere, the release next week of Tycho's new album Dive couldn't be better timed (my commiserations, rest of the world). As with all his previous work, Tycho (producer Scott Hansen) produces sunny ambient numbers that seem to roll on the sparest of concepts but never fail to engage and be memorable. Tycho isn't big on irony or mystique as he gives his tracks names like Daydream, Ascension and A Walk - and they all sound like perfect descriptions for the music. The track Coastal Brake sounds like the perfect song to listen to, surprise surprise, when you're on a coastal break (or coming down watching the sunrise). But while this might sound bleedingly obvious, it is actually refreshing with the general obfuscation and weird names that come with a lot of electronic music.

The album itself sees to be a more coherent concept piece than his previous record Past is Prologue with all the songs piecing together into to a larger conceptual whole. The shimmering sounds of Melanine and the slightly skewered warble of Adrift are two highlights. As Adrift was released as a single a couple of years ago (a double A side with a great tune called From Home) it's surprising that it seems even better in the context of the larger album (as is Coastal Brake - another single from 2009). The title track is an eight minute voyage with unexpected diversions and it's sizable length flies by in a fast paced ambient thrum. It's easy with this kind of record to overstay your welcome but Tycho seems to have enough discernment and instinct of when to push and fall back to make perfectly conceived soundscapes.

Tycho is often unfairly written off as a lesser cousin to Boards of Canada but to be honest, I find his work infinitely more listenable and consistent than BOC (I can hear the hipster kids gasp in horror at such a suggestion). If there's one record that could be the soundtrack to a chilled out 2011 summer, it's this one.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Anthrax - Worship Music review

When I was a teenage metalhead, Anthrax were part of my orbit but not a big part - I was more a Metallica fan in the big four playoffs. However, I did have a bunch of their albums, thought I'm the man was pretty funny and really loved Persistence of Time which featured the best Joe Jackson cover ever. A lot of people thought the band went off the rails when lead singer Joey Belladonna left the band but I actually like the 90's stuff featuring John Bush. Faced with label difficulties, Anthrax limped on through a bunch of line up changes until Belladonna returned full time and this is the first album of new material featuring the (almost) original line up (lead guitarist Dan Spitz left the band some time ago to become a watchmaker - I'm not even joking). So with all that hoo-ha, how does this record stack up in the Anthrax oeuvre? Well, it sounds like a natural successor to Persistence of Time funnily enough - it's as if the band just picked up where they left off in 1992 when Belladonna departed - and that's not a bad thing.

The record starts with the 1,2,3 punch of Earth On Hell, The Devil You Know and Fight 'Em 'Til You Can't which are remarkably strong tracks for a band this far into their career - complacent they are not. What I find surprising about this record is how much it owes to classic metal and the band seem happy to embrace a more British influenced sound. To be honest, I don't remember Belladonna having such a Dio/Dickinson-esque tinge to his vocals in the past but here it comes out loud and proud (mainly during the choruses). In some ways the record sounds like it's lost in time as it could have been easily made in the 80's and not be out of place. This is big, non-ironic rock - I mean they have a song called Judas Priest which actually seems to be about a Judas priest rather than, y'know, Judas Priest. Whatever the case you can't argue with the double kick drum attack of Charlie Benante who is sometimes forgotten in the pantheon of great metal drummers.

The centrepiece of the album is undoubtedly In The End, a tribute to Dio and Dimebag Darrell, which just has the hallmarks of a classic metal tune - great riff, thrashy break down, squealy guitar solo and a lot of melodrama. The only really dips are some short filler tracks between songs and an ill advised cover of Refused's New Noise. Anthrax have long used covers as b-sides and bonus tracks (surprisingly, their cover of Hüsker Dü's Celebrated Summer is actually pretty rocking) but Belladonna is not the man to sing this song and while the cover is probably heartfelt, it's a big miss (and if you're a fan of the original, hard to listen to). That being said, if you ever loved Anthrax or old school metal, there is a lot to enjoy here. Time to dust off your denim jacket and studded leather gloves - it's metal time!


Monday, November 7, 2011

Feist - Metals review

Feist's last record The Reminder was a huge success but I have to admit it did little for me. I did listen to it and while I'm overly familiar with the singles (which seemed to be used in every ad imaginable for the last few years), I just found it a bit light and never really returned to it. I say this just because I am shocked by how much I love Metals. During the intervening years since The Reminder, it seems as if Feist has lost a little of her preppy spark, maybe had her heart broken and maybe been listening to a lot of soul albums as Metals is all the better for it. That indie-soul sound that Cat Power has mastered on her last two records is all over this record and while she doesn't quite have the smokey intensity of Chan Marshall's voice, Feist sounds strong and soulful here.

The opener The Bad in Each Other is built on a little blues riff that explodes into a glorious half-time chorus while the exquisite torch ballad Caught a Long Wind showcases Feist's strength as a vocalist - knowing when to hold back and when to unleash her voice in a way that compliments the song. Feist's singing is tasteful and restrained and while the album covers a lot of heartbreak, it never seems like a chore or overly dramatic, it is merely beautiful. For me the best track on the album is The Undiscovered First with its goosepimple inducing chain-gang thump finale and slightly unhinged feel.

There are a couple of missteps though, the frenzied crush of A Commotion sounds like it was more fun to record than listen to and once you realise that the vocal hook in Bittersweet Melodies is identical to Don't Go Breaking My Heart, it is impossible to unhear. Further, some of the lyrics and sounds are occasionally a little to close Cat Power's and while they may be referential shout outs (I have no idea), as a Cat Power fan I tend to find them distracting. Don't get me wrong, these are minor quibbles on an excellent record and one that took me by surprise - engaging from the first listen and probably one of the best of the year.

(PS if you're like "Metals! Hellz yeah!" and then went "Feist! Pfffft whatever!", I'm about to write about the new Anthrax album for tomorrow. You're welcome).


Sunday, November 6, 2011

Dashing through the snow...

When I was in high school I worked at a fruit store after work shifting boxes, bagging potatoes and generally getting covered in rotting fruit and veg. The low light of the year was Christmas when the boss's wife would insist on piping seasonal jingles through the store which when you're undertaking a twelve hour shift is the aural equivalent being dragged naked through broken glass. Add to that, it was generally a stifling 30+ degrees in a beach town on the Sunshine Coast, any reference to snow was incredibly annoying.

As such, I have no time for Christmas albums as a) most Christmas songs have shockingly low relevance to my experience (in Australia everyone goes to the beach for Christmas) and b) most of those songs suck. I don't understand who buys Christmas albums because when I've got a holiday and want to enjoy time with my family with music in the background, I tend to pick music we all like. But this year it seems like a bumper year of Christmas albums from She & Him, Carole King, Justin Beiber, the cast of Glee, Michael Buble and Scott Weiland (I guess rehab didn't work). Surely, there must be some marketing guru telling these 'artists' that such albums are profitable but really, who buys them?

Yet another quirk of modern culture I don't understand...


Saturday, November 5, 2011

The 5th man

Flicking through TV today, I stumbled upon Coldplay being interviewed by Ellen (way to rock!) and I decided to watch it - so sue me. Anyhow, Chris Martin alluded to their fifth member which I guess refers to their manager but it reminded me of something I'd read about them. When they perform live they have a fifth member who plays with them but off stage. I'm sure this happens all the time but not many bands like to talk about it.

Apparently, they learnt the trick from U2 who maintain the iconography of Bono, Edge, Larry and Adam in the arena but also have an extra player to fill out the sound. That huge U2 live sound is courtesy of five musicians but you only see the four icons from the album. This seems to be more common than you think. A while back Buddyhead reported when Korn lost a guitar player they employed a similar trick of having a hired hand on the side of stage playing guitar hiding behind a curtain (apparently, he made metal guitar face and did rock moves even though no one could see him but has since left the band, apparently a man can only play Freak on a Leash so many times in his life).

I always wondered about this because really, what's the big deal with having another touring band member to fill out the sound? I understand the mystique of rock n' roll but I hardly think that would be shattered if there was a second guitar/keyboard player on stage was at the back of the stage. Let's face it, Coldplay and U2 have huge stages, would the delicate balance of their egos be disrupted by having another player on stage? Would it confuse the audience "Like OMG, who is that guy?"

More to the point, how would any band be able to improvise if their fifth player is not within eyeshot? Some of my favourite live moments have been when musicians face off, improvising, jamming and spurring each other on to play which moves the song into something transcendent and inspired. Surely, the 5th man set up doesn't really lend itself to this. Anyhow, just saying I find this phenomenon weird. Just get the guy on stage, people won't mind...


Friday, November 4, 2011

Lou Reed and Metallica: Lulu review

I listened to it so you don't have to. Don't do it. It's not as bad as the wags on the internet are saying but the nicest way I can put it is that it is an uninteresting train wreck for everyone involved except for the final track. A total mismatch of styles, intensity and aim and while the lyrics are kind of interesting, it does little to save the record. There's a lot funnier and wittier critiques out there if you really want to get into it but the bottom line is that this will only disappoint any fan of either artist and makes me wonder who it was actually made for. The only conclusion I can come up with is Lou Reed is the straightest faced comedian in the world - in fact, he is the Neil Hamburger of modern rock.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds review

When Oasis first arrived they made their intention very clear on the first song of Definitely Maybe - "I wannabe a rock n' roll star." They made unapologetic big rock tunes without modesty or artifice - they wanted to be the biggest band in the world and have all the money, drugs and women that came with it. While unoriginal, that didn't mean they weren't fun to listen to. Even though they never reached the heights of Definitely Maybe or Morning Glory again, they were still capable of producing some good singles and the occasional good album (Heathen Chemistry). That the acrimony between the brothers Gallagher reached its inevitable conclusion causing the end of Oasis came as no surprise to anyone. The band members left with Liam to form Beady Eye, whose first record continues a similar trajectory to Oasis while Noel goes solo for the High Flying Birds.

Whatever the reason of the Oasis split, it seems to have reinvigorated Gallagher on this record. Sure, it's a lot of mid-tempo numbers and might have the worst named song of the year on it ([I Wanna Live In a Dream In My] Record Machine) but without the constraints of Oasis, Noel goes rampant with big harmonies, orchestration and a big, big sound. Noel is incapable of making a small record and within the first minute, it is clear that the grandiose pop Noel has been churning out for years is amplified on High Flying Birds. Fortunately, he gets his Liam potshots in early on the first track Everybody's On The Run (one of several thousand references to his sibling):

You've been drifting and stealing,
Trying to walk in my shoes,
But they don't belong to you, you know they don't.

As with Oasis, Noel knows how to pick the singles and the strongest tracks are The Death of You and Me and AKA...What a Life! but the set is remarkably strong for a songwriter written off as a hack years ago. Whatever your thoughts on the basic rhymes, nonsensical lyrics and simple choruses, they are effective in this context and the record is a smooth enjoyable listen. Further, while the music is big, the stodge rock of late-Oasis is put on hold for a slightly more elegant version of the Gallagher sound. There's nothing here you haven't heard before but that may be the point, Noel returns to his muse again and again - this time successfully.

The only problem with this album is that while I like Noel as a singer, I can imagine at least five of these tracks being elevated even higher if Liam had sung them. I'm sure Noel would probably punch me out for saying it but that's ok, this record is still pretty great.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Review catch up: The Middle East - I Want That You Are Always Happy

The Middle East were formed at my alma mater, James Cook University in Townsville which seems like a small miracle. Admittedly, I went there a long time ago but the culture of the uni and the town was incredibly conservative and almost adversarial towards creativity. Townsville has changed in that time but for that environment to deliver a band with such a perfectly conceived debut album as this is almost unfathomable to me.

I Want That You Are Always Happy is striking in that its ambition is pretty broad but it never feels as it's overreaching. While wearing it's influences transparently, the Middle East is never overwhelmed or beholden to them (except maybe As I Go to See Janey which has a vocal hook smeakily stolen from Radiohead). Radiohead do loom large here but the quieter, acoustic end of their canon - opener Black Death 1349 could be a long forgotten OK Computer outtake. The band's influences inform the record but not so much that they are distracting. Taking their cues from Radiohead, a splash of Sparklehorse with the obligatory Simon and Garfunkel song (Months), it is all filtered through a vibrant Australian 80's indie rock kaleidoscope (particularly Land of the Bloody Unknown and Dan's Silverleaf). As a result, the Middle East sound like a bunch of different bands without sounding like anyone else at all - if you get my meaning.

I was sad to learn that the band recently broken up and this album and a few eps will be their only legacy. I'd urge you to get the album before it disappears from memory as this is one of the best Australian records in a long time.


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Review Catch Up: Tom Waits - Bad As Me

I think it's a idiotic thing for anyone writing about Tom Waits to say something like "this is his best album since..." because all my friends and I have different favourite albums. My favourite records (Bone Machine, Mule Variations, Small Change) will be entirely different to your favourite three Tom Waits records. While the argument is often made that Swordfishtrombones is his best (and it is great), when it comes to Waits I think it is entirely subjective because a) most of his records are good and b) his voice anchors the songs so it's really what speaks to each individual listener as to what constitutes his best. That being said, call me an idiot because this is his best album since Mule Variations and probably surpasses that record somewhat.

Waits seems particularly inspired on this record and it slows like a otherworldly roadmovie slowly unfolding before you. Between the standard Waits stomp and crow numbers, there is a quiet desperation to the more low key numbers. Much like Midnight Oil who made batter albums in politically conservative times, Tom Waits inner-depression-era troubadour seems to be particularly inspired by the tough times at the moment. He pointedly addresses this on Talking At The Same Time, a light jazz inflected number:

Well, we bailed out all the millionaires
They've got the fruit, we've got rind

Things are grim all over as he sings on the gently desperate Pay Me:

It's nobody's business but mine when I'm low,
To hold yourself up is not a crime here you know at the end of the world

This song also includes the line "the only way down form the gallows is to swing" if that gives you the gravity that centres the record. However, it's not all doom and gloom with a number of jaunty numbers including the Satisfaction baiting Satisfied where he sings "Now Mr Jagger and Mr Richards, I will scratch where I've been itching." Keef plays guitar on the track (as well as a few others) which seems to spur on the Waits crazy. Other highlights include the stomping anti-war grind of Hell Broke Luce and the torch ballad Kiss Me, a tale of two lovers trying to recapture the spark of love after many years together.

Waits always is at the top of his game on Bad As Me as this is a particularly taut set of songs that are focussed, emotive and entertaining. Part carny barker, part lover and part rogue, this album reinforces the uniqueness of Waits as an artist but not at the expense of the music, this is a brilliant album by any measure.