September album reviews

The National – Sleep Well Beast

‘Nobody Else Will Be There’, ‘Day I Die’, ‘Born to Beg’, ‘I’ll Still Destroy You’. These are all titles from the National’s latest, Sleep Well Beast. They really are the emos of indie, but they manage repeatedly to find sincere musical splendour in all that’s so terrible. High Violet and Trouble Will Find Me made the National an arena band, a festival headliner – they’ve become one of this decade’s most formidable acts. And yet, seven years on from High Violet, their tracks reflect the spirit of their works spanning back almost 20 years. Sleep Well Beast presents everything already loved about the National, with many gentle, pensive moments (‘Born to Beg’, ‘Carin At The Liquor Store’) facing up against the kind of “mainstream” National (‘The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness’) and aggressively huge tracks that demand attention (‘Turtleneck’). Its title track ends the album as one of its more intriguing inclusions – a warping addition with just-woke-up vocals and discordant guitar solos. Like much of Sleep Well Beast, it’s gloom-filled, yet lets shards of hope through. It’s confusing, but it’s beautiful.

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Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold

Foo Fighters release albums like clockwork, having not let three years pass between any of their nine records. For a long time I’ve been strung along by Dave’s rock formula. Yes it’s predictable, but who cares – it’s bloody fun. There’s no denying there’s been some duds along the way, but there’s also no denying the anthems that have shone through, along with unrivalled videos and stage antics. A Foo Fighters live set is looong, because they have a lot to get through. Now they’re extending all that with Concrete and Gold. Album nine combines classic Fooies with the visceral grunt Wasting Light and Sonic Highways only hinted at. It’s exciting, a little unpredictable and blatantly heavy in its most exciting moments. Compared with previous efforts, Concrete and Gold has collectively more screaming, less lyrics and about the same guitar work. Opener ‘T-Shirt’ pulls the old-but-clever trick of “start really quiet and make them turn their speakers riiight up” before booming into a gone-too-soon, Queen-esque rock pomp. It kicks the adrenaline into gear and leads into ‘Run’, an altogether less interesting song, but screamed triumphantly none-the-less. Concrete and Gold continues with all sorts of throwback, greatly 70s sounding rock and roll. ‘Arrows’ is the big chorus track, as is pub rock chanter ‘The Sky Is A Neighborhood’, while ‘La Dee Da’ introduces psychedelic fuzz to the mix. Looking at the new additions to their collection, it’s easy for them to choose the crowd pleasers rather than the curveballs, but wouldn’t it be nice if they didn’t?

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Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton – Choir of the Mind

I love Metric and had no idea Emily Haines had released a solo album before. Said solo debut is now 11 years old and Metric have had plenty of successes between then and now. Dressing her name up as Emily Haines & The Soft Skeleton, Choir of the Mind is not what you’d expect if, like me, you’d only heard the Canadian voice via Metric. If you expect the anthemic pop rock of Fantasies or Synthetica, you’re not gonna find it here. But if you’re keen to hear Haines’ calm side, her introspection, and something soulful and comforting, this solo outing is for you. There’s a dream state that floats through this record, held my Haines’ soothing voice and minimalist accompaniment. Piano, self-harmonies and vocal effects complement the voice, but there are occasional moments (like ‘Strangle All Romance’) where isolated vocals are all there is – a fine example of this pop vocalist’s versatility, given she’s more often heard layered over synths and guitars. ‘Nihilist Abyss’ is a standout track, with a distinctly eerie feeling and vocal trail-offs. It’s nice spooky punctuation on an otherwise wistful outing.

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

Another one bites the dust, only to come back a few years later for a massive festival circuit and new album. Unless you’re particularly old or seriously despise one another, a band breakup these days actually just means a hiatus. Whether a comeback is actually worth doing is another matter. For LCD Soundsystem, coming back was absolutely the right thing to do. With only three albums to their name before this, the band was too young, had far too many huge tunes and maintained too killer a live reputation to call it quits. A reunion only took five years, but American Dream has taken seven. And it was well and truly worth the wait. The songs here are long (really long) and rekindle the band’s build and release methodology – layering infectious hooks slowly into dance pop tunes that get stuck in your head for days. There’s familiarity in various forms, too. ‘oh baby’ and ‘american dream’ sound like they’re from a classic 80s teen-film soundtrack and feel like they’ve always been a part of your musical life, while ‘other voices’ lends the spoken word character of ‘Pow Pow’ (from This Is Happening), punctuated by a chorus of voices chanting its title. The six minute ‘tonite’ proves the most driving, most addictive, and most dance worthy on American Dream, and takes out top track. This album is so distinctly LCD, its songs could have come from any time in the past two decades. Yet each song brings its own strengths to a catalogue already bulging with treasure, failing to disappoint from start to finish.

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The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful

The feature presentation is right up front on The Killers’ latest outing – ‘Wonderful Wonderful’ is a damn cool opener, blending oldschool U2 verses, desert psychedelia, and a rousing chorus for big effect. It’s a statement piece – The Killers announcing a mighty return to form. It leads into some of the most exciting Killers material since their inception, with bombastic track ‘The Man’ getting celebrations started before expansive ‘Rut’ presents the album’s second epic so close to its opener. The remainder of the album’s first half is large; ‘Life to Come’ delivering some more obvious U2-throwback with its wailing chorus, ‘Tyson vs Douglas’ providing the sick 80s guitar solos and ‘Run For Cover’ surpassing all other tracks on Wonderful Wonderful with its quick fire lyrics and addictive hook. Then, oddly, it all goes a bit soft. The back end of Wonderful Wonderful is full of glossy ballads and loses the edge that previously cut through the cheesiness. The division of tracks is obvious, and while I don’t have much against the latter tracks individually (‘Out Of My Mind’ is synth pop solid), all bunched together they round out the album somewhat unexcitedly. Maybe hit shuffle on this one, or stop half way. In any case, there are at least a few real keepers here.

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August album reviews

 

The Preatures – Girlhood

The Preatures have followed up one fantastic album with another – this one the cooler sibling of 2014’s Blue Planet Eyes. It’s clever and infectious rock-fused pop, led by our future musical monarch, Izzi Manfredi. As retro sounding as it is fresh, Girlhood is a concept album that wears its influences on its sleeve. I was not surprised to hear Manfredi would be stepping into the shoes of Chrissy Amphlett for a one-off Divinyls show later this year (albeit jealous it’s in Perth) – this album oozes Amphlett flair in both its heavier and gentle moments. The familiarity of it all draws you in to what is one addictive collection of tracks. The chorus of ‘Yanada’, sung in the Indigenous Darug language, is highly contagious, while ‘Magick’ cements the Preatures’ prowess for winning slow grooves (‘Two Tone Melody’ was no fluke). Genre shifts continue to highlight the energy of Girlhood, moving between Aussie punk (‘Lip Balm’), Chic-esque guitar jams (‘Mess It Up’) and prime ballad work (‘Cherry Ripe’). This is addictive stuff and I’m keen to hear it again and again.

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Queens of the Stone Age – Villains

“There’s always someone cooler than you” is a saying that applies to all bar one person in the world, as someone has to hold the superlative, right? Joshua Homme is that person. Even performing with a hefty limp and hopped up on painkillers (ala his Festival Hall show this year), the man is untouchable – a pro at demolishing hecklers, on-stage grooming and of course, belting out the classics. Villains is no exception to the Queens of the Stone Age stand outs. Even with its nine tracks averaging well over 5 minutes apiece (‘Un-reborn Again’ tops the list at 6:40), it’s a really fast record, hitting top gear immediately and blending the QOTSA stoner-rock vibe into a far more polished groove (thanks Mark Ronson). You’ll dance because the funked-up rock enters your bones and because Joshua is subliminally making you. He’s that good. ‘Feet Don’t Fail Me’, ‘The Way You Used To’ and ‘The Evil Has Landed’ are standouts for me – sexy, addictive and as much classic QOTSA as they are new. ‘Villains of Circumstance’ is saved to the very end, as QOTSA prove again what masters of the slow burn they can be (having just fooled you into thinking there were none this time around). It’s a paradox, but with every album, QOTSA reinvent their sound while staying true to it. Villains is so far from Songs for the Dead or Era Vulgaris and all those before and in-between, yet I’d be surprised to find a fan not impressed by what’s on offer here.

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Everything Everything – A Fever Dream

In comparison to its predecessor, Get to Heaven, which was insanity in musical form, A Fever Dream is controllably manic. Without knowing what came before it, Everything Everything’s third album sounds crazy for sure. But I feel like there’s a balance here that shows a more considered approach from the band. The frantic is balanced out with subdued touches – for every eccentric ‘Ivory Tower’ there’s a measured and calm ‘Put Me Together’ …well almost. It could be an attempt to get more listeners on board and not scare them away, or it could be an indication Everything Everything have honed in on a sound (although not entirely settled). In any case, A Fever Dreamdemands attention. Jonathan Higgs’ voice is unbelievably good, swinging in and out of intense falsetto and huge choruses – none more bombastic than on album standout ‘Desire’. You want to sing along so bad; but face it, you’ll never get there.

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Brand New – Science Fiction

Brand New have been touting their demise for some time now – all signs point to 2018 as their final year as a band. If that turns out to be the case, Science Fiction is a damn fine way to go out. Eight years on from their fourth album, Brand New return in form far finer than where they left off, and while there are clearly elements left behind (where’d all the screaming go?) this new music is superb. The ferociousness of albums prior is stripped back on Science Fiction; where Daisy’s opener ‘Vices’ led with face-tearing volume and aggression, ‘Lit Me Up’ is a dark, unexpectedly gentle opening tune, and subsequently very eerie. The album seems to build itself around central tracks ‘Same Teeth/Logic’ and ‘137’, each a lengthy addition that build into the heaviest moments, the latter track offering severe guitar work that’s even tastier because of its moderation elsewhere. Science Fiction delivers incredible songs that sound uniquely theirs, yet are indicative of so many indie, rock and punk bands that have flourished in Brand New’s extended absence.

Boo Seeka – Never Too Soon

Boo Seeka impressed me a lot last year, with ‘Deception Bay’ an easy pick in my tunes of the year and their Like a Version cover of MØ’s ‘Pilgrim’ a favourite among 2017’s strong batch of renditions. For a local, emerging act, they sound solidly versed in what they do – one of those acts that release songs in the band’s infancy that may well trump anything that comes later. As far as debut album efforts go, Never Too Soon keeps pace with the stellar singles that preceded it. Smooth vocals and subtle electronica flood this record, as Boo Seeka chill their way through. It’s soul / electronic / indie field day that’s difficult to classify, punctuated with uplifting moments (‘Argo Misty’) and quirky dance tracks (‘Calling Out’) that make it a damn fine experience.

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Dan Sultan – Killer

The man can do no wrong. He sets a direction, he nails it, and then he starts all over again. This to me feels like Dan Sultan’s third incarnation in only four albums. Ditching the guitar and grunt of Blackbird, Dan returns on Killer with a whole lot of piano and gospel swagger. The tracks are instantly in your head, with a bevy of pop soul singles each owned by Dan’s inimitable voice and accentuated with glorious backing vocals. The album is definitely about the big tunes – ‘Hold It Together’, ‘Killer’, ‘Magnetic’, ‘Reaction’ – but is punctuated with a well-placed shifts, like the percussive ‘Drover’, which feels instantly like an Aussie folk classic, or ‘Fire Under Foot’, which combines Dan’s skill for balladry with a huge strings build-up. Each song holds its own in isolation, which is a great start. As a collection, though, this could be Dan’s best to date.

Gordi – Reservoir

I caught Sophie Payten – the coolest thing to come out of Canowindra – as a support act at the Palais Theatre last year, and was immediately transfixed by her sound. I’ve been looking forward to an album since and Reservoir surpasses my expectations. While there’s plenty that I already knew and expected about this album (single ‘Can We Work It Out’ a telling representation of Gordi’s folk pop prowess), the interwoven touches of weird make it a far more intriguing experience than I thought it would be. The album’s continuity actually ends up being one of its surprises, given Gordi will sing over a whispered counting sample one electronic track (‘Heaven I Know’), then pull out an acoustic guitar for a more classic approach the next (I’m Done’); or that ‘Myriad’ features a warped, auto-tuned voice throughout, yet is followed by pure, beautiful vocals on ‘Aeon’. In theory these musical ideas shouldn’t work together, but Gordi is clever enough to pull it all off. A lot of Reservoir holds a keen likeness Bon Iver’s work (they’ve been hanging out for sure), so if you like the American singer you’re in for a treat here. The debut all pays off for Gordi, leaving us with a versatile and memorable collection of tracks.

Gang of Youths – Go Farther In Lightness

Go Farther In Lightness is grand, intense and remarkably poignant – traits now synonymous with Gang of Youths. If you weren’t sure how emotionally heavier this band could get, album number two lets you know quickly. It’s a collection of tracks that both lyrically and sonically play tug-of-war with your feelings; taking you from despair to elation and everything in between over a lengthy 75 minutes. The album is built on a big scale, with several orchestral interludes and massive songs like the outstanding ‘Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane’ and ‘Achilles Come Down’. Even single ‘Let Me Down Easy’ is given new, intensified life on the album, coupled with what is effectively a 3+ minute symphonic introduction (‘Le symbolique’). All facets of David Le’aupepe’s life are penned here, from the hopelessness of ‘What Can I Do If the Fire Goes Out?’ to the happiness of ‘The Heart Is A Muscle’. Both his lyricism and the sheer talent of Gang of Youth’s rock style completely pull you in; it sounds cheesy but you can’t help but be entirely wrapped around lyrics like “the heart is a muscle now, I want to make it strong”. Go Farther In Lightness is destined for big things – acclaim, accolades, influence, and hopefully some kind of full blown orchestra tour to show its music justice.

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July album reviews

Meg Mac – Low Blows

Low Blows has been a while coming from Meg Mac – the softly spoken Melbournian who belts out soul like a seasoned pro. With a couple of singles and damn fine covers to her name, a debut album was hotly anticipated and although it’s a fleeting visit, it does the trick. A hefty double-up leads Low Blows, firstly with ‘Grace Gold’ – laying down an instant groove and earworm chorus – followed by the powerful title track. While instrumentation like piano and percussion dress things up here, the real kicker is Mac’s voice, which packs serious punch, especially in urgently soulful moments like ‘Don’t Need Permission’. While there’s cool drum work on tracks like ‘Kindness’, Mac’s voice hardly even needs a musical backdrop in many places. ‘Ride It’ is a late highlight, surely crafted to be performed live with musical cutouts bound to enhance an audience sing- and clap-along. Mac made an impression several years ago, so it’s cool to see she’s now following through with an extended offering.

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Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life

Honestly, I don’t care if I’m alone here – this is not a great album, not even a good one. Acclaim for Lana Del Rey’s latest seems way over the top. Sure, there’s occasionally some interesting writing on Lust for Life, and I get that her breed of pop steps away from all the expected glitzy smiles of the genre, but this is far too much of the same, bland, flat-line pop to be an enjoyable package. Lana exhibits little vocal range and draws on other big names to add flavour where she can’t – the prime example being The Weeknd’s employment to heighten the title track. A$AP Rocky appears in a couple of others, but they’re fairly terrible, while Stevie Nicks’ appearance is plain weird. Songs like ‘Groupie Love’ and ‘13 Beaches’ are unconvincing, if not vacuous, and add to an overall drone that fills a whopping 72 minutes. An attempt to rouse things up on closer ‘Get Free’ is too little, too late, as the fixed-tempo gloom of Lust for Life’s majority leaves you wondering how on earth Lana came up with the name.

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Haim – Something to Tell You

Haim pick up where they left off with Something to Tell You – it’s like Days Are Gone just played right through to album number two. The sisters fall into a megastar spectrum between the guilty country pop of Shania Twain and classier efforts of Fleetwood Mac, all the while delivering some of the finest harmonies going around. They make daggy awesome, but are so good at doing so the cool kids that dig it don’t even realise. What I really love about their album is that for all the pop hooks that make Haim so accessible, they’re still able to swings things around into unexpected territory. Any single will sell Something to Tell You, but the album ends with three tracks – ‘Walking Away’, ‘Right Now’ and ‘Night So Long’ – that completely change the pace and mood set by the radio fodder before them. You’re lured into the back end of this album and when things go dark I reckon Haim prove how great they are. Variety, charm and melodic prowess make this a 2017 standout.

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Vera Blue – Perennial

Perennial is a bit of a strange album – beautiful, but often cross-genred to the point of weird. There are plenty of singer songwriter types emerging at the moment and, likewise, plenty of laptop dance acts continuing to rise on the Aussie scene. While I feel like she emerged as predominantly the former, Vera Blue heavily combines the two on this album. What she leaves us with is a whole bunch of dance tracks you don’t necessarily want to dance to. Opening track ‘First Week’ is a subtle pop track – sweet vocals, simple instrumentation… Then the heavy synths drop and it morphs into something far bolder than you’d have thought it could. ‘Give In’ and ‘Regular Touch’ follow a similar mold, cranking up the production big time. Then things calm with ‘We Used To’, which relies on an incredible vocal range and rousing percussion instead of the artificial, and it feels far more natural. There’s a tug-of-war between bangers and beauties that continues from there to album’s end. For every over-manufactured one like ‘Lady Powers’ there’s a fragile stunner like ‘Pedestal/Cover Me’. And while Perennial is confusing at times, Vera Blue’s voice is the saving grace of this album. Even when everything else seems haywire – she’s got some serious power.

June album reviews

Lorde – Green Light

I’ve been in love with ‘Green Light’ for a while now, praying the tune doesn’t suffer the curse of popularity, get played to death, and sent to the hatred bin. This happens a lot if you’re keen on pop music, and Lorde has joined the genre’s elite. Melodrama is probably one of the year’s most anticipated albums. A golden first single followed up by a heart wrenching piano ballad ensured a lot of intrigue in its lead up. So does it live up to the hype? Yep. Lorde has delivered an album that’s as much true to her debut style as it is an opening to the mainstream; somehow pairing new, intriguing and often dark musical ideas with pop, radio earworm sensibilities. ‘Green Light’ isn’t a fluke, with tracks like ‘Supercut’ and ‘Perfect Places’ offering perfect follow-up options for high rotation dance floor hits. Despite their shining through though, Melodrama’s most prominent moment in fact comes from the subtlety and lyrical prowess of ‘Liability’, the stripped back moment that pulls you apart. Lorde’s got all the right angles covered.

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Phoenix – Ti Amo

Listening to Phoenix in June is like watching the Tour de France in July – a French summer escape in the darkest part of Melbourne’s year. Ti Amo isn’t surprising – it’s as cool and sexy as you’d expect a Phoenix album to be. But while it seems very familiar, I doubt fans are gonna shirk off any new material from the band. The album begins at a very fast pace, playing with bilingual lyrics, tonnes of synthesizer and a voice so cool it wears shades at night time. How they turn a title like ‘Fior di Latte’ into a slick indie jam, or deliver lyrics like “I don’t like it as it is / A disaster scenario / So don’t look at what you did / This melted Gelato” with suavity is beyond me, but they pull it off without seeming cheesy. (Ok, it’s a little cheesy, but pay a little less attention and you wouldn’t even notice.) Memorable for its words, but more so for the stellar dance tracks behind them, this is a hot, holiday-vibes album that’s a pretty sweet escape when you need it.

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Fleet Foxes – Crack Up

Who knew Fleet Foxes had gotten so huge? As Vivid headliners in 2017, I was surprised to see they had four concert hall shows on the go – a mean feat for what I thought was a humble little indie band without any new material in the past half-decade. It’s hard to articulate how I hear Fleet Foxes’ music, as they’re a rare band I associate with a specific setting. Their songs have a kind of wild feeling about them, taking my mind wandering through forests and prairies of West America. Crack Up is their third outing and while I don’t think it necessarily has their best or most accessible songs on it, it has struck me, wholly, as their most compelling work. Like its predecessors,Crack Up is lyrically poignant and highlighted with gorgeous harmonies and rich instrumentation; but this time there is a feeling of continuity that runs through the record, resulting in a product that succeeds its predecessors. There are many occasions here where songs adjoin one another, the passage from one to the next marked by subtle melodic shifts. This creates a musical timeline holding everything together, instead of presenting a collection of individual songs. A triple-headed and very unconventional opener ‘I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar’ begins the diverse meander that is Crack Up, setting the scene for a widely varied, beautifully performed, and perfectly pieced together folk meandering.

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Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

How Did We Get So Dark? is a good question and an even better record. Royal Blood’s second outing is ferocious, loud, varied, and above all addictive. It rounds out in under 35 minutes, but doesn’t relent from the word go, pulling you into its mosh pit and dragging you through some of 2017’s most rockin’ turns. Musically, the heavy pace on How Did We Get So Dark? sounds like a visceral mash up of Queens of the Stone Age and Muse, yet altogether it remains distinctly Royal Blood. It’s a rock and roll album that tightly packs highlights and doesn’t let a token track in, which accounts partly for its brevity, but more importantly for its excitement. Perhaps most impressive is the fact Royal Blood is simply made up of two guys – proof that good ideas is the principle ingredient for intense diversity.

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London Grammar – Truth is a Beautiful Thing

I’m fairly impressed by the success of a single like ‘Rooting For You’. It’s a striking song for one thing, but what’s really interesting is that despite being so far from high rotation radio material, it is. It’s really cool to hear tracks that completely change the pace of all else getting attention (a reminder to just calm your farm, folks). The single is a fair example of the album it’s plucked from, with London Grammar continuing to defy their own popularity by creating pop that’s very much understated. Hannah Reid’s vocals are elegant and Dan Rothman’s guitar work atmospheric, setting the tone for Truth is a Beautiful Thing. Where London Grammar lose ground is in the time they commit to this album – the songs feel quite long (epic slow burner ‘Hell to the Liars’ clocks in at 6 minutes, although the average is above 4) and there are lots of them. As a result, in its subtlety Truth is a Beautiful Thing risks fading away as it moves along; for as lovely as its songs are in isolation, there is a starkness that overcomes them as a collective. London Grammar have delivered a wonderful album here, but its consumption is something best broken down.

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May album reviews

Asgeir – Afterglow

‘Afterglow’ is the title and lead track from Asgeir’s latest, and it’s a beautiful summation of what is so excellent about the Icelander. Twinkling piano accompanies the beautiful voice, boosted a minute in with superb harmonies and, not long after that, rich string sections. Simply put, it’s bloody gorgeous. Asgeir has drawn likeness to Bon Iver in the past, but where the American went all technologically wacky last year, Asgeir has stayed on the vocally pure path that made both so great to begin with. Afterglow begins strong, with complex production in places balanced with simplicity elsewhere. ‘Underneath It’ begins extremely gently and could easily be an acapella track, but allows dark electronic glitches to creep in. ‘Dreaming’ is again vocally stunning, while ‘Unbound’ and ‘I Know You Know’ offer more complexity in their instrumentation. The latter half of Afterglow is really quite calm, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just that whereIn The Silence had hugely rousing track ‘In Harmony’ rounding it out, album number two doesn’t have the spine-tingling latecomer it needs to perfect it.

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Dappled Cities – |||||

Dappled Cities are one of my favourite local acts to see live. The thing is, I’d much rather hear what new things they have recorded than risk dealing with the group’s Melbourne fan girls (really. friggen. annoying.) I’m pretty pleased then that ||||| is quite a grouse offering. Where their last album, Lake Air, felt like a collection of standalone pop songs strung together, the tracks on ||||| gel far better, making a cohesive piece that engages more wholly (possibly than ever before). It may be at the sacrifice of a clear “single” moment, but that’s not to say there aren’t memorable moments. Standouts include the gentle, quieter ‘Weightless’, which carries the best harmonies; ‘What Is Impossible’ introducing clever and whimsical elements; and ‘That Sound’ rounding things out with a little jauntiness not really found anywhere else on the album. ||||| is a mature and rewarding addition to the Dappled Cities catalogue – certainly in line with their best. (On a side note, releasing a fifth album named five on the 5th of May is pretty damn stellar.)

!!! – Shake the Shudder

!!! keep coming back to the dancefloor with sharpened pop sensibilities. The groove on opener ‘The One 2’ draws you right into Shake the Shudder, with the stellar vocals of Lea Lea providing a soulful introduction. It’s followed by ‘Dancing Is The Best Revenge’, which begins to feel like an M83 track with wispy spoken vocals over a subtle bassline, before thrusting into frenetic body-shaking joy. Every track thereafter keeps in step, moving through a wilderness of dance pop stylings. Where similar albums might take breathers for pacing sake, !!! just keep things in high gear. As a result, they’ve pulled off one of the finest pop offerings – or should I say modern disco – 2017 has seen so far. At album number seven, that’s a damn cool thing.

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Kasabian – For Crying Out Loud

When you get big, your music has to come with you, heaven forbid you fall from on high. In order to keep their status as festival kingpins – held for considerable time now – Kasabian have pulled out another hefty offering, complete with mosh filling lad-rock, awkward-indie-shuffle, and some token snorey soft stuff. For Crying Out Loud starts big with ‘III Ray (The King)’, a sample of staple Kasabian sound that twists into a bizarre structure toward its end (fading into another song that, oddly, is the same song…) There’s wailing anthems (‘Wasted’) and an eight-minute indie rave (‘Are You Looking For Action?’) boosting the energy of this album, but an attempt to create something balanced falls flat with lighter songs that feel unfortunately like filler (‘The Party Never Ends’, ‘All Through the Night’, ‘Sixteen Blocks’). The redeeming “slowie” is saved til the end – ‘Put Your Life On It’ a stereotype of Beatles-wannabe Britpop. Despite its predictability, it’s an absolute corker. As it builds, you’ll be hard pressed to not feel like a patriotic pom. For Crying Out Loud is flawed overall, but where it pulls punches it lands knock outs.

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April album reviews (2)

Mew – Visuals

I’m new to Mew, the Danish indie band of over (wow, I’m late to this) 20 years… I came across this album by chance, and not aware of their previous catalogue found all sorts of likenesses as I listened through. At first it felt like the band were borrowing from so many of their contemporaries, but on learning how long they’ve been at it I realised it was the other way around. This made me wonder why those similar acts are getting all the praise here (in Aus), while Mew remain relatively unknown. Things kick off with full-blown anthem ‘Nothingness and No Regrets’, which would immensely please any Of Monsters and Men fan, before a pair of synth-laden tracks – ‘The Wake of Your Life’ and awesomely titled ‘Candy Pieces All Smeared Out’ – present the same glossy pop sounds adapted by Two Door Cinema Club and Passion Pit. Further likeness is then found in the vocals on ‘Ay Ay Ay’, which smell distinctly Shins-y. The whole way through, Mew present slick pop tunes, held together by a lot of synth with production evoking the feeling of a full string section. Mew could easily adapt this work to a pop/orchestra collaboration. I’m sorry I don’t know how Mew have come to this point, but I’m glad I can now find out.

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Gorillaz – Humanz

Z’s everywhere… “double the e, double the z, double the flava!” Not exactly the right kinda quote when listening new Gorillaz material, but with Humanz is there a right thought? There are a lot of trackz here and a seriouz case of cohesion confusion. ‘Ascension’ and ‘Strobelite’ (can they not spell because they’re animals?) lead the first Gorillaz outing in seven yearz and, surprisingly, it’s not an immediate capture. These first songz fair well on their own, but I could be listening to any number of hip hop recordz. A memorable synth sound eventually appearz along with Albarn’s voice to remind you where you’ve landed, but the early setup gearz Humanz in a randomised flight path that’z altogether confusing and a little frustrating. Genre-bending and guest-loading are Gorillaz trademarkz and there’z no shortage of that here. Discounting any interludez, there are 16 trackz and an even greater number of vocalistz. A bunch of humanz helping those gorillaz with their singing (but not spelling). While there waz no standout pop gem for me on this album az there haz been on otherz, ‘Momentz’ (feat. De La Soul) is certainly in the party camp when many of its neighbourz are dark or dreary. For said dark side though, there iz not a finer moment than late comer ‘Hallelujah Money’ (feat. Benjamin Clementine), a very nice, deep and murky political piece.

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The Smith Street Band – More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me

I really didn’t know if I liked The Smith Street Band before listening to a full album of their material (as opposed to radio singles), with their talking(yelling)-not-singing approach to vocals and lines all about the northern suburbs (that’s jealously… I live in the boring east). Maybe it’s Stockholm syndrome, or maybe I found something, but my opinion of these fellas has turned around having heard More Scared Of You Than You Are Of Me. Wil Wagner has some seriously heavy stuff to say here, and if you can move beyond his style (or perhaps you love it, weirdo) you’ll take something, perhaps a lot, away. There are three levels to the writing on More Scared… First, the complete album is a relationship story, beginning to end; second, the songs are emotional captures, among which you’ll likely find at least one that’s relatable; and third, some of the standalone lyrics are brilliant. There’s a lot to rediscover with subsequent listens. The standout for me was ‘Passiona’ – a candid expression of fear and anxiety – that’s musically gentle before fleshing out sounds along with its lyrics. I’m not convinced TSSB have an album to win over those that truly dislike their style yet. But if you’re still to decide, this one’ll do it for you one way or the other. As far as I can see, so long as you can write, who cares if you can sing.

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Maximo Park – Risk to Exist

Break out the hat and air splits because Maximo Park are back! I never get tired of this band, who consistently release albums with plenty of tracks I want to see on their setlist (and seeing them live is an absolute must). Their catalogue is far from a case of old-is-better and, in many ways, their tunes improve with age. In their sixth outing, the fast indie hooks are paired with a measured and pertinent sentiment. Europe’s political climate is high on their agenda. On title track ‘Risk to Exist’, Paul’s refrain “Show some empathy” is a good summation of the album’s message. There, as on ‘The Reason I Am Here’ and several other tracks, Maximo Park recognise and question a continent in crisis, and point out how flawed reactions to it are (“We will have to make a journey / Through the eyes of idiots / Where every problem in the country / Is blamed upon the immigrants / Not exactly high society / Neither tack nor sobriety”). Risk to Exist is cleverly created; while their strongest messages to date might appear this time around, they haven’t lost the flare of a good tune. You can take it intellectually, or just enjoy the musical mirth, that’s the beauty and the triumph here.

April album reviews

Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

“The comedy of man starts like this / Our brains are way too big for our mothers’ hips / And so Nature, she divines this alternative / We emerged half-formed and hope that whoever greets us on the other end / Is kind enough to fill us in / And, babies, that’s pretty much how it’s been ever since”

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Father John Misty’s wit is endless and he’s tied a tonne of poignant humour with stirring musicality on third outing, Pure Comedy. There’s a swag of great lines on this album and it’s hard to pick a favourite. Tillman commentates on our woeful political state, God’s misjudgement, and our own selfish stupidity (I like ‘Ballad of a Dying Man’ lyric: “Eventually the dying man takes his final breath / But first checks his news feed to see what he’s ’bout to miss / And it occurs to him a little late in the game / We leave as clueless as we came”) throughout a series of well-worded lines, verses and even one 13 minute essay (‘Leaving LA’). I’m happy to leave any major interpretation to the smarty-pants folk; but it does seem to me that Pure Comedy is designed to set us up – smirk if you like at his witty lines, we really should be crying. The words throughout are accompanied by understated arrangements (strings, piano, acoustic guitar) and the occasional soulful outburst (‘Pure Comedy’, ‘Ballad of a Dying Man’), all tying in to form the exceptional country-tinged indie folk of Tillman’s preacher moniker.

Polish Club – Alright Already

A gritty and mean cover of Flume’s ‘Never Be Like You’ pricked my ears on Like a Version one week and drew my attention to one slick, yet unashamedly wild band. There’s only two guys in Polish Club, but that’s far from a detriment. They’re in good company, with the likes of duos Royal Blood or King of the North proving that two blokes can smash out a lot of sound. But Polish Club are a soul act at heart, and with Novak’s dominant, belting voice being their cherry on top, they set themselves apart from their contemporaries. Their first album is also pretty damn rad. Alright Already is quick, brash and frenetic. It’s like they made up their mind and raced out an album. But despite the rush of it all, or perhaps thanks to it, Alright Already sounds bloody fun. When these guys describe their sound as soul, there’s no safe sense to the description. It’s an amped up, rock’n’roll version of soul, the kind you’d get punched in the head in a mosh pit listening to, yet not really care about. It’s soul to be enjoyed loud and preferably live. But you’ve got to get to know the songs first, right? So get on this disc.

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Cold War Kids – LA Divine

Cold War Kids haven’t made a record like Robbers & Cowards since Robbers & Cowards. That was more than 10 years ago. If you claim they’re not the same as they used to be, get over it – you should have been saying that circa 2008. To get on with it then, LA Divine is bloody great. CWK quickly developed a big sound, shaped for stadiums but concealed in clubs. This album, then, is another example of rousing, raucous work intended to lift spirits and heart rates. There’s no mistake who you’re playing as ‘Love is Mystical’ kicks off – that piano, that voice and that chorus you wanna belt out are fell like classic CWK. Welcome additions to the catalogue include the familiar (‘Can We Hold On?’ feels much like ‘First’) and the varied, with a White Stripes feel on ‘No Reason To Run’ and CWK’s Cake moment as Willett speaks his way through ‘Wilshire Protest’. LA Divine is heavy and fast, with the exceptions quite odd; like slow ballad ‘Camera Always On’ only clocking in at half a minute long and the calm twist of ‘Free to Breath’ used to conclude the record rather than pace it. In its real body, ‘Ordinary Idols’ and ‘Part of the Night’ sound huge, while ‘Invincible’ glides and ‘Open Up The Heavens’ offers something growly, gritty and sexy. Altogether, this album is overwhelmingly blues and gospel laden stadium rock, with many great moments.

Future Islands – The Far Field

I’m more than happy to admit that I’m a recent Future Islands convert and lay no claim to diggin them before that demonstration of sheer brilliance. This means I’m also not across their long term growth. But I’m pleased to have heard them, and very pleased in their latest, The Far Field. This is a solid album lifted greatly by an symphony of arcade sounding synth, but most heavily by Samuel T Herring’s unmatchable voice. ‘Aladdin’ not only opens The Far Field, but it highlights it too. That’s not to say there’s no room to move, with ‘Ran’ and ‘Cave’ also early standouts, the latter of those teasing toward a death-growl from Herring that sadly doesn’t eventuate. Later on, ‘Candles’ and ‘Shadows’ act as the albums “twists”. The first is a wooing love song that changes the mood of the record, the second a cool duet with Blondie’s Debbie Harry that flicks back and forth. They’re strangely out-of-place among the more mutual material, but each is a welcome divergence none-the-less. What Future Islands lack in recorded form is Herring’s signature dance moves. I cannot wait to see The Far Field performed live, as these guys are easily one of the most exciting live indie band out there.