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.

March album reviews

Methyl Ethel – Everything is Forgotten

I really love Methyl Ethel’s song ‘Ubu’, which appears up front on the band’s second album Everything is Forgotten. The vocals are intriguing and distinctively Jake Webb’s, the hook is catchy and the chorus has one of those lines that just keeps creeping back into your head. The problem, though, is that the song contributes to a major flaw of the band’s second album. In isolation, the lengthy repetition of the lyric “why’d you have to go and cut your hair” is fun; but when batched in with a bunch of other tracks that employ a similar tactic it gets frustrating. This isn’t to say they’re musically similar – there is in fact a clever display of creative variance throughout – but to have at least six tracks refrains repeated a few too many times is kind of annoying. Sure it’s a pop technique, but it’s jarring here. They’ve chucked in plenty of neat stuff, however. ‘L’Heure des Sorcieres’ employs Midnight Juggernauts-esque synth, ‘Femme Maison/One Man House’ some messy fuzz (and transfixion), and ‘Groundswell’ an old worldly harpsichord intro, with each fronted by that unique vocal which pulled me in in the first place. I feel that in time I’ll forgive my initial criticism of this album, or at least just takes the songs in isolation. Many of them a pretty rad.

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Ed Sheeran – ÷

It’s the emo rap sob pop album nobody wanted! False, actually. Hordes of emo rap lovers wanted it. Or, pop lovers. Sobbing pop lovers? Or the Irish… Do the Irish like the English these days? I think the emo rap lovers wanted something different. Confused? I am too… Because that is what ÷ does to you. Now, the third album in Ed Sheeran’s mathematical catalogue does contain proof that he can write a fun, memorable pop song. The unfortunate thing though, is that it also contains a whole lot of other stuff. You’ve probably heard ‘Castle on the Hill’ – a perfectly rounded, rousing pop tune that reminds us that English teens love to vom (so nostalgic) – and ‘Shape of You’ (the banana shaker one). You could easily stop there, basking in the craft of two well-rounded radio favourites. But, if you want to hear Ed delve into all sorts, listen to ÷. There’s an expected list of (mostly ordinary) ballads on ÷, but there’s also an odd amount of rapping (‘Eraser’), a flawed go at sexy soul (‘Dive’), a kind of nod to Graceland (‘Bibia Be Ye Ye’), an attempted street party anthem (‘Barcelona’), and a stab at an Irish pub ditty (‘Nancy Mulligan’). While this all rushes past in a confusing blaze, nowhere is the randomness of ÷ reflected more than on ‘Galway Girl’, a rap-versed Irish fiddle love song. Now do you see why I’m confused? He’s used so much here, it’s hard to know what else is there to look forward to. Perhaps deathcore, reggae and EDM will be thrown into the mix on his future albums and π. You know, because Ed.

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Alice Jemima – Alice Jemima

These tunes may envelop you or just pass you by depending on how much attention you want to give them. On one hand, the wistful pop of Alice Jemima is a fair stress remedy and escape from the world. Electronic beats, synth and cool guitar (think the xx) combine with whispery vocals (think Lisa Mitchell) to create a dream state you can close your eyes and bathe in. It’s chilled out, summer arvo music. There comes a point where you forget to notice the songs differentiating, but try not to miss the gentle oh-so-odd reworking of ‘No Diggity’. On the other hand, if your eyes are wide open and you’re caught up in whatever else is going on nearby, the “quiet” of these songs will struggle to seep in. This is calm stuff – you have to meet it accordingly.

Holy Holy – Paint

Holy Holy’s Paint is a triumphant Australian rock album, stacked with beauty and feeling. Its paradox is that the songs sound both classic and brand new, each awash with rollicking guitar and smooth vocals that draw you further in with each track. While the band have sited American folk and country bands as influences in the past, there is a distinct Australiana about Paint that is instantly recognisable. Hints of Icehouse and The Church can be found, as can likenesses to many contemporaries who Holy Holy may just well surpass with this release – in several instances I heard a balance somewhere between a Husky-like folk and the brooding of City Calm Down. ‘Darwinism’ is an all-round brilliant track and the indie rock mastery of ‘Elevator’ contains the defining riff off the album, while added touches of progressive psychedelia (‘Shadow’, ‘Send My Regards’) and pop sensibility (‘True Lovers’) only add to Holy Holy’s conquest.

February album reviews

Maggie Rogers – Now That the Light is Fading EP

Maggie Rogers’ Now That the Light is Fading is grouse. It’s not fair, then, that there are only five tracks here. This EP is a really good insight into what Maggie has to offer – 20 minutes to show her wares and demonstrate why people should wait out for any longer catalogue additions. ‘Color Song’ – a track isolated to vocals – starts things off nice and chilled out, setting up the cool indie pop to follow in radio-friendly ‘Alaska’ and ‘On + Off’. The remaining songs flaunt more of Maggie’s gorgeous vocals captured so well on track 1, adding memorable pop hooks that make each track instantly loveable.

Elbow – Little Fictions

There are a great number of bands for which I can easily proclaim: “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff.” Elbow is not one of them. The band can’t put a foot wrong as far as I’m concerned. Not taking anything away from their earliest material, when The Take Off and Landing of Everything came out in 2014 – their sixth of now seven albums – it eventually launched to arguably my favourite. And they’ve delivered another dose of brilliance on Little Fictions. The rousing ‘Magnificent (She Says)’ is a formidable lead to a stellar new collection of tracks on this album, which moves between loving, joyous, uplifting, melancholy and all sorts – Elbow again delivering more feeling in 50 minutes than many bands can in a career. Along with the opener, cleverly percussive ‘Gentle Storm’, lyrically packed ‘K2’ and the stirring epic ‘Little Fictions’ are the strongest additions to a perfectly-rounded new addition to the Elbow family.

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Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

I’m of the mind that grime music is terrible, so I set the bar pretty low when first listening to Stormzy; the next act in a line of British rappers who like black clothes, swearing a shit-tonne and generally coming across as very angry fellas. Why bother listening, then? Well, I guess I just like the way he says “bewts” and throws out truth bombs like “you’re never too big for Adele” in ‘Big For Your Boots’ (And that track has been hard to avoid). I was sucked in by one track, but this is far from a standout for me. There are some funny lines littered throughout and the odd winning track (2014’s ‘Shut Up’ resurfacing and claiming best on show), but there’s too much whatever everywhere else, with ‘Velvet’ sounding snorezy, the three-minute one-sided phone conversation ‘Crazy Titch’ far too self-indulgent, and ‘Mr Skeng’ (among others) sounding no different to any other grime act going around. That phone convo suggests Stormzy is taking grime “from a second rate genre to a first rate genre.” Do I agree? Meh.

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Dune Rats – The Kids Will Know It’s Bullshit

There’s a serious problem here because, evidently, the kids don’t know it’s bullshit. This is easily some of the worst local music around and having it constantly flogged on the radio is, well, bullshit. To be fair, if you’re a 15-year-old male who’s just discovered tinnies and weed, this is probably hilarious and close-to-home. But for all the rest of you that took this to number one on the Aria charts, please explain it to me? The music is appallingly unoriginal, the vocals painful to listen to, and the lyrics mind-numbing. Of course, that’s probably what they’re going for and I’ve missed the point altogether. Or maybe it’s just a complete load of rubbish and simply a Queensland thing.

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Middle Kids – Middle Kids EP

Some local talent is on serious fire at the moment. I couldn’t get over the number of female voices killing it in 2016 and I’m hoping the trend continues this year. Middle Kids’ self-titled EP is a good start. The tracks presented are an awesome representation of this Sydney three-piece and you’ll be singing along in no time. By the time Hannah’s vocals go high on ‘Edge of Town’, repeating the refrain “I’ve got something on my mind,” all you want to do is rock out hard. ‘Never Start’ follows, bringing you back to earth momentarily, only to get you similarly revved again when its own chorus rolls through. It’s not a formula, it’s a consequence of good song craft. Each song is its own entity – I wouldn’t turn one away if presented in isolation. For that, Middle Kids become very radio friendly, and an act that’s likely to draw in more fans with each offering. Generally middle kids are the unloved ones (certainly the case in my family), but I think I’m going to love these guys.

Jidenna – The Chief

Jidenna has a fair list of talents; he can sing, rap, and dresses impeccably. He has a lot to show off on his debut The Chief, which is why it comes across a tad hotchpotch. Drake’s getting rap Grammys for pop records, so maybe Jidenna is just covering all bases to avoid confusion down the track. Among the songs, there’s breathy war chanting, chats with dad, some icky auto tune, a lullaby nap, anthemic choruses, fiery rap and earworm pop – it’s all quite confusing. But despite the flip flopping, The Chief is a really fun album, full of clever lyrics, a touch of political poignancy, and memorable beats that stick with you even when not sticking to one another. All that is heavily seasoned with the man’s self-confidence –  he’s the chief, the lion, and even the better Bond (“And that lame tryna holler he a Bond wanna-be, He a Roger Moore I’m a Sean Connery, I know”).

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January album reviews

AFI – AFI (The Blood Album)

Time to dress in black, paint the mascara and wail in the darkness. If that doesn’t float your boat, you could add in a listen to the new AFI record, too… (Then you’d understand our pain *cries*) Davey don’t scream no more and they’re really a guilty pleasure these days, but I maintain AFI are cool-as-hell. Having reimagined themselves in various ways in the past, album ten does just feel like a continuation of Burials and Crash Love – not any dramatic turn probably due. Its familiar riffs and overall vibe are as melodically dark as you’d expect (“We both prefer romantic murder / To erase time and my, my empty life”). Track two bluffs a surprise, acoustic guitar leading ‘Still a Stranger’ to have you thinking: “What the hell are you doing AF…” before Jade steps in and brings it back to your expectant level of high spirited, rocky sadness, complemented at many turns by Davey’s anthemic choruses. Some people ask whatever happened to them emo kids? They’re standing behind you.

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The xx – I See You

I remember I was at a festival once and my bro, standing next to me, fell over. A nearby punter/nurse exclaimed dehydration, he assured it was the result of earlier surgery, but I knew the truth – the xx did it. Was this swooning in the actual sense of the word? No. More like snoozing (“the zz”). I was really delighted to hear I See You, then. For the most part, it’s a fun record that you want to stay awake for. The xx have brightened the hell up and its paying dividends. This is an album that will cheer you up, bring you back for many listens, and even make you dance (if you’re not the I’m-too-cool-and-hip-to-possibly-dance-to-music type)! Heaps of people loved them before, but it’s only now they’ve won me over.

Austra – Future Politics

In the event you’re ever caught up in a robot space alien cowboy invasion in the middle of the desert, you now have a soundtrack for said situation by way of Austra’s Future Politics. This is a wacky trip of a record, with loads of impressive (and occasionally comical) pitch and warble. The levels seem a bit weird, with vocals and synths on par, making Katie’s voice sound like its somewhere off in the distance or lost in space. But the upside is the album having a weird way of presenting the upbeat among darker edges – quite subtly cool. There’s plenty going on here, from vast and scared (‘I’m a Monster’), trippy psych (‘Future Politics’) and soaring vocal tracks (‘Gaia’). Overall there’s an air of positive gloom that still gives you something to nod, flail lightly or just pull weird shapes to.

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Kasey Chambers – Dragonfly

I can say quite confidently I’ve never been a fan of Kasey Chambers, although that being said I haven’t heard much beyond the whiney singles of the early 00’s. I was pretty surprised then, when one afternoon Henry Wagons played an absolute corker of a tune called ‘Ain’t No Little Girl’ on Double J. Heavy, rocky, soulful – the track sucked me right in. When he back announced it, I was really surprised, and with that I decided to give Dragonfly a go to see if I’d pegged her wrong back in 2001. I was kind of annoyed… I listened to the whole thing and there was a total of three dark belters! The rest was a blend of folk ballads and ramblings, old school blues, mournful country and religious nods. All bar the last of those categories are fine enough, but overall this album was not what I was sold on the radio.