Reviews: October 2006
White Whale’s debut album could really be seen as striking while the iron is hot, their mix of Arcade Fire-style rousing rock and Muse-esque lush, sprawling guitars are really a winning combination on music’s current landscape.
That said, it’s only upon immersing yourself within its waters that so much more comes to the surface: the haunted and lost sounds that fill ‘I Love Lovely…’, the cascading piano lines in ‘Nine Good Fingers’ and ‘Forgive The Forgiven’ recalling something very baroque and sinister, and the static nature of ‘O’William, O’Sarah’, burning at both ends.
The mixture of beauty and aggression that is woven into WW1 is a refreshing and impossible to ignore, the rousing chorus of lost souls in ‘Admiral’ and ‘One Player’ alone are enough to raise many a mythical creature from the depths.
I Was Here (Hollywood Trousers)
After far too long on the sidelines and even now with little fanfare, Trevor Ludow’s solo debut is a wonderful pop jaunt – his bass playing day job here widened to find him covering all songwriting and performing duties.
His years in Biro, Skippy, Gentle Ben & His Sensitive Side are all evident here as country and western-fuelled ditties roll through like ever-so-brief sun-showers. It’s the tunes long ago heard in the criminally underrated B-Sides that stand out here, ‘Nervous Love’ and ‘Stars’ are timeless and thankfully not lost forever. Everything about these 10 songs is unobtrusive and prone to putting you in a good mood, from innocent love songs (‘Twilight’) to dustbowl instrumentals (‘Aubergine’, ‘Tsunami’). An album that would make Jonathan Richman proud, I Was Here shows a man who should have stepped into his own long ago.
C.Y.S.L.A.B.F. (Kill Rock Stars/Popfrenzy)
There’s not a mohawk among them, but these five girls from L.A. are punk rock through and through. This is a ramshackle garage rock album filled with hooks that could very well lead you to convulse more so than dance.
Like all good things visceral, it sounds more like they’re doing this for themselves than anyone outside – simple, direct beats and chords mixing with singing, yelling, chanting and even screaming when necessary to get the message across. The energy delivered in ‘End Of Time’, ‘Tighty Liberace’ and ‘Buisness Cats’ is fast, furious and brimming with life. This is 21 minutes that recall Bikini Kill, Some Velvet Sidewalk and even the Berkley punk scene of many years ago – ultimately it’s all that is great about underground music.
On Leaving (Fat Cat/Inertia)
Returning with her fourth album, Nastasia from the first moments of ‘Jim’s Room’ instantly weaves her web of shrouded country – the air of damage in her voice is the thin thread that works to create an intricate and delicate whole to capture your heart.
Drawing on her now trademark bare and brittle-boned instrumentation of piano, guitar and drums, the air within the songs holds as much weight and emotion as the instrumentation. This bears heavily down on ‘Counting Up Your Bones’ and ‘Settling Song’, songs so full of desperation that they can draw you down as much as set you free. There are moments though, full of joy and free from calamity – ‘Dumb I Am’ and ‘One Old Woman’ rockier in scope, more emotionally rousing and filled with hope.
On Leaving is an album full of wayward lives and breadcrumb trails back to your door.
And Now That I’m In Your Shadow (Secretly Canadian)
There really is a little community of solo disparate acoustic country folk singers who come and go quietly, leaving their hushed tones and plucked guitars as the only trace that they were ever here in the first place. Papa M is one of those, Richard Buckner and Iron & Wine are too and Damian Jurado especially so.
With this, his eighth album, Jurado is probably still destined to be an unknown , but in the few corners where he is known his light burns bright. These days Damian Jurado is permanently a three-piece entity, piano and guitars working to elevate his tales of hope and loss above the ensuing din. Everything about And Now That I’m In Your Shadow is sparse and haunting, slow and deliberate, meditative and potentially menacing. No one song is more than any other, all 13 tunes chapters of a larger story that’s hopelessly honest and devastatingly real.
THE KNIVES OF NEPTUNE
While having all the cogs in place will make the machine works just fine, it’s the soul in the machine that makes it greater than the sum of its parts. Now while The Knives Of Neptune sound like they have the highest quality parts, there’s something crucial that doesn’t seem to be present in Lakes – the something that should make this album great.
Their angst-ridden ebb and flow runs parallels with Mogwai or early Mars Volta, recurring crescendos resembling something quite near hardcore, but it’s the sheen, the sheer precision and by-numbers formula that dulls the colours. Twin vocals and soaring howls tip songs such as ‘Our Underwater Mausoleum’ and ‘Let Them Talk’ into melodrama and bombast. I can’t help but think that in a live scenario the sheer volume of the sound and the writhing bodies that deliver it would paint a very different scenario – that sense of unpredictable danger, unfortunately not present here.
BENNI HEMM HEMM
Self-titled (Morr Music)
The orchestrated and lavishly embellished pop of Benni Hemm Hemm is both subtle and sophisticated at the same time. Harking back to those 50s and 60s screen set soundtracks, their debut album is an amalgamation of classic Stereolab, Belle & Sebastian and pure soundtrack material.
Even with a multitude of arrangements, these 12 songs never sound too over the top, sweeping embellishments setting a variety of moods such as the Pacific feel of ‘Fight’ or the Italian Spaghetti Western brass of ‘Gitstemm’. There are some Magnetic Fields-styled camp moments (‘I Can Love You…’, ‘Ku-Ui-Po’) when it’s hard to discern the kooky from the absurd.
This album would be the perfect backdrop to some Las Vegas casino cocktail lounge, where the kitsch and the cool meet and mingle.
Couldn’t Be Done (EMI)
A jovial-sounding Tim Finn returns with this upbeat first single from his long overdue album. Still holding a slightly more skewed pop sensibility than his brother, ‘Couldn’t Be Done’ is the kind of well-crafted pop that will probably stand out against current radio flavours. The two unpolished B-sides of ‘Precious’ and ‘Poor Boy’ present a totally honest and raw-sounding Finn – the Split Enz cover sounding just as good here stripped back as it did in its former bombastic glory decades ago.
House Of Heads (Valve)
There is a violence in the artwork for this Brisbane band’s debut EP that is also audible in five songs presented here – a ragged, desperate violence like a confused animal backed into a corner. It’s the glorious tightrope of danceable melody and cathartic chaos that makes House Of Heads entirely enthralling and a standout release in this ever growing town of copycats. Let’s hope something this volatile doesn’t implode too soon!
Wooden Tongues (Valve)
This Melbourne collective brings so much to the plate that there ends up being almost a celebratory carnival vibe to their left-field hip-hop. Their second album is a fluid collection of rhymes that, while almost didactic in dissection, are ultimately as cryptic as digestible.
Cultural lineage, accents and a sense of history are again the secret weapon in this melting pot of fast-flowing ideas, with the individual racial backgrounds of each of these five fellows working their way into the finely interwoven tapestry of sound that goes far beyond musical beats. The Western European, Mediterranean and Central Asian instrumentation is the magic that underpins ‘Word Up Forever’ and ‘Forget’, among many others.
Whether it’s consciously or just naturally, the intricacy of ideas and cultural paradigms outlined here is enough to make your head spin – ass-shaking is the least of the motives utilised here. It would seem that evolution today comes in many forms: cultural, inter-racial and definitely here in this most musical of art forms.
Give Me A Wall (Dance To The Radio/V2)
Modern culture is really just a mish-mash of global access that allows us to cumulate so many varied elements into singular wholes that no matter what it is you are ripping off, chances are you can make it into something original.
This is exactly what Britain’s Forward Russia have done. Rather than discerning the various musical currents that intertwine this 11-song debut, it’s better to just to enjoy the careering post-modern ride. Equal parts At The Drive In post-punk, New Order disco-pop and New York No Wave crunch (but without that Blood Brothers-styled schizophrenia), it leaves you somewhere between dancing, lurching and straight thrashing about. The longevity of such a sound is debatable, seeing as there is no linear mood to hold the whole thing together – maybe coming to this as small, bite-sized chunks of ADD-soaked sound will be what makes it all make sense.
Enemies Like This (Astralwerks/EMI)
If the last two albums by this Brooklyn five-piece were at either ends of a tightrope, then album number four finds Radio 4 precariously balancing in the middle. After their far too easily digestible album of 2004, it’s instantly refreshing to see that some of the discord and raw guitar that first got them noticed has returned to the fold.
Still firmly defined by their post-punk scene of New York, there are plenty of hooks and danceable elements to keep you worked-out, but with all this renewed angular dissonance, the only let-down is the lack of new ideas! It’s hard to fault the blueprints of the title track, ‘Too Much To Ask For’ and ‘Target’, but it’s as though these guys have created a ‘best of’ with their past ideas. Definitely enjoyable, but some landscapes in New York still remain unchanged.
THE SKYGREEN LEOPARDS
Disciples Of California (Jagjaguwar)
Restraint, modesty and just a really natural feel is what makes the West Coast country of The Skygreen Leopards’ sixth album so endearing. Their rich, sun-soaked, laidback acoustic sounds have all the harmonies and drawl of the style without falling into the trap of trying to be the next Neil Young.
Whereas with last year’s mini-album, their psychedelic haze has all but evaporated to leave both the emotion and the music laid bare – ‘Egyptian Circus’ and ‘Silvery Branches’ beautifully rattling the bones of guitar, piano and banjo. An album that’s every bit its name, The Skygreen Leopards are as much revivalist as continuing pioneers on that old dustbowl road of faded dreams and hard worn lives.
For Hero : For Fool (Lex/Inertia)
In the continuously evolving world of hip-hop, it was inevitable that simple samplers and beat machines were going to no longer be enough to push the envelope. Subtle are one of those pushers sending said envelope into interstellar airmail.
Apart from being the brainchild of Anticon (Jel and Doseone) this ‘band’ also brings to the table a full accompaniment of live drums, guitar, wind and keys. Their third album has spewed forth some heavy jams and crazy styles – ‘Middleclass Stomp’ and ‘Middleclass Kill’ standout tracks that could easily melt your brain as beats and drums create a monstrous sound, while the full complement of instrumentation builds a chorus line of melodies and Doseone flys his words fast over this Bitch’s Brew-styled mini-symphony. Not since Beck awoke a white middle class from its slumber more than a decade ago has one entity been so able to bridge such a disparate sound – if only Miles was still alive to hear hip-hop, he would most certainly approve of Subtle.
THE EARLY YEARS
Self-titled (Beggars Banquet/Remote Control)
The sound of The Early Years is in fact the sound of a renaissance, a time of Creation Records, a time of Spaceman 3, a time when layers of guitar fuzz could push away the shitty weather outside. But The Early Years have taken a youthful exuberance to the once jaded weight that has underpinned this now instantly recognisable psych-pop sound – and they have sped things up a bit.
Within this 10-track debut there are a lot of familiarities and not a lot of uncharted territory, but don’t let that stop you from being fully immersed in their moody world. From the single ‘All Ones And Zero’ to the somewhat delicate ‘Brown Hearts’, everything is carried on the twin guitars that either bellow and rage like flares of sound or shimmer like brittle sheets of ice, the simmering percussion underneath the throttle for propels the whole thing. A nod is as good as a wink to the things you love.
Funny Thing Happened to Me On The Way To The Grave’ (Kill The Music)
Fuck The Boat People, Powderfinger and all their award-winning pop dross! This is easily ONE OF THE BEST ALBUMS OF THIS YEAR! With every ounce of piss/vinegar and rage that has ever flowed through Brisbane’s cop-beating streets, Dick Nasty have thrown down their third album – 16 tracks in 22 minutes that are brutally unnerving, savage and horribly accurate. A perfect concoction of resistance-filled thrash punk/and metal, these are songs that take nothing for granted, doused with lyrics that are so right it hurts. With Funny Thing Happened… these four fellows seemed to have risen above the plight that is their (and our) screwed up little world and written some of the most powerful and honest music the local scene has ever seen. They’re also right, Paul Weller was great in RoboCop 2 and if you don’t get it then get fucked!
Hand On Your Heart (Shock)
I hate to seem ungrateful, but isn’t it milking things a little too much if you release a single from a tour EP? And of the one song given up here, it’s a Kylie Minogue cover? Sure, you get three film clips (‘Hand On Your Heart’, ‘Stay In The Shade’ and ‘Crosses’) as well, but as undeniably good as Gonzales is, this item simply looks like a revenue raiser for his record company!
Roots & Crowns (Thrill Jockey/Rouge)
Often when the term ‘rustic’ is used, it’s to define some kind of simplified old-styled sound that is far removed from our modern aesthetics. Well, this is where the spellbinding and, yes, rustic sounds of Chicago’s Califone very much differ from the norm.
Building on classic country instrumentation of banjos, Wurlitzer, organ, violin, mandolin and the usual elements of bass and percussion, there is a melding of the tools of the old with the imagination of the new, Roots & Crowns sounding anything but normal or hokey. With these 14 tracks sounding much brighter than on previous albums, there’s a real Sparklehorse-styled dream world of sounds, vocalist Tim Rutili’s voice emanating out of the music in a very haunting way. Tracks such as ‘A Chinese Actor’ border on an almost Animal Collective-type avant garde vibe as machine loops and found abstract sounds make this a country road travelled by only those with wider horizons.
Hello Everything (Warp/Inertia)
This might take a bit for long-time fans to get their head around, but… Squarepusher has made a happy album! An album that is as gloriously intricate as any of his previous works, Hello Everything not only lets the light into his music but rips the blinds right off the wall.
His many transformations over the years have been subtle, Music Is One Rotted Note being the closest that these 12 tracks can be compared to. Sampling, splicing and interweaving a slew of organic instrumentation, the outcome sounds like a crazed jazz blow between Tortoise, Boards Of Canada and Amon Tobin – ‘Planetarium’ and ‘Welcome To Europe’ highlighting the evolution of his fast two-step shuffle structure of old. There are blissful droned-out breakdowns (‘Orient Orange’) and cacophonic passages of psychedelic jazz (‘Circlewave 2’). Ultimately, though, the nightmarish places of dark, dank and searing sounds are something that Tom Jenkins have awoken himself from – here delivering his world in technicolour!
Live A Little (Ashmont/Spunk)
The absolute pop sensibilities of Joe Pernice are once again in full effect as he unfurls another 12 tunes that shine and lilt with snaking guitar lines and his seductive and airy reminiscing voice.
There is a real literary feel to Pernice – as if being a songwriter isn’t enough, his stories are all full of eloquent individuals and surrounds, especially the luxurious dreams of simple Mid-Western folk (‘Somerville’, ‘Cruelty To Animals’). The intertwining piano and guitar is what really makes Live A Little a joy to experience and engage with – a cinematic light filtering through to create a real air of drama. Pernice even dips back into the past, taking a second shot at one of his decade-old Scud Mountain Boys tunes (‘Grudge F***’), here given full epic treatment.
MICAH P. HINSON AND THE OPERA CIRCUIT
Turn left at Albuquerque, end up in the middle of nowhere! The 11 songs laid out here seem as disparate as the various characters that make up all those small backwoods towns. Folk, country, bluegrass, pop and even some burgeoning post-rock are the various backdrops upon which colourful tales of various locals are allowed to unfurl.
Melding all combinations of instrumentation, Hinson takes us from lonely and haunting solo tunes to more rollicking numbers, as his newly remade band lifts his cracked and warm voice to greater heights. ‘Letter From Huntsville’ allows a full big band sound to swoop and swirl, the whole thing then shutting down to a solitary banjo in ‘She Don’t Own Me’ – the stings that follow in ‘Little Boys Dream’ adding a real air of sophistication to it all. All in all, it’s the romanticism of the Mid-West that is the lifeblood of Hinson’s second album and the not-always-happy endings the body blow.