ALBUM REVIEW: Destroyer – ken

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Now up to album number twelve as Destroyer, Dan Bejar, one-time member of The New Pornographers, has fully embraced the world of lush and literate sophisticated synth pop. Think New Order’s primitive machine sound, the avant, collage-like work of The The and Morrissey’s lyrical twists and turns of phrase and you’re in the right region.

Musically there are plenty of glorious post-punk melancholic moments with Bejar obtusely detailing doomed romance, broken love, fame and misfortune – all in his characteristically dramatic and pretentious singing style.

The themes may be universal but the sonic setting is specifically England in the mid 80s, making it a highly successful marriage of poetic and acutely-knowing musical nostalgia, not dissimilar to Jack Ladder and Alex Cameron.

Chris Familton

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LIVE REVIEW: Midnight Oil @ Sydney Domain

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The Great Circle Tour came full circle, back to the city where it all began seven months ago with a warm-up show at Marrickville Bowling Club. Since then, Midnight Oil have conquered the world once more, returning sounding better than ever and with an enviable and overflowing back catalogue of generation-defining songs.

AB Original went down a treat as the opening act, standing tall and delivering their message of pride, culture and politics. A live drummer and keyboardist gave their sound depth and an organic feel. Hands were waved in the air as the celebratory outdoor-gig vibe kicked in, but not at the expense of conveying the importance of Briggs and Trials’ messages.

Although still with a conscience slant, John Butler Trio have a much more subtle delivery. Their breezy, rhythm-driven sound and Butler’s exceptional guitar playing worked well as the calm before the headliners’ arrival. It also may have helped to mellow out the copious tinnie-sinking punters who seemed to be intent on reliving their youthful excesses.

With slogans and messages of human and environmental rights peppering the large screens, Midnight Oil emerged on the towering stage and, as was appropriate, began with Armistice Day, Peter Garrett singing from beneath a hood. With crystalline sound they accelerated into Read About It, the screams of recognition immediate from that opening cowbell/guitar. From there it was a faultless set, balanced in its mix of the earliest of songs including Section 5 (Bus To Bondi) through to the biggest of hits – Power And The Passion, Beds Are Burning, The Dead Heart, Forgotten Years. Drummer Rob Hirst was having a ball, his muscular drumming a musical celebration of the band’s spirit in itself, joining the band front of stage mid-set for US Forces and Kosciusko. Nothing was lost with Jim Moginie restricted to a chair after his Melbourne fall, his playing a revelation of guitar and keyboards, the ingredients that added post-punk, art-rock and psych twists and turns to the band’s sound. Put Down That Weapon was reshaped as a slow-burning number and the large screens gave a fascinating insight into his and the rest of the band’s playing. Garrett is still the star of the show, though, the mad marionette dancer relishing the large stage and exploring every inch like the seasoned pro he is. He also created an intimacy with the audience with his interactions and expositions.

Sure, there were the requisite and important social and political messages, preached to the mostly converted, but the overriding message was a celebration of the music, songs that soundtracked more than one generation and still burn strong with real heart and soul.

Chris Familton

Here’s our Spotify playlist of the songs played in the Midnight Oil set:

 

ALBUM REVIEW: The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

 

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Adam Granduciel has called this album A Deeper Understanding but it could’ve quite easily been called A Clearer Understanding given the clarity he’s applied to his songs this time around. He approaches them with direct and confessional lyrics that sound unquestionably autobiographical  but he’s also pared back some of the hazy, gauze-like qualities of the dreamy approach he’s taken to the music in the past.

There is less drift and more direction in these ten songs but that doesn’t mean he’s sacrificed any of that wide open sound and the propensity to indulge musically. There are still epic guitar solos, now paired up with equally grand and soaring 80s synths as the rhythm section diligently chugs and occasionally canters along with loping country rock or gently propulsive Krautrock grooves. As a result it’s a rarity for a song to be under six minutes, with Thinking Of A Place stretching to a cosmic and hypnotic eleven minutes. If ‘meditative rock’ is a genre (it is now), they are the torchbearers.

Vocally, Granduciel sounds less Springsteen and more Dylan, accentuating the nasal qualities of his voice, that husky whisper that always sounds wistful and like an afterthought as he searches for answers to what sound like existential answers. There’s a spiritual quality to The War On Drugs but it comes across as a cosmic more than religious.

A Deeper Understanding requires commitment from the listener and it’s one of those slow reveal albums. Give it the time it deserves because this is their best and most complete album to date.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Lambchop @ Factory Theatre, Sydney

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Lambchop, Antonia & The Lazy Susans, Jack R Reilly @ Factory Theatre, Marrickville, Oct 19th, 2017

Early arrivals were privy to opening sets from local acts Jack R Reilly and Antonia & The Lazy Susans. The former showed a fine line in intimate, emotionally open and vocally impressive singer/songwriter fare over sparse and haunting electric guitar. In contrast, Antonia & The Lazy Susans were a confusing choice to open for a band like Lambchop. They delivered emo/indie guitar pop with an overdose of angst. The songs were overwrought and simplistic in form, a total contrast to the act they preceded.

This was a stripped down version of Lambchop – a band who have always had a fluid lineup revolving around frontman Kurt Wagner. On this tour the configuration was bassist Matt Swanson, pianist Tony Crow and Wagner on guitar, laptop and vocal manipulations.

Opening with a trio of songs from last year’s Flotus album they established the sonic palette for the evening where bass-lines formed pulsing, smooth and febrile shapes over beds of digital beats and textural clicks, beeps and washes of sound. Crow’s piano was a revelation of cascading notes that fluttered and danced through melodic passages, light of touch but beautifully melancholic and immersive. Front and centre was Wagner, the conductor and storyteller with his reading light, vocal unit, laptop and guitar. Using autotune, delay, reverb and self-sampling effects he conjured up a playful and endlessly fascinating take on the role of the lead vocalist. Older songs such as The Decline of Country And Western Civilisation and 2B2 were recast in the Flotus mold without losing any of their grace and poetic weight – an example of how, even though this was a new iteration of Lambchop and quite a distance for their country soul origins, it was still uniquely identifiable as the same band.

As the set progressed the players seemed to relax into their roles, particular Crow with his often hilarious quips, such as setting his phone to vibrate in his pocket at various moments during the show, to keep himself awake. It was certainly a show that traded on a minimalist sound that recalled Brian Eno but at the same time it embraced and reinterpreted various influences such as the textural and melodic inventiveness of Arthur Russell and the lush R&B of D’Angelo. In keeping with that they concluded with a uniquely Lambchop take on Prince’s When You Were Mine. This was post-modern soul music at its most compelling.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Jep And Dep – They’veBeenCalled

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This is album number two for Darren Cross (Gerling) and Jessica Cassar and it finds them expanding their monochromatic and ethereal world into darker corners where mystery slowly reveals itself and both hope and despair are around every slow bend.

Their debut was clearly a interpretation of folk music but here they use even more swooning strings, piano and billowing reverb to add a ghostly and dreamy warmth to the songs. The pair share lead vocals and counter each other with some wonderfully arranged harmonies that add to the haunting qualities of their music.

On ‘Poor Little Rich Kids’ Cassar’s voice hovers in the aether behind Cross’ closely mic’d vocal. Cassar’s performance on the exquisite ‘Cruel Moon’ is reminiscent of Portishead at their most organic. Her voice is high and keening, pastoral even, when combined with Cross’ finger-picked guitar. It’s one of those sweet-sounding songs that has a dark undercurrent flowing just beneath the surface. Elsewhere, ’Helpless City’ has an ominous quality, like Nick Cave warning of approaching doom from the Bang Bang Bar stage in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

From rich kids drowning to a captive’s lament, a city’s cultural decline to romance in jeopardy, there’s a gothic sheen to They’veBeenCalled that both soothes and unsettles. Throughout, melodies cascade like slow rain on a window pane and as the closer ‘This Is Not The End’  dissolves into gentle static, the overriding mood that lingers is one of beauty bruised but not vanquished.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Beck – Colors

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Beck’s much anticipated 13th album follows the lush and melancholic Morning Phase and though Colors is equally lush, it’s an album built on widescreen technicolor, bold sonic brushstrokes and a saturated pop aesthetic.

On first listen it feels like the quirks and eccentricities that made Beck so iconic are absent on this album but dig below the pop-laminated surface and you’ll find an equally audacious approach to song-craft.

Beck dials in funk, hip hop and psychedelia, exquisitely blending rock guitars and low slung beats in a clever collision of synthetic and organic musicality. ‘No Distraction’ is a standout with its clipped funk and snaking vocal melodies. Like many of these songs he operates in areas of structural cliche – build-ups and anthemic choruses – but it’s all done with an auteur’s ear and sleight of hand that belies the complexities at play.

Old school Beck fans will enjoy the collage-constructed ‘Wow’ but the overwhelming focus of Colors is Beck’s continuing exploration of the frontiers of pop music, like a 21st century Steely Dan.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent

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Protomartyr immediately stood out from the rest of the anguished post-punk pack when they first emerged four years ago with their debut album All Passion No Technique. They went from strength to strength over their next two albums, twisting Joe Casey’s mantra rants over caustic punk, dark indie guitars and tumbling drums before arriving at their most realised set of recordings to date.

Relatives In Descent stands as their most exploratory and wide-ranging album in that they’ve pulled apart their sound, and reconstructed it with the same elements but a new and revitalised sound. Greg Ahee’s guitar is less all-encompassing. Now it slashes with intent on ‘Here Is The Thing’, spirals in woozy circles on ‘My Children’ and sparkles with chiming funk stabs in ‘Corpses in Regalia’. That diversity allows the rhythm section to conjure all manner of grooves; from the rapid fire jerkiness of opener ‘A Private Understanding’ to the catchy melodic swagger of ‘Caitriona’ and the taut post-punk propulsion of ‘Don’t Go To Anacita’. Elsewhere there’s the introduction of subtle strings and synths that take the songs to endlessly intriguing places.

Joe Casey is often the focal point of Protomartyr with his nihilistic blue collar vibe and barking vocal delivery akin to a transatlantic Mark E. Smith. Here he maintains the speak/sing/howl approach but lyrically he’s followed the lead of the rest of the band and upped his game. Thematically the album takes a look at contemporary America under the mismanagement of Trump and the state of society that Casey’s witnessed from tour van windows and coast to coast trips. It paints a dystopian vision of gluttony, excess and despair but you can still hear the glimmer of hope and humanity in the songs, framed and enhanced by the life-affirming creative intellectualism of Protomartyr.

Chris Familton

Read our recent interview with Joe Casey of Protomartyr

LIVE REVIEW: Peter Hook & The Light @ Metro Theatre

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Peter Hook & The Light @ Metro Theatre, Sydney, October 2nd 2017

Ten days after announcing a settlement with the rest of New Order concerning his use of various New Order and Joy Division assets on merchandising and in the promotion of shows by his new band, Peter Hook returned to Australia for a tour that honours the legacy of both acts, but for this particular show, primarily Joy Division.

Three sets and no support – no-one can accuse Hooky of shortchanging the fans or not putting on a totally professional show. They warmed up with a set of seven New Order songs. There  was little in the way of the hits, instead he went for album and EP deep cuts such as In A Lonely Place, Dreams Never End and Procession. It was a low key and somewhat tentative start that felt like a warmup for what was to come. By the time they hit Age Of Consent the band and audience had warmed to the occasion and the anticipation of Joy Division albums Closer and Unknown Pleasures, in full, was firmly established.

The Light were excellent at recreating the sound of Joy Division, the primitive synth the human/machine drumming of Stephen Morris and the dense guitar churn and simple melodic guitar lines. With two bassists in the band, Hooky had the freedom to play when he chose, clearly finding it easier to concentrate on the vocals without having to play at the same time. Vocally he nailed it, channeling Ian Curtis and his tone and intonations but adding a bit of Hooky rock bravado. Isolation, the dark and moody Heart and Soul and the even more desolate yet beautiful grandeur of The Eternal were particular highlights.

Unknown Pleasures, now something of an iconic symbol of post punk and the dystopian end of the 70s, sounded a lot better in that the songs are dynamically more fluid and intense. Hooky paced the stage, pulled low-slung bass moves and stared out across the audience, surprisingly making no comments between songs. It was a powerful rendering of a classic album with Shadowplay and Day Of The Lords as high-points. Returning for a brilliant three song encore of Atmosphere (dedicated to the tragedy in Las Vegas), Transmission and an exultant Love Will Tear us Apart before Hooky tore off his shirt, bowed to the crowd and strode off victorious.

Chris Familton