ALBUM REVIEW: Thurston Moore – Rock N Roll Consciousness

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The Sonic Youth guitar slinger and solo artist returns with a new album, his second with his current group which includes My Bloody Valentine’s Debbie Googe, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and guitarist James Sedwards. Familiarity with those players on-stage and in-studio pays off in spades with this confident, relaxed and expansive new record.

Moore has always vacillated between skewed punk/art-pop and experimental soundscapes and here he finds an immersive and endlessly fascinating balance between both worlds – whether it’s billowy, dreamy textural passages, hypnotic Krautrock trances or screes of distortion. It all adds up to an invigorating widescreen listen that more than lives up to Moore’s consistently high quality artistic output.

Chris Familton

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ALBUM REVIEW: British Sea Power – Let The Dancers Inherit The Party

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Mercurial art-pop and post-punk auteurs British Sea Power return after a four year break (excluding soundtrack work) and they sound wholly refreshed and focused on their sixth album. There’s a cohesive sound to the rousing guitars and propulsive drumming as they take stock of the world around them and the role of the individual in it all. It’s steeped in their trademark melancholy, yet framed with an uplifting optimism. It takes a few listens to dig beneath the shimmer and fuzz but when you do there’s wonderful collection of compelling indie rock songs awaiting you – Keep On Trying (Sechs Freunde) being the alt-disco pick of the bunch.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Underground Lovers

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Underground Lovers, Simon Holmes @ Leadbelly, Newtown, May 18th, 2017

With an excellent new album in tow, Underground Lovers finally made it back up the highway to Sydney after a few years absence. They’ve clearly retained and widened their audience too, with two sold out shows to celebrate the release of the new record.

Simon Holmes of The Hummingbirds had to battle the restless and chatty punters but he did so by virtue of some fine vocal melodies and the late-set addition of Adam (vocals) and Simon Gibson (drums) of the Ark-Ark Birds for a trio of their songs. A nice inclusion was a stripped back but still effortless and catchy version of the 1989 Hummingbirds single Blush.

Complete with a cache of psychedelic video projections, Underground Lovers put on a consummate, almost celebratory set. There was a false start with a miscued drum machine on the new song Unbearable but they laughed it off, with frontman Vincent Giarusso blaming nerves. From then on they never put a foot wrong, playing a big chunk of the new album Staring At You Staring At Me, intermingled with highlights from their back catalogue.

They’re a more muscular and propulsive band on stage than on record, the rhythm section locking into fluid and repetitive grooves that strayed into motorik Krautrock territory and down psych rock sonic rabbit holes. Melancholy permeates their music but the shared lead vocals between Giarusso and Philippa Nihill, the blend of Glenn Bennie’s guitar and the electronic elements ensured an all-encompassing sound that filled the room and was much dance-inducing as it was forlorn. Every Sign and The Rerun were two highlights from the new record – dark dance music akin to Primal Scream at their most rewarding junction of electronic and rock music. The biggest crowd response came with Dream It Down’s Las Vegas. A chanted sing-along ensued and when Giarusso hit the line “Lots of feathers, fluffy and pink, and cigarettes” an audience member responded with one. It was a weird sight seeing a cigarette inside a venue in 2017 but it was a fine moment at a gig where the mood of re-lived youth and fresh musical discovery was in the air.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Underground Lovers

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THE JOY OF HUMAN IMPERFECTION

Underground Lovers return with their second post-hiatus album Staring At You Staring At Me and a run of live shows. The band’s Vincent Giarrusso talks with Chris Familton about the theme of the album and harnessing the human element in machines.

As is their trademark, Underground Lovers have created a new album that draws from a wide range of styles – acoustic songwriter, electronica, shoegaze, psychedelia and indie rock. They marry those sounds together with seamless synchronicity but never lose their grasp on the art of songwriting. “At the end of the day it’s about songs and songwriting and we’re really interested in the emotion of songs and how they can evoke feeling,” reflects Giarrusso.

“The initial idea for this album was just a bunch of songs about Melbourne – St Kilda, Richmond, Warrandyte. As we started structuring the album we realised it was about the things we always write about which is male/female relationships within a chaotic and unbalanced world. Those ideas drove it. There are lots of ideas and themes that recur in our music over the years. That’s just how it works,” Giarusso reveals. “Having a few years between albums gets you thinking more and thinking deeper about what you want to do. I think that comes across on the album. It’s quite complex at times even though we’re always striving for simplicity.”

The album title refers to a world where human contact is diminishing and as well as exploring that subject lyrically, it’s also reflected sonically in their songs. “Instead of people looking and staring at each other they’re looking at screens. We tried to get that idea across in the technology we used. We all come from the school where we think that computers are dumb instruments and just tools to use and that they have to suit your needs instead of you following what they do. Whenever we use loops we try to make them as manual as possible so we are in control and it still has some human imperfection.”

The realities of life, full-time jobs, having to organise six people and waiting times for German-pressed vinyl meant Staring At You Staring At Me has has a long gestation process, explains Giarrusso. “It was hard to get six people together when everyone is busy. We recorded it over six months and we didn’t know how it would turn out until the end. We pushed ourselves and found a new sort of structure for the long-play which was surprising for us. That kept it fresh.”

The great story behind Underground Lovers is that after a nine year hiatus, which Giarrusso puts down to the “twists and turns of human life” and describes personally as a tough time, the band are still creatively as strong as they ever have been.

“When we came back together it was brilliant. It just the same as it ever way which was fantastic. It was worth the wait. We’re getting a lot of young people coming to shows which is exciting. They’re saying they like our new stuff better than the old stuff which is great and surprising!”

ALBUM REVIEW: Bad//Dreems – Gutful

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There’s an inauspicious start with the BD-by numbers Johnny Irony but any doubts of a sophomore slump are quickly quashed by first single Mob Rule which utilises gang chants and pub rock bar chords to rail against the narrow-minded, pack mentality sub-cultures in Australian society.

That sentiment permeates much of the album, blatantly and subtly. It’s their statement of sorts and it comes at a timely moment as they’re a band that sits right on the border between underground, rock ‘n’ roll notoriety and cred, and the larger, promotion-driven world of festivals, triple j and the accompanying dumbed down bloke vibe that can sometimes invade that transition.

Elsewhere, Ben, Alex, James and Miles hit some fine melancholic spots like the yearning By Your Side and the woolly strum of Pagan Rage – a distant sonic echo to one of their first singles Chills. They still bear the iconic Aussie rock imprint of producer Mark Opitz but overall this is a less forced and more subtly varied album that even takes in saxophone on A Million Times Alone. Stripped of the bluster and noise it highlights how well the band blends mood and wistful melody alongside lurching rock n roll.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: The Tall Grass, Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds, Christine Jane

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The Tall Grass, Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds, Christine Jane Leadbelly, Newtown (May 6th, 2017)

This was a double album launch for The Tall Grass and Adam Gibson and they chose well to celebrate their new albums together. The songs and music of both bands deal in rich poetics and tangled and exultant musicality. Mood and emotion are strong components of their respective works.

Christine Jane and acoustic guitar accompaniment opened the evening with a set that got better as it progressed. Her voice proved to be a versatile instrument and her performance was assured, culminating in a wonderful and bluesy, jazz serenade.

Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds sound like a quintessentially Australian band, one that straddles communal indie pub rock sounds, evocative wide open desert plains storytelling and heady suburban poetry. The six-piece were augmented by the vocals of Alannah Russack and a fine guest piano turn from Jadey O’Regan. Gibson is the real focal point of the band though, his spoken word delivery, slightly awkward to fresh ears, quickly became a hypnotic tool, drawing in the audience with tales of sisters and stranded sharks, missing persons, torn apart towns and stilt walkers. Belanglo, Byron And The Road Between was completely captivating, the band sounding like the Bad Seeds soundtracking an ominous tale that was never going to have a happy ending.

Witnessing the two year gestation of The Tall Grass, the collaboration between Peter Fenton (Crow) and Jamie Hutchings (Bluebottle Kiss, Infinity Broke), has been a fascinating one. Beginning as an acoustic duo they seemed to be woodshedding skeletal songs on stage, finding their feet and the right blend of style and song. The release of Down The Unmarked Road was their first full-band show and the effect was akin to transforming a black and white photo into a full-sized colour print. Texture and depth was added and both artists were freed up to stretch out vocally and with their guitar playing. Little City was a highlight, its gently propulsive and coaxing rhythm and the pair’s melodic interplay sounding sublime. The Road Is Long contrasted with its rougher edges, and Tom Waits-ish clatter, Fenton and Hutchings opening their lungs, gritting their teeth and leaning into the song with real intent. An impressive realisation of a musical collaboration and clear mutual respect.

Chris Familton