ALBUM REVIEW: Big Thief – U.F.O.F

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Big Thief
U.F.O.F.
4AD

What started with a debut album in 2016, that introduced a fragile and poetic songwriter and her band, has blossomed into a fascinating and quickly evolving career for Adrienne Lenker and the rest of Big Thief. They’ve been touring relentlessly, Lenker even having time to record a well received solo record last year. From Masterpiece to Capacity and now U.F.O.F, the quartet have gently worked away at the canvas of folk and knotty guitar music that draws on both conventional song structures and avant garde curiosity.

This album continues the mystery and beauty of their previous releases while adding even more depth and textural minutiae. There are drone-like textures,  found sounds – like the rolling effect at the start of ‘From’, and fascinating percussive elements that rise and fall in the mix. There’s a feeling of perpetual motion in many of the songs due to the looseness of the arrangements and the playing which makes the music sound both improvised and highly arranged. ‘Jenni’ imagines a Cat Power-fronted Tortoise in the way they use organic instrumentation and allow volume and tone to fluctuate as the song slowly unfurls.

The straightest moment comes right at the start of the album with opener ‘Betsy’ and its sparkling acoustic guitar, gently shuffling drums and Lenker singing in a lower-than-normal register. It’s intimate and affecting and pulls the listener right into the album from the get-go. ‘Contact’ is dreamy and meditative until, as if waking in terror, the guitars gain sharp edges and Lenker emits piercing screams.

If they didn’t already, now Big Thief unequivocally have your attention. Lovers of inventive music would be foolish not to join them on their post-folk journey.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Lambchop – This (is what I wanted to tell you)

Lambchop

Lambchop
This (Is What I Wanted To Tell You)
Merge Records

The band Lambchop is a very different beast these days, compared to a decade ago when they numbered up to 12 members with more of a conventional country soul sound. Now Lambchop is essentially Kurt Wagner with a small coterie of collaborators – a much more intimate proposition yet still possessing the gorgeous and hypnotic Lambchop qualities that have always been at the heart of their deeply soulful, emotive and intellectual music.

With compadres Matt Swanson (bass), Tony Crow (bass) and Matthew McCaughan (of Bon Iver and Hiss Golden Messenger) who co-wrote and produced the album, the band further refine the sound that first took shape on Mr. M (2016) and then blossomed into new eclectic pastures on the synth and auto-tune affected FLOTUS in 2016. Those new explorations are still embedded in the music on this record but there’s a leanness and a barer framework to these songs. You can hear the trademark melancholy via Wagner’s voice and the generally downbeat tone of the music but the songs are filtered through jazz, hip hop, future soul and the kind of avant-pop sounds that people like Scritti Politti, David Sylvian and Mark Hollis of Talk Talk developed.

Wagner’s way with words still shines through these lush textures, his devastating way of making seemingly simple phrases carry additional weight. It’s in his somnambulant delivery, the heavy use of effects on his voice but most importantly it’s the words themselves that carry the greatest weight and air of curiosity. “I’m in a Mexican restaurant bar, watching surfing and it’s amazing” he sings on ‘The Air Is Heavy And I Should Be listening To You’ and on ‘The You Isn’t So New Anymore’ he simply states “Michael Jackson just informed me that Santa Claus is coming to town”.

Wagner is firmly in his post-country phase, maybe he’s really always been there. Regardless, he’s a relentlessly inventive songwriter who is as devoted to sound, texture and atmosphere as he is to the lyrical possibilities of his poetry.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Beastwars – IV

Beastwars

Beastwars
IV
Destroy Records

Sometimes it takes monumental life events to galvanise a band, or any creative endeavour for that matter. In the case of New Zealand band Beastwars it was the diagnosis singer Matt Hyde received, confirming Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. In the weeks following his chemotherapy treatment the band hit the studio and recorded their fourth album – a blistering, pummelling, cathartic battle cry of a record.

“You can never get away from your mortal decay,” Hyde howls on ‘Mortal Decay’. This is an album that addresses mortality and the brutal reality of our time on this earth and the fragility of life. Out of that there is a sense of immense strength and resolution from both singer and band. There are winding, ruminative passages in some songs that add a reflective quality to the heavier, more visceral sound that dominates the album, but don’t start thinking this is a metal band going soft, their essence of heavy swinging and paint-peeling riffage is still firmly intact, made even more powerful with the quality of the songwriting and ideas on IV. 

As musicians, the band sound freer and more inventive than they ever have before. There is colour and shade on a song such as ‘Omens’ which combines the moodiness of Tool with lumbering doom metal density, while on ‘Mortal Decay’ the song straightens into pure metal chug and gallop at the three quarter mark to brilliant effect. On ‘The Traveller’, Hyde stands exposed, delivering an affecting primal scream  before the band join him and carry the song forward on a comforting melodic bed of heavy bass and avant garde guitar squalls. ‘Wolves And Prey’ tumbles and churns like a spinning vortex and ‘Like Dried Blood’ combines a piano and Hyde’s ghoulish vocal to great effect as the thunder grows and the riffs thicken and fill the air like heavy smoke.

“Out of adversity comes opportunity” said Benjamin Franklin and Beastwars have taken that mantra and bled a visceral, life-affirming album into existence. You’d be hard pressed to find many better metal albums than this in 2019. 

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Shifting Sands – The Intensity

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Brisbane band Shifting Sands recently released the video clip for their track ‘The Intensity’. It’s a haunting, heavy and steady marching song of solemn reflection on the slow decay of the emotional impact of love. It carries the same kind of bruised romanticism that artists such as Mark Lanegan and Leonard Cohen do so well.

Shifting Sands are Geoff Corbett (SixFtHick) and Dylan McCormack (Gentle Ben & his Sensitive Side, The Polaroids), Isabella Mellor (Jeremy Neale, Catalano), Anna Clifford, Dylan McCormack, Dan Baebler and Liam Campbell.

The song comes from the album Crystal Cuts which was released in April on Spooky Records (Melbourne) and Beast Records (France).

ALBUM REVIEW: Amyl & The Sniffers – Amyl & The Sniffers

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Amyl & The Sniffers
Amyl & The Sniffers
Flightless Records

Roaring out of the gates like an amalgam of Motorhead, AC/DC and The Datsuns, Amyl & The Sniffers know the power of simplicity, attitude and abandon on their debut self-titled album. It’s a lean 11 songs that capture the spirit and verve of their live shows surprisingly well due to an avoidance of unnecessary studio sheen.

‘Gacked On Anger’ is the first smile-and-nod moment on the record, where the dots connect and Amy Taylor’s brattish, sneering yelps bring the visceral, yet basic, garage punk and rock riffage to life. She’s a force of nature right across the record, always sounding urgent and impassioned. The distorted bass riff that opens ‘GFY’ (an acronym for Go Fuck Yourself) is a momentary reprieve from the onslaught before the hurricane of fast chords and four-to-the-floor drumming resumes. 

One can hear the historic traces of Australian, UK ‘(Some Mutts (Can’t Be Muzzled) is reminiscent of The Damned’s ‘New Rose’) and US punk in the the sound of The Sniffers and their blend of melody and primitive rock ’n’ roll means they’re clearly the latest local gem in the lineage of The Angels, The Saints and AC/DC. Taylor is clearly the star, the front person balancing unhinged mania with some astute nutshell observations on love, lust and self empowerment. Her two finest moments on the album are ‘Got You’, with verses that sound like a spiky Courtney Barnett and a tearing chorus that begs for mass sing-alongs at high volume. ‘Angel’ has a brilliant vocal hook in its chorus and guitars that sing and move like the best moments of The Sunnyboys.

Even though this is the kind of inner city punk rock that has echoed from pubs for nearly half a century, it’s still refreshing to hear primitive, raw and febrile rock ’n’ roll bottled so appealingly and urgently as it is here.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Blain Cunneen – Feelin’ Kinda Fragile

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Here’s the debut single from Sydney singer-songwriter (and guitarist for Julia Jacklin), Blain Cunneen. ‘Feelin’ Kinda Fragile’ comes from his four track EP The Prizes We Demand which is due out later this year and finds him crafting a fine line in art-pop that reminds us of Beck, Sparklehorse and dEUS .

The song’s melodic hooks are draped over some wonderful angular and interwoven instrumentation, where a light psychedelia is built on simplicity and strong musical ideas rather than being oversaturated in effects or weirdness for weird’s sake. We’re looking forward to hearing the rest of the EP later in 2019.

EP REVIEW: Body Type – EP2

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Body Type
EP2
Inertia Music / Partisan

The Sydney quartet are releasing this, their second EP, on the eve of a UK tour, another sign of the band’s rising star status on the international stage. Of course, they’ve been the local talk of the town for a couple of years, building a solid following via their own shows and some fine support slots. 

If EP was their calling card, their first real statement of intent beyond a couple of earlier singles, then EP2 is another step forward. It solidifies their reputation as incisive songwriters and fine players. They’ve got an ear to the ground but a widescreen songwriting vision.

Opener and first single ”Stingray bursts from the gates with a spray of guitar notes, sparkling and cascading over the nimble rhythm section. It’s a great example of the rush of energy they can invest in their songs, the retention of the rough edges to the music and the economy of their songs. Pop in structure but noisy and damn catchy by nature.

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‘Free To Air’ initially dials things back to a wistful and melancholic slice of dream pop before choppy drums and their swirling jangly guitars take flight. It’s a song apparently inspired by an old neighbour of Annabel Blackman’s and his life as witnessed remotely from her bedroom. Musically the song captures that mood of both intimacy and disassociated observation. ‘Insomnia’ inhabits a similar atmospheric place, the highlight being Blackman’s vocal melody which is heavy-lidded and drowsy yet still irresistibly catchy.

‘Sad Wax’ weaves more of the same snake charmer guitar lines into the song’s DNA but it lacks the same impact and physicality of the other songs on the EP. It’s a pleasant enough track but it sounds under-formed as it repeatedly circles the same musical idea without building or elaborating on it. The final track ‘UMA’ gets things back on track with a different sonic palette. The bass comes to the fore, leading the song into grungier territory akin to Pixies with a dash of Hole. It works wonderfully, all tension and quirks courtesy of shrieks and sneered, gang vocals, capping off an impressive batch of songs from a band that just keep getting better and better.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Anonymous Friends – Amos

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Anonymous Friends – straight outta Somerville, Massachusetts with their debut EP Anonymous Friends Start A Band. Great sound too – shades of Fugazi, Polvo , Girls Against Boys, Bailter Space and the like. ‘Amos’ does the loud quiet loud thing well with a tight rhythm section and some noisy Pixies six-string racket smeared across the top of it all.