ALBUM REVIEW: Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now

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Humour in heavy rock music requires just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek irreverence to avoid it tipping over into slapstick and immaturity. Bands such as Revolting Cocks, TAD and Killdozer all found that balance between savage guitars, a pummelling rhythm section and cutting, sarcastic lyrics, and in these modern times the masters of wit and riffs are Pissed Jeans.

Why Love Now finds them further refining their grinding punk rock and sludgy grunge sound – finding that sweet spot between sonic brutality and catchy hooks. ‘The Bar Is Low’ digs in with a dirty and distorted bass groove, like if AC/DC had come from the Pacific Northwest, before blossoming into a Stooges meets QOTSA galloping chorus. It’s that dynamic interplay that makes the album so damn appealing. It rocks hard but it’s not one dimensional gonzo rock.

Lyrically Matt Corvette continues his fascination with the minutiae of modern living. Lives lived through small screens, webcam fetishes and male sexual obsessions. Office equipment gets a seedy, sexual treatment courtesy of a spoken word piece (‘I’m A Man’) by author Lindsay Hunter (Ugly Girls) over an industrial track that sounds as gloriously warped as the aforementioned Revolting Cocks. It’s the marriage of Corvette’s strangled howl and  Brad Fry’s guitars that best defines Pissed Jeans’ sound. They are familiar in their 90’s alt-rock phrasing and delivery but they never allow themselves to get pegged down as revivalists due to the way they can stagger from the loose chaos of Jesus Lizard to the proto-metal riffing of Soundgarden. You get a sense that they’re passionately obsessed with their musical heroes yet they’re constantly seeking to mutate and evolve their sounds, musically and lyrically.

As the album comes to a close they leave us with the one-two punch of  the slow and sleazy Nirvana-like ‘Activia’ and the jerky metallic slabs of Not Even Married. Two different styles but perfect examples of why Pissed Jeans are seriously fun.

Chris Familton

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40 FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2017

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If anything, their music inhabits even darker territory, the songs collapsing in on themselves as they chug and career along – The Terminals, Antiseptic

In this day and age of accessibility and cultural saturation, it can be hard to unearth music you like, and at the same time discover new music outside the mainstream or the most prominent online access points. Digging through the detritus and overload, I’ve found that more and more I lock onto albums that give a little extra. They create their own world of music for the 30-60 minutes you spend with them. They make you wonder how the artists wrote the songs, how they composed the music. I was drawn to imperfect performances, atmosphere over precision (though The War On Drugs manage to exemplify both), melody, energy, intelligence and rhythm.

My favourite album of the year probably won’t feature on any other list you read (though hopefully it does). The Terminals, from NZ, released a record that mainlines a sense of musical nostalgia in my synapses, harkening back to the music of my teens and early 20’s in the NZ underground. The legacy of Flying Nun, alternative rock and darkly emotive music from a couple of islands at the end of the Earth. In my review I said “The Terminals have never been creatively stronger than they are on Antiseptic. It’s their finest album and the sound of musicians digging deep and exploring a lifetime of musical influences and experiences without concession to anything outside of their own ideas and instruments.”

Elsewhere you’ll find all manner of musical styles, from eccentric folk to kraut-tronica, country to ragged suburban punk rock, gothic 80s synth to skronking saxophone. Dig deep and enjoy.

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1. The Terminals – Antiseptic REVIEW

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2. Aldous Harding – Party REVIEW

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3. Kevin Morby – City Music

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4. Thurston Moore – Rock N Roll Consciousness REVIEW

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5. The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road REVIEW

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6. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent REVIEW

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7. Jep and Dep – They’veBeenCalled REVIEW

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8. Underground Lovers – Staring At You, Staring At Me REVIEW

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9. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding REVIEW

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10. Suicide Swans – Augusta

11. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

12. Ryan Adams – Prisoner REVIEW

13. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream

14. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher REVIEW

15. Omni – Multi-Task

16. David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanack

17. Traveller – Western Movies

18. Daniel Romano – Modern Pressure

19. The Texas Gentlemen – TX Jelly

20. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

21. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Rot

22. Hollow Everdaze – Cartoons REVIEW

23. Feral Ohms – Feral Ohms

24. Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun

25. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now REVIEW

26. Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory

27. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

28. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream

29. The Singing Skies – Head In The Trees, Heart On The Ground REVIEW

30. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives

31. Chomper – Medicine Mountain

32. Ricardo Villalobos – Empirical House

33. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades REVIEW

34. Marty Stuart – Way Out West REVIEW

35. Chain And The Gang – Best Of Crime Rock REVIEW

36. Karl Blau – Out Her Space REVIEW

37. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Barefoot In The Head REVIEW

38. Destroyer – ken REVIEW

39. John Maus – Screen Memories

40. Gold Class – Drum REVIEW

ALBUM REVIEW: Beaches – Second Of Spring

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Beaches go into overdrive on their new seventeen track album. It’s their magnum opus of sorts, taking everything they’ve explored on the first two albums and synthesising it into one kaleidoscopic take on all things psychedelic.

The album opens with two relentlessly churning tracks that set the stage for what is to follow. It signals their intent to push further out into the sonic aether, bridging the gap between melodic noisy pop hooks and hypnotic guitar-drenched head trips. Void is a brighter, headlong take on Wooden Shjips, psych-Kraut interstellar explorations while on track four they ease up on the gas and introduce chiming guitars, a post-punk interlude and a back half that sounds like The Primitives jamming with Look Blue Go Purple. Calendar sounds like a lost Pixies outtake with its mix of raw grind and dreamy vocals while Wine dives and shimmers like Crazy Horse doing shoegaze.

Arrow is the headiest pop rush the quintet have conjured up, the perfect nugget for the approaching warmer months and it feels like the apex of Second Of Spring. In the back third Bronze Age Babies adds a surprise with a recorder voicing the main melody before Grey Colours takes a gloriously melancholic wander that Robert Smith would be proud of. There’s a lot to take in but it’s an endlessly rewarding and freewheeling album for a band who are the equal sum of their parts and eager to explore all musical possibilities.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Machine Translations – Oh

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J Walker returns with his first album in four years and it finds him in an eclectic yet economical mood. The Bright Door (2007) possessed polish and an ornate sheen while Oh replaces that with rougher edges and a subtle shift toward a lower-fi aesthetic.

The opening track Made A Friend sounds like Beck in his melancholic balladeer mode before the first single Parliament Of Spiders (and later, the title-track) veers off into skewed art-pop mode akin to Spoon. It highlights the stronger focus on rhythm and melodies that jump from the speakers with more immediacy. Sola gets even more primal with a Sonic Youth meets Sparklehorse guitar skronk and driving urgency.

Walker has a way of vocally inhabiting his songs in a range of styles, from slacker dispatches to warm songwriter crooning. It shows his magpie approach to writing but even though the styles vary the sonic palette he utilises is cleverly controlled and its elements blended in service to the song, never for the sake of obtuse musical eccentricity. The instrumental Room 17 particularly stands out with its delicate phrasings and Dirty Three-indebted European gypsy sway.

Oh is an endlessly fascinating album, still built on multi-layered creativity but presented in concise and vibrant form.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Karl Blau – Out Her Space

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Karl Blau experienced a taste of wider critical acclaim on the back of his last album Introducing Karl Blau. The title and the fact that it was a collection of country covers was somewhat misleading, given that he’s has already released something more than 20 albums. With Out Her Space, Blau has shape-shifted into the world of avant rock, funk and soul, eschewing his lo-fi origins and retaining the lush production quality of his last album.

There are clear comparisons that can be made with another inquisitive songwriter such as Bill Callahan and Will Oldham. Callahan and Blau also share a love of dub music, the latter reconfiguring the Paul Simon/bong-inhaling sound of Poor The War Away into Dub The War Away, a tripped-out bass-heavy excursion that would make Bill Laswell proud. Valley Of Sadness is an attempt at pastoral psychedelia but it ends up sounding frivolous and unnecessary. Blue As My Name finds a nice brisk strum into Love territory, I Got The Sounds Like You Got The Blues draws jazz horns into Blau’s pulsing rhythmic orbit before the eight minute Where You Goin’ Papa goes on a poly-genre journey akin to Harry Nilsson singing the hits of every section in the record store. This is a fine exercise in fearless and inventive songwriting.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: U2 – Songs Of Experience

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U2 are a band that have always traded in grand gestures, yet at their finest and self-defining moments they’ve always tempered the pretension with mystery, mood or atmosphere. The spacious textures of  the Daniel Lanois-indebted The Joshua Tree, the emotive post-punk chime and sparkle of those early singles and the dark grooves of Achtung Baby all showed a creative and experimental group who, on Songs of Experience, prove once again that their best days are still 20 years in the rear view mirror.

Over three years in the making, this companion album to Songs Of Innocence inhabits similar sonic territory with it’s radio-friendly production and a blend of tender ballads and big, rhythm-heavy rock songs. The former is where they still excel with opener Love Is All We Have Left finding the sweet spot between modern production and raw and tender emotion. Likewise the optimistic and dreamy closer 13 (There Is A Light). Between those points most of Bono’s lyrics fall into bad high school poetry territory with clumsy rhymes and the cloying tendency to resort to wordless chants of woo hoo’s and la la’s.

The Showman (Little More Better) has a chorus like 80s Rick Springfield, the Kendrick Lamar-featuring American Soul is a brash and trashy attempt at a Black Keys-styled blues rock stomp that fails while Red Flag Day is a tangle of cliched guitar chords, a tired and bland rock song, badly dressed up in pop production. It all amounts to a grasp for relevance, an overworked reliance on studio sheen and the unimaginative box they’ve painted themselves into.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: The Weather Station – The Weather Station

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Music that is precise and austere is often tagged as being overly clinical and lacking soul – and by association, substance. It can be a fine line to tread and The Weather Station perform a balancing act on their fourth album.

The self-titled affair takes a dash of Joni Mitchell, adds a splash of Beth Orton and paints it in the kind of melancholic indie with string arrangements that bands like Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear do so well. The album starts in a low-key manner before Kept It To Myself quickens the pace with a hooky chorus and some brisk and light-fingered guitar playing. From there the intimacy becomes increasingly welcoming, revealing the pleasures in the subtle nuances of this quietly rewarding album.

Chris Familton

 

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