ALBUM REVIEW: Deep Sea Arcade – Blacklight

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It’s been six years since Nic McKenzie and Nick Weaver released their debut album Outlands. On the back of a run of singles they’d built a strong sense of anticipation about that first record and it certainly lived up to expectations. Fast forward to 2018 and how does a band evolve and change over that time? The DSA model is to essentially stick to the template with some refinement and an easing off of the accelerator.

As you’d expect with such a long gestation, they’ve no doubt rewritten and reworked tracks and that has given these ten songs a sense of calm control. The more frantic edges of earlier songs have been rounded off. This is the band sounding less indie psych rock and with more of an ultramodern sheen that embraces electronic and disco sounds as much as it distils the pop and psychedelic qualities of their past work. Mercury Rev, Spoon, Beck, The Horrors are names that come to mind, acts that all relish melodic hooks as equally as they paint in cosmic colours. 

McKenzie’s voice is shorn of some of its more nasally proclivities and is now in perfect marriage with the music. Musically, the Manchester 90s vibe is still there in tracks like Joanna with its dance-ready rhythm section. The closer Ready is a highlight of studio-polished melancholy while Learning To Fly is an absolute ear-worm of a track that uses hooks and repetition to bury itself deep. The other highlight is the single Close To Me with its loping trip hop groove and psych-soul feel that blossoms into one of the duo’s finest choruses.

Black lights are employed for artistic lighting effects as well as diagnostic and therapeutic uses and in that sense it’s a fitting title for a record that looks to combine art-pop and post-relationship dissection. There are moments when form supersedes the strength of the songwriting but overall Blacklight justifies the long wait for this second album.

Chris Familton

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking

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They were young when they formed, young when they recorded their first album and they’re still only just sloping out of their teens as they release their sophomore album. At its strongest, We’re Not Talking still reaches the same impossibly catchy jangle-pop heights that they impressed with on their debut, but across its 30 minutes some minor risk-taking doesn’t quite pay off. 

Their trademark innocence and honest dives into the realities of approaching and entering adulthood is still intact and if they were previously singing about those things from an observational POV, now they’re reporting from the inside, as they experience them. Other changes include the three band members take a greater share of lead vocals, with Riley Jones’ voice particularly impressing on the tender Strange Light. They’ve also experimented with different instrumentation such as strings, piano and a drum machine, widening their palette from the straight rock trio format.

When the album works it’s a thrilling dash through young love and self-doubt. Opener Make Time 4 Love is brisk, fun and infectious, She Knows is reminiscent of the rough and barely contained sugar rush of The Strokes while Sleep EZ and Get Out recall the golden heyday of Flying Nun’s skewed pop moments. In contrast, other songs such as Now You Pretend are only partly formed interludes. They add variety to the album but they feel like filler before the next primitive, melodic pop explosion occurs.

The many highlights on We’re Not Talking suggest that The Goon Sax are still evolving and successfully exploring the art and craft of confessional, catchy and quirky songwriting.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Adrianne Lenker – abysskiss

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Known predominantly as the singer, songwriter and guitarist for the band Big Thief, Adrianne Lenker is one of those artists who writes constantly, documenting daily life and existential thoughts as she travels the world with her band. abysskiss is her second solo album and it finds her expanding the raw folk of her debut into a freer and more subtly textured set of songs.

Acoustic guitar is at the core of each track. Generally finger-picked and inventive it is the vessel that carries the songs as Lenker’s voice quietly drifts across the music, repeating phrases, re-shaping words into different phrasings and emphasising mood and tone over any quest for perfection. It amounts to a hypnotic effect akin to heavy-lidded lullabies and that sweetly intoxicating drift when you’re halfway between dreaming and awake. As a result the songs have an intangible quality that requires repeat listens to get a handle on them. Each track also contains a secondary element or two – a ghostly backing vocal, field type recordings  or another instrument, adding another thin layer of texture to the music.

Out of Your Mind is the most immediate song, sharing a gentle chug and sound with some of Liz Phair’s work while Blue And Red Horses is catchy in a playground chant kind of way. Symbol is another that lifts the pace and inhabits a nice pocket of ethereal psychedelic folk. Across the album, themes seem to alluding to big picture things such as childhood, the inevitably of death and the cyclical nature of life. Heavy stuff indeed but in Lenker’s hands it has a sense of mystery and wonder that draws the listener into her intimate world of song. 

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Suede – The Blue Hour

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Suede are this deep into their career and have flirted equally with the charts and the arthouse that they have earned the right to be the masters of their own destiny. Hence they’ve realised that the best Suede albums have a mix of grandiose, sweeping music and dissertations on the minutiae and unease of modern life. The Blue Hour is the third album in a trilogy that includes Bloodsports and Night Thoughts, set in the dark blue-hued twilight of the evening, the deepening shadows the heart and the oncoming dark night of the soul.

Strings sweep across the rural landscapes and the trash littered motorways that Brett Anderson sings of. He’s talked about viewing the world through the eyes of his son and much of this album deals with the terrors of childhood. You can hear it both in the tension of the music and literally in Anderson’s songs of broken homes, fractured family relationships, fear of the future and finding one’s self and place in society. It’s powerful and dramatic stuff. In other’s hands it would be overwrought and pretentious but this is Suede’s home ground advantage, their musical stock and trade.

Interspersed between the songs, recorded sound effects and sonic vignettes suggest dead birds and lost children and give the record a sense of a concept album, though it’s more of a collection of sketches or short stories rather than one linear tale. Wastelands, Cold Hands, Don’t Be Afraid If Nobody Loves You and Beyond The Outskirts are highlights of the glam, indie-rock variety and provide a good balance to the arch and avant garde tracks.

It all amounts to a fascinating and rewarding album with plenty to revel in on its surface whilst also offering a deep well of poetry and drama to explore at length.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Mudhoney – Digital Garbage

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It’s hard to believe but Mudhoney are now in their 30th year of active service and on Digital Garbage, their 10th album, they show they’re still the kings of fuzzed-out punk and garage rock. Their disdain for everything fucked up about the world is still vital and biting and they don’t hold back one iota.

No topic is out of bounds as they rail against social media, the rich getting richer at everyone else’s expense, gun control, religion and environmental destruction. Mark Arm has sharpened his pencil with more scathing intent than he’s ever done before. “Fuck the planet, screw your children, get rich, you win,” he sings on Prosperity Gospel while on Paranoid Core he throws barbs of sarcastic truths at an unnamed Donald Trump and his supporters. Musically the band are as economical as ever but in addition to their trademark buzzsaw guitars and MC5, Stooges shakedowns, they also get dark and moody with an early Nick Cave feel on Night And Fog and there are strains of Neil Young in the chord progressions of Messiah’s Lament.

There’s plenty of humour at play too. Lines such as ‘turning water into wine is dismissed as a parlour trick, that’s insensitive to the struggles of alcoholics,” throw amusing shapes across the underlying messages on Digital Garbage. Few bands have remained so close to the sound and integrity of their music. Mudhoney are still out front of the pack, setting the benchmark with brutal and brilliant honesty.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks – Good Citizens 

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On her fourth album, Cash Savage does two things. She takes an unflinching look at Australian society and gives an intimate and evocative insight into love and desire. She does it all with her characteristic swagger and assertive tone, superbly backed by her cohorts, The Last Drinks.

Better Than That is a devastating opener, honing in on the events of last year and the impact of the marriage equality debate in this country. As she sings “Secretly I’d hoped you were better than that”, the band deliver a bittersweet, melancholic sound that feels like the calm after a storm.  Similar subject matter is addressed on the insistent pulse of Human with its frayed nerve, post-punk sound that blossoms into glorious intermittent choruses and the title track where she sings, with the emotional drama of latter day Nick Cave, about the male dominated world she works in. Collapse imagines a society where socio-political structures have fallen and the world is chaos, undone by its own failings. The Last Drinks back her to the hilt with an ominous industrial junkyard blues stomp that perfectly amplifies the song’s apocalyptic leanings. 

The single Pack Animals is a magnificent example of Savage’s ability to build and maintain tension in her more rock-leaning songs. Its Krautrock pulse patiently builds like a slow-moving tsunami, with sonic flares and sparks heading off in all directions like downed psychedelic powerlines. “I keep thinking ahead, to when I don’t have to lose my head” sings Savage, one of many instances across the album where she contemplates the future of the world and whether humans will resolve their multitude of failings.

Elsewhere Savage dials back the intensity and paints a tender picture of the highs and lows of love and devotion. The melancholic longing on Sunday has the feel of the Dirty Three in its staggered rhythm and Kat Mears’ aching violin. February and Found You explore similar territory, the latter taking a big melodically swinging approach with chiming guitars and an agitated dance-floor rhythm section.

For all the stage prowling, piercing stares and stirring sound of Savage’s live performances, Good Citizens possesses a resolute sentimentality about it. She’s speaking out with conviction about societal inequalities and how they manifest and are dealt with in the public realm yet the aforementioned flip side of how to navigate the miniature minefields of personal relationships is what hits the hardest. As she sings “I’ve never been so down, never needed anyone, now all I ever want is you” on February, she captures the essence of love and common experience.

Good Citizens is a bold and astute album that thrives on its balance and range. It pulls on heartstrings as effectively as it raises questions and it thrillingly blends musicality with Savage’s emotionally and intellectually-based commentary. 

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Low – Double Negative

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Press play and the first thing you’ll hear on the new Low album is the equivalent of a digital sandstorm.

Slowly but surely, out of the static and sonic scree comes the voice of Alan Sparhawk, sounding like a ghost trying with all his might to re-engage with the physical world. It’s a fascinating way to open an album; a new approach for Low and one that sets the scene for their most experimental and strangely beautiful record to date.

There’s a strong David Lynch aesthetic at play across Double Negative. That blend of a sense of foreboding and unease mixed with tender and affecting musical emotiveness. ‘Dancing And Blood’ continues to ratchet up the tension and usher the listener further into the present. Producer BJ Burton has worked in Bon Iver’s studio and you can certainly hear elements of the creative deconstructionist approach to traditional song that has happened within those walls. Mimi Parker takes the lead vocal on ‘Fly’ and it’s a powerful moment, almost backwoods ecclesiastical in the way it billows and urges. The defiance is short lived though as ‘Tempest’ submerges their voices in grainy, almost all-consuming decay. The clouds part momentarily before the connection is again violently disrupted.

‘Always Trying To Work It Out’ is a soulful suffocated pop song while ‘Poor Sucker’ is unsettling and laced with existential dread. When ‘Dancing And Fire’ emerges with pristine, clean guitars and an unprocessed vocal from Sparhawk, it sounds positively calming, Parker’s voice acting like a tonal echo chamber. “It’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope,” they sing, and it sums up the album’s themes of standing up for one’s beliefs, the danger of losing optimism and how the negative forces in the world are warning signs to correct things before it’s too late.

Low leave us with ‘Disarray’, a robotic dance at a death disco and a plea for change; “Before it falls into total disarray, you’ll have to learn to live a different way.Double Negative is bold and powerful music, fusing the avant-garde and traditional song with both friction and harmony. It’s unnerving, visceral and wholly compelling.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Roadhouses – Roadhouses

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They say that it is harder to play music slowly than it is to play it fast. Things fall apart and momentum is lost. In the case of Sydney trio Roadhouses, sedated rock music is their calling card. They deal in drifting, alt-country-imbued, slowcore torch songs where heartache is just a tear away. If you got Lucinda Williams to front Spain, at the Twin Peaks Roadhouse – you’d have a pretty accurate summation of the sound and aesthetic of this album.

Skirts as short as sin, drinks that don’t touch the side – you get the picture of where Yvonne Moxham takes her songs. Late night bars, heartbreak and yearning populate her songs of burgeoning and fracturing relationships. First you’ll be mesmerised by the band’s haunting, atmospheric sound, then drawn in by Moxham’s lyrics that hang heavy in the air. Drummer Cec Condon (Mess Hall) throws inventive rhythms and accents into the mix, like a slow motion Jim White. 

‘Black Lights’ throws a subtle curveball into proceedings with its melancholic synths and trip hop drumming that brings to mind Everything But The Girl jamming with Cowboy Junkies. Elsewhere, ‘Heartless’ recalls the haunting minimalism of Low and in ‘Drinkin’’ they conjure up a wonderfully lush, swoon and swell of a sound. Sadness, pain and bruised romance never sounded as good as it does on this excellent debut album.

Chris Familton