ALBUM REVIEW: East Brunswick All Girls Choir – Teddywaddy

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There’s something undeniably visceral and raw about everything that East Brunswick All Girls Choir do. Exaltation and exorcism are part of their musical modus operandi, such is their commitment to making music that embraces emotion with an unflinching directness.

Teddywaddy, the followup to the acclaimed Seven Drummers, charts a course through coruscating punk-laden peaks and drifting, desolate valleys where the songs are stripped and stretched, allowing singer Marcus Hobbs voice to take centre stage. Though the dynamics and playing are excellent throughout, Hobbs’ voice is the deal breaker here. ‘Exile Spree’ is the centrepiece of the album with his voice going further and further after each breath of air. From a wavering wail to a throat-stripping howl he conveys a bucket load of emotion. It makes the languid, wandering country-folk sound of ‘Never/Never’ that follows even more effective. 

Their ability to use contrast in their songs is never overplayed, a testament to the songwriting and arrangements. Freedom of expression and restraint are both key aspects of why this album works so well, whether it be the pummelling post-punk dirge of ‘Cicada Chirps The Chicane’, the soulful gospel-tinged lament of ‘Old Phil’ that indirectly channels The Drones, or the widescreen warmth of the closing title track, the same wistful spirit runs through all these songs, making for an intense and cathartic listening experience.

Chris Familton

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30 Favourite Albums Of 2018 So Far

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In no particular order, here are the 30 albums that we’ve heard and been greatly impressed by in the first six months of 2018. It’s a good range too we think, both geographically and stylistically, from post-punk, electronica and Americana to ambient and psych rock from around the world.

Hit the album titles to listen on Spotify.

ALBUM REVIEW: Johnny Marr – Call The Comet

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Johnny Marr has proven himself time and time again. Whether it’s the legacy of The Smiths, his collaborative work with Electronic, The The, Modest Mouse and countless other projects, a fascinating autobiography or just his commitment to always moving forward. He’s now three albums deep into his solo career and Call The Comet finds him settling into his most natural and cohesive sound to date, embracing the best of his past and present. 

The least satisfactory moments on his previous two albums were when he used strident sloganeering and a lack of texture in the music. Call The Comet corrects that wonderfully with trademark lush and chiming guitars that resonate across synths, strings and heavily rhythmic landscapes. ‘Hi Hello’ may be the closest he’s veered towards that iconic Smiths sound, the ghosts of some of their most famous songs such as ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, drifting through Marr’s minor chords. It’s the finest solo song he’s released. That band isn’t the only reference point from that era with opener ‘Rise’ recalling Disintegration-era Cure and ‘The Chasers’ hinting at a Sisters Of Mercy influence just below its surface. Marr has talked about the album having a loose theme of Earth welcoming a different intelligence from the cosmos to save us from our own plight and though there’s plenty of turmoil and wringing of hands over world issues, there is ultimately a sense of optimism that humanity can still rise above the discord and conflict and find it’s way. 

Marr’s strong point still remains his guitar playing and compositional abilities. The way his playing can paint in colours and create mood from simple patterns of notes or layered, dense arrangements. Bug takes in a certain kind of funk as filtered through the baggy Manchester scene while ‘Actor Attractor’ channels both Suicide and early New Order. and though the highlights are many, some judicious pruning of its weaker moments would have made for stronger album. Johnny Marr may have influenced generations of musicians but on Call The Comet he’s in turn paying homage to those contemporaries that have shaped his musical life.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Stuart A. Staples – Arrhythmia

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For Stuart Staples, he of the silken croon out front of UK moodists Tindersticks, it’s been 13 years since his last solo album, Leaving Songs. That record was comfortably in the same musical orbit as Tindersticks – baroque, jazz-informed and dramatic songs placed somewhere between latter day Talk Talk, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. In the intervening years he’s continued to work on film soundtracks which goes some way to to explaining the more cinematic and experimental scope of this new four track album.

‘A New Real’ opens the album with an echo-laden primitive drum machine and a dub bass line before that distinct low and nasally coo of a voice drifts into view, questioning the shape and form of love. Slowly unfurling at a heavy-lidded pace it suddenly blooms into cascading keys and strummed guitar, the mood quickly shifting from desolate melancholy to some kind of cautious optimism.

‘Memories Of Love’ surveys similar subject matter, this time looking at love as nostalgia. It’s in keeping with the album title Arrhythmia, in this case Staples sees irregular heartbeats as being at the mercy of the vagaries of love. The song rides on nothing more than a ride cymbal and sparse, resonant piano chords before bells and other percussive melodies permeate the song in the vein of Bjork’s textural explorations. ‘Step Into the Grey’ goes deep soul on a jazzed-out breakbeat as if the band Spain were playing R&B. Staples seems to be exploring the greyed out feeling of post-relationship despair before a restrained string-led avant freakout intervenes.

‘Music For ‘A Year In Small Paintings’’ is a 30 minute instrumental track that works like a short film as it traverses multiple moods (scenes) borne from the reactions of various musicians to 365 oil paintings of the sky by artist (and his wife) Suzanne Osborne. It takes on modern classical, ambient and jazz forms with wonderfully emotive and immersive results, making this album an intimate and evocative solo release from the enigmatic Staples.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Ryley Walker – Deafman Glance

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Ryley Walker is a restless musical soul, constantly shapeshifting and looking for new ways to present his avant jazz/folk guitar songs. Over his first three solo albums he travelled from Tim Buckley/Van Morrison/Nick Drake traditional folk to the songs that, three years ago, explored more eclectic and contemporary territory on Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. 

On Deafman Glance he continues that work, taking further influence from the Chicago post-rock sound and draping his songs in synths, brass and tactile percussion. Songs change tempo, jump from meditative to frenetic and dance loosely on instrumental flights of fancy. Opener ‘In Castle Dome’ possesses a languid bluesy shimmer akin to his earlier work, his vocal strangely recalling Eddie Vedder. That thought is quickly eviscerated by the jazz shuffle of 22 Days, sounding like a more organic version of the band I’m Not A Gun. Boundaries are stretched and abstraction increasingly embraced on each song, adding up to a sense of both calm and unease, often within the same track. Lyrically there is little to grasp onto thematically other than a sense of questioning and a desire to find a surer footing in life.

With the album highlights ‘Opposite Middle’ and its gentle Tortoise-like propulsion, the prog and psych qualities of ‘Telluride Speed’ and the gorgeous closer ‘Spoil With The Rest’, Deafman Glance occasionally amounts to a disorientating listen but it never tips over the edge into wilful self-indulgence. It’s the sound of an artist inching closer and closer to realising the wild sounds in his head.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death In Meat Space

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Gareth Liddiard has been the most important Australian songwriter of the last 15 years, certainly within the world of chart-swerving guitar music. His strengths lie in literary lyrical astuteness, willingness to explore the sprawl and corners of his songs and the raw, unhinged and visceral quality of his performances. The Drones always seemed like the cross between Neil Young, Dirty Three and Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds but by the time they hit Feelin Kinda Free (2016) their restless inventiveness had branched out into new experimental territory, the precursor to Tropical Fuck Storm.

With new members around Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin, Tropical Fuck Storm have thrown away any rule book they may have had and taken an ‘anything goes’ approach, embracing dark electronic undercurrents, heavy funk and a wider palette of voices. Liddiard is verbose and incoherently eloquent as ever, this time railing against popular culture, the rise of intelligent machines, the despair of modern politics and the fear and paranoia of modern living with an apocalyptic backdrop. 

‘You Let My Tyres Down’ is pure Drones with it’s quiet/loud dynamic and beautifully weary chorus. ‘Shellfsh Toxin’ is an instrumental comprised of queasy unease, the title track is optimism short-lived, ‘Two Afternoons’ is a coruscating death disco and ‘Rubber Bullies’ suggests Liddiard has been immersing himself in Saharan desert rock. Tropical Fuck Storm are a glorious detour into deconstructed rock music, reflective of societal malaise and unafraid to tell it like it is. Qualities desperately needed in the current musical climate.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed

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The Horizon Just Laughed comes on the back of the loosely thematic trilogy of albums he recorded with producer and musician Andrew Swift. They were psychedelic in nature though still rooted in the folk form. In contrast, this feels like a retreat from the density and experimentation, to a place of reflection and solitude.

Jurado is often lumped in with songwriters like Phosphorescent, Sam Beam of Iron and Wine and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and on Over Rainbows And Rainier he certainly shares a rustic minimalism with the latter. There’s a plaintive mood across most of these songs, a gentle grandeur and a tender sway. The lyrics are introspective, dealing in character observations (six of the eleven song titles are names) and vignettes that reference fires and ghosts, dreams and Charles Schulz – skilfully shifting from literal to impressionistic storytelling and back.

Allocate is the album’s scene-setter, a dreamy, string-enhanced soulful meander that recalls Jurado’s starker early work. It’s followed by Dear Thomas Wolfe which highlights his seemingly endless ability to effortlessly weave beautiful, understated melodies. Marvin Kaplan introduces a sweet Tropicália via Laurel Canyon shuffle that lifts the album’s heart rate and recalls some of the work of Devendra Banhart, while Florence-Jean is catchy Sixties pop and closer Random Fearless adds some of CSN’s looser moments to the mix. Another gem from this consistent and inventive songwriter. 

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Earthless – Black Heaven

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The trio, renowned for their epic psych rock and metal instrumentals that can reach the 20 minute mark, are back with a new album that turns that reputation on its head by way of shorter songs and most noticeably, the addition of vocals.

Guitarist Isaiah Mitchell steps up the mic on Black Heaven and it’s a move that shifts the dynamic of the band. His singing gives those songs shape and structure that previously was subsumed by Earthless’ improvisational approach. Once you acclimatise to the change it makes sense and feels like a refresh of the band’s sound. It’s them trying something different and for the most part it works well.

Opener Gifted By The Wind is a dead ringer for Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil with Mitchell’s voice sitting somewhere between the howl of Ozzy and Comet’s On Fire’s Ethan Miller. Electric Flame settles into an insistent Blue Cheer chug – metal boogie of the most contagious kind. Drummer Mario Rubalcaba and Mike Eginton nail their Krautrock meets 70s rock precision and groove, anchoring the songs with gravitas yet also pushing and pulling them in constantly inventive directions. The title track sends a not-too-subtle nod to Led Zeppelin albeit in overdrive with spiralling riffs barely hanging on as the song accelerates into the stratosphere. In contrast, Sudden End goes for an epic lumber and sway with long, held notes. This is Earthless going out on a limb and impressively incorporating new sounds without abandoning their cosmic interstellar roots. 

Chris Familton