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

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Kevin Morby – Oh My God

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Apparently Kevin Morby went into the studio and recorded this album two years ago, before he released his last record, City Music. It sounds quite different to that album, different to his breakthrough album Singing Saw as well. What came out of those studio sessions is a concept album of sorts, one that is tied into the theme of religion, by someone who states that he’s not in the slightest religious.

With that in mind, it’s an interesting set of songs that explore the place, role and ramifications of religion, both at a personal and societal level. He leverages gospel music, angelic choirs and rhythm tracks built on handclaps, weaving them into his folk-flavoured indie rock. Morby’s ability to sound like a pastoral balladeer one minute and a street-wise poet the next is on full display as the songs unravel. At his best he’s a fine and convincing blend of Dylan, Reed and Cohen.

He’s got a clever way with lyrics too. “Do you want to play chess in my chest” he sings on ‘Piss River’ and on ‘Savannah’ he he follows the line “Sometimes I let my silence become the conversation” with an abrupt pause to emphasise the point. The arrangements on Oh My God are a real delight. Often sparse, with warm sounding organ, piano or jangly guitar and regular enhancement by lonely minimal, solo horn accompaniment. There are glorious interruptions of 50s doo-wop (‘Congratulations’) and Velvet Underground/Bowie chug (‘OMG Rock n Roll’) but the overwhelming mood is more reflective and gently interrogative than those exceptions.

Across Oh My God Morby plays with and eloquently investigates religion with equal amounts of respect and irreverence while placing his songs in artful and evocative musical settings.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: The Beasts – Still Here

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The Beasts
Still Here
Bang! Records / Rocket

A new album from the remaining members of the Beasts of Bourbon (under the name The Beasts) is a bittersweet thing in light of the passing of bassist Brian Hooper and more recently Spencer P. Jones. The name of the band and the album are self explanatory and though there’s enough to justify the band coming together to record new music and tour, there’s the unavoidable sense of a band operating on dwindling returns.

The album was recorded only a couple of weeks after their last gig with Hooper and is made up of songs formed from, in their words, sketchy ideas plus some jams and covers. Jones is there, but he only made it onto one track, the slow and swampy blues crawl of At The Hospital.

Things get off to a good start with the one/two punch of Perkins’ On My Back and Kim Salmon’s heavy grunge/garage-rock track Pearls Before Swine. Both possess the right amount of grit and sleaze, worthy additions to the Beasts’ canon of work. Warren Zevon’s My Shit’s Fucked Up gets a passable workout, as does Zappa’s The Torture Never Stops, which fares better with its loose and queasy sound.

It’s All Lies and Your Honour sound like half-baked ideas – one-riff jams that were fleshed out long enough to justify calling them songs. The flip-side to them is the shadowy drone and grind of Don’t Pull Me Over, a sign of the band’s willingness to still effectively explore the avant garde end of primal rock n roll, an inner city cousin to Springsteen’s Nebraska. 

What The Hell Was I Thinking sounds like a late-night Rolling Stones jam and gloriously so. Searing electric slide and acoustic guitars weave a drunken dance while Perkins laments his actions in his wonderful country howl and croon.

All in all Still Here is a flawed beast but I guess they always were weren’t they. That was, and remains, the band’s charm. A collective throwing together of ideas that works often and fails sometimes.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Cass McCombs – Tip Of The Sphere

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Cass McCombs
Tip Of The Sphere
Anti- / Cooking Vinyl Australia

For a number of years, across seven albums, Cass McCombs flew under the radar for the most part. He was recognised for his work but it wasn’t until the critical acclaim and success of Mangy Love in 2016 that he went overground and found himself the talk of the indie world. That album was a fairly direct affair with a smooth veneer and darker themes lurking beneath the surface. Now, on Tip Of The Sphere, McCombs has taken a more circuitous route with a more cohesive, hypnotic and searching sound.

There’s a bucolic feel to much of the album, ‘Estrella’ being a typical example of the way McCombs weaves a 70s folk aesthetic into dreamy indie rock. There’s a fair amount of repeated phrases and insistent bass rhythms that add to the heady, aqueous and meditative vibe. ‘Real Life’ is like Tim Buckley jamming with Porno For Pyros with its percussion, strummed guitars and new age mysticism. The album centrepiece ‘Sleeping Volcanoes’ is a real highlight with cascading guitars, primitive yet pulsating bass and McCombs’ way with constantly renegotiated vocal melodies forging a gentle path through the song. ‘Prayer For Another Day’ is a more intellectually astute cousin to Kurt Vile, heading closer to the newer work of Steve Gunn. 

Perhaps sensing a need to inject some aural unease into proceedings, ‘American Canyon Sutra’ is a queasy trip through spoken word over a minimal drum machine that distracts rather than provide an engaging contrast. It’s only a momentarily blip before the cosmic psych folk resumes and the album closes out with the ten minute countrified jazz-fusion noodling of ‘Rounder’, a glowing reverie of sun kissed guitars that embarks, mid-song, on a psychedelic journey that sounds like it could wind on endlessly into the cosmos.

All in all this feels like an intimate set of creative and explorative musical expositions. Eloquent, contemplative and for the most part intriguing and absorbing.  

Chris Familton

FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2018

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Another year done and dusted in the world of music and as always there were some exceptional records released. These lists always do our head in so this time around we’ve shaken things up a bit. Instead of just doing a ranked top 50 list we’ve narrowed down our top ten and then listed the 40 other albums that we highly rate and recommend you checking out if you haven’t heard them. As always, we’d love to hear what your favourite records of the year.

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Top Ten

1. Parquet Courts – Wide Awake!
“A record that shakes off any restrictive genre shackles, shakes shimmies and grooves with garage rock, baggy dance and an enviable level of cool.”

2. Suicide Swans – La Jungla
Suicide Swans are seemingly a band on a mission. The dust has barely settled on the release cycle for their excellent Augusta album of last year and they’re already releasing it’s followup – the sprawling, psych, rock and cosmic country double album that is La Jungla.”

3. Marlon Williams – Make Way For Love
“‘Make Way For Love’ is a heavy album at times but it leaves you with a feeling of stepping out of the darkness and into the light, optimism replacing despair and with the desire to explore the mysteries of love still tantalisingly intact.”

4. Halfway – Rain Lover
“Halfway are a modern treasure on the Australian musical landscape, always cutting to the heart and soul of their music with each record they produce. On ‘Rain Lover’ they’ve topped even their own lofty standards.”

5. Low Double – Negative
“‘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.”

6. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Hope Downs
“Effortless and endless melodies that are both melancholic and enervating at the same time. A songwriting collective in perfect unison and right on top of their game”

7. Cash Savage & The Last Drinks – Good Citizens
“‘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.”

8. Tropical Fuck Storm – A Laughing Death In Meatspace
“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.”

9. Khruangbin – Con Todo El Mundo
“Soulful, funky, tripped-out pan-global grooves that hit you in the head and the hips”

10. Nils Frahm – All Melody
“The result of disciplined, studied genius, a wildly creative mind and open musical borders. This is ambient electronic music for the headphones and the heart.”

11-50 unranked, in alphabetical order:

Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog
Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens
Choir Boy – Passive With Desire
Colter Wall – Songs Of The Plains
Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed
Eleanor Friedberger – Rebound
Darren Cross – Peacer
Davey Craddock – One Punch
Avantdale Bowling Club – Avantdale Bowling Club
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Earthless – Black Heaven
East Brunswick All Girls Choir – Teddywaddy
Field Music – Open Here
GAS – Rausch
Gouge Away – Burnt Sugar
Harmony – Double Negative
Harmony Rockets – Lachesis / Clotho / Atropos
Jack Ladder – Blue Poles
Jamie Hutchings – Bedsit
John Prine – Tree Of Forgiveness
Kurt Vile – Bottle It In
Kyle Craft – Full Circle Nightmare
Moaning – Moaning
Okkervil River – In The Rainbow Rain
Phosphorescent – C’est La Vie
Richmond Fontaine – Don’t Skip Out On Me
Roadhouses – Roadhouses
Ruby Boots – Don’t Talk About It
Ry Cooder – The Prodigal Son
Ryley Walker – Deafman Glance
Sarah Blasko – Depth Of Field
Space Afrika – Somewhere Decent To Live
Stuart A. Staples – Arrhythmia
The Breeders – All Nerve
The Caretaker Everywhere at the end of time – Stage 4 & 5
The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking
The Messthetics – The Messthetics
The Necks – Body
Windhand – Eternal Return
Wooden Shjips – V

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

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