ALBUM REVIEW: Gorillaz – The Now Now

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Over the last 30 years you’d be hard pressed to find an artist who has equally embraced music that appeals equally to the commercial pop world and the more discerning and eclectic listener. Damon Albarn really is a man for all seasons, a polymorphic, post-modern songwriter with an insatiable creative streak that has seen him find success, primarily in Blur and Gorillaz, but also with a myriad of side projects. Album number six finds Albarn, producer and musician James Ford and assorted collaborators finding a decidedly reflective and melancholic electronic pop streak.

The guest stars are still a key facet of the Gorillaz template but there are only a few in attendance this time around. Snoop Dogg, George Benson and Jamie Principle all make strong contributions but Albarn is clearly the musical eye of the storm. His voice colours every song, draping them in that weary, wistful croon, perfectly suited to the album’s themes of finding solace in a mixed up world, the importance of living in the now in the physical world and the value of the inner soul vs the attraction of the shallow glamour of Hollywood and Instagram. Much of the album was recorded while on the Humanz tour – lyrics and beats composed on time-sapping bus journeys and in indistinguishable hotel rooms, giving The Now Now it’s personal, observational and ruminative quality.

The maudlin sound of much of the album still retains the futuristic gleam that defines the technological and graphic quality of Gorillaz. Synth washes and lush arpeggios, stuttering funk and hip hop beats blend seamlessly with piano and the iconic guitar sound of George Benson as well as subtle appearance from Graham Coxon on Magic City. With a more cohesive and consistent sound, the rewards come from the details – the synthetic folk wash of closer Souk Eye, knowing 80s Depeche Mode synth pop excursions such as Tranz, Idaho’s art pop akin to the latter-day experimentations of Radiohead and  the 21st century, low-riding electro-funk grooves that permeate the album.

The Now Now is a deeper than normal listen and a welcome balancing addition to the Gorillaz discography. It’s also, tantalisingly, the closest we’ve come to a new solo record from Albarn.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Money For Rope – Picture Us

 

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Back in 2012, Money For Rope came out of the gates with a real buzz about their live shows and their debut, self-titled album. They hit the road and apparently kept touring across Europe and the US. Thankfully they eventually got back in the studio and documented those years on the new album Picture Us.

As with that debut, the band again mix and blend genres and styles. They jam musical ingredients into a blender and end up with a sound that is familiar but never falls into a retrograde rehashing of other bands’ past glories. You can hear the ghosts of bands like Supergrass, Inspiral Carpets and Happy Mondays filtered through the kind of gothic-tinged garage and psych rock that the likes of The Scare and Witch Hats have dragged across these lands. Earl Grey stands out as a razor sharp example of mood and teetering energy as it shifts from a low-slung, snaking groove to frenetic sonic shakedown. Trashtown engages a wonderfully ramshackle and bluesy tone while Look lumbers along with a speaker-blowing sound akin to The Black Keys on steroids. As an example of the range of music Money For Rope explore on the album, listen to the title track. Its lo-fi, jangly quality and twists and turns suggests an affinity for the avant guitar pop of bands like Pavement and Sparklehorse. 

Picture Us casts a wide net, yet for all its variety there’s an overriding feeling of adventure and shared experiences that emanates from the restless colours and shapes of its songs.

Chris Familton

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

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