INTERVIEW: Kirin J Callinan

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BEHIND THE BRAVADO

Down the line from LA, where he’s between tours with Pond and Mac DeMarco, Kirin J. Callinan gives Chris Familton an insight into the creative process behind his new album Bravado and why it took four years to complete.

Kirin J. Callinan is something of a modern day renaissance man, a polymorphic pop provocateur who revels in stretching creative boundaries and treading a fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous. His debut album Embracism explored industrial tension and bittersweet balladry but Bravado takes a different kind of maximalist approach, combining brash, over-the-top EDM synths with Callinan’s trademark effect-laden guitar playing, answerphones, didgeridoos, whistling and that voice that recalls the orotund tones of Scott Walker, Matt Johnson (The The) and Alan Vega (Suicide). It’s a bold transition, yet it’s not a great departure from his core aesthetic.

“I wanted to make the same record again and explore the same ideas and the weirdness I’d created but push it further. In the past there was this moody, kind of violent, shadowy, industrial murkiness with all these spiritual ballads. I wanted those electronic sounds that were previously industrial and threatening to now be inclusive and fun. The ballads were previously more poetic and self-serious. I wanted the new ones to have a more heightened sentimentality and be more inclusive and accessible, rather than the idea of being elitist or cool. I wanted to do away with all that and make it fun,” he stresses.

“I kind of hated this record and didn’t feel motivated to finish it,” recalls Callinan, when asked why four years have passed since he released his debut solo album. “The truth is that the vast majority of this record was a made in 2014. The songs were written then and they haven’t changed much since mid-2015. I guess what did change was my perspective. I was able to flick a switch and love all the things I hated about it and see it for what it was and understand its beauty and humanity and the truth in its ugliness, bombast and bravado.”

Callinan was encouraged to finish the album when “a bunch of different guests, who made cameos on the record, heard what I had and wanted to be part of it. That definitely fills you with confidence when you have doubt over something.” Some collaborations were with friends while others such as Jimmy Barnes and the Finn family were happy accidents that he pursued. “I emailed Jimmy and told him I was a fan of his music and particularly his scream. I didn’t hear back for months and eventually I landed in LA and in my inbox he’d sent me a bunch of WAV files of him screaming and I worked it into the song which was cool!” enthuses Callinan.

When it comes to how Bravado will be received, Callinan is already looking ahead to the next album. “I already have a completely crystallised view of what I want the next album to be. I’m going to start work on it in Las Vegas where there is absurdity, amorality and the idea that there is no good or bad, just wanton desire. It’s a strange place with a mix of families, tourists, gambling, prostitution, extreme wealth and poverty, the desert and bright neon lights. I’ll be getting to work on that at the first opportunity.”

“No matter what people say about Bravado, it’s original and singular which is more than can be said for a lot of things. I’ve been and excited and validated by the response to it so far. It’s nothing new for me to be divisive. If they like it or hate it, who gives a fuck.”

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LIVE REVIEW: Underground Lovers

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Underground Lovers, Simon Holmes @ Leadbelly, Newtown, May 18th, 2017

With an excellent new album in tow, Underground Lovers finally made it back up the highway to Sydney after a few years absence. They’ve clearly retained and widened their audience too, with two sold out shows to celebrate the release of the new record.

Simon Holmes of The Hummingbirds had to battle the restless and chatty punters but he did so by virtue of some fine vocal melodies and the late-set addition of Adam (vocals) and Simon Gibson (drums) of the Ark-Ark Birds for a trio of their songs. A nice inclusion was a stripped back but still effortless and catchy version of the 1989 Hummingbirds single Blush.

Complete with a cache of psychedelic video projections, Underground Lovers put on a consummate, almost celebratory set. There was a false start with a miscued drum machine on the new song Unbearable but they laughed it off, with frontman Vincent Giarusso blaming nerves. From then on they never put a foot wrong, playing a big chunk of the new album Staring At You Staring At Me, intermingled with highlights from their back catalogue.

They’re a more muscular and propulsive band on stage than on record, the rhythm section locking into fluid and repetitive grooves that strayed into motorik Krautrock territory and down psych rock sonic rabbit holes. Melancholy permeates their music but the shared lead vocals between Giarusso and Philippa Nihill, the blend of Glenn Bennie’s guitar and the electronic elements ensured an all-encompassing sound that filled the room and was much dance-inducing as it was forlorn. Every Sign and The Rerun were two highlights from the new record – dark dance music akin to Primal Scream at their most rewarding junction of electronic and rock music. The biggest crowd response came with Dream It Down’s Las Vegas. A chanted sing-along ensued and when Giarusso hit the line “Lots of feathers, fluffy and pink, and cigarettes” an audience member responded with one. It was a weird sight seeing a cigarette inside a venue in 2017 but it was a fine moment at a gig where the mood of re-lived youth and fresh musical discovery was in the air.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Sleaford Mods – English Tapas

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The masters of minimal post-punk and street poetry return with their first album for Rough Trade, In the last four years the duo have gone from something of a curiosity to an established act with a cutting line in socio-political commentary and stark, primitive music.

English Tapas continues the sound and content of its predecessors. On Divide & Exit (2014), Andrew Fearn concocted a sound reminiscent of The Fall, it was muddy and ragged with a sense of disdain and an embrace of lo-fi grittiness. Their last album Key Markets signalled a cleaning up of their music, more rhythmic and groove-based, though still utterly primitive. In 2017 they’ve continued that process of refinement with the addition of subtle and detailed programming elements – a twinkling hi-hat here, bass-lines that feature more than three notes and on ‘Cuddly’, their closest attempt at digital dub.

Jason Williamson is still the focus with his heavily-accented, ranting approach. It’s part poetic attack, rap-leaning in its rhythm and rhyme and a glorious mix of colloquial and slang deployed to deliver commentary on issues of unemployment, social media, greed and the monotony of modern life. If anything, Williamson has become more abstract in his lyrics, cutting up sentences, fragmenting phrases so they are as suggestive as they are direct. When he does take straight aim at a topic there’s definitely no room for mis-interpretation – “Try scrolling down a website, the NME, without laughing, I’ll give you ten quid if you can keep a straight face. Honestly, just fucking try it, mate”.

There’s a lineage from Sleaford Mods back through grime, The Streets, P.I.L, The Fall and Suicide and here they continue to collated the sonic influence of those acts and others into a unique sound that marries ideas and gonzo simplicity that comes off as satirical, witty and critical without an ounce of musical fat or holier-than-thou preaching.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1

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Moon Duo return with the first of two albums they plan to release in 2017, with both volumes rooted in balanced and oppositional ideas and textures. The conceptual approach of the double album is, in their words “an intricately woven hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons and the journey of day into night, dark into light.” That Yin Yang format won’t of course make complete sense until Vol. 2 is released later in the year but for now you can be assured that Moon Duo are still doing what they do best – laying down dense, surging and grinding psych rock rhythms.

Their music is always one of perpetual motion and since their first releases, which were dominated by a colder and more mechanical mood, they’ve slowly evolved to find a unique common ground between machine-like repetition, Sanae Yamada’s kosmiche synth washes and melodies and the free-spirited guitar explorations courtesy of Ripley Johnson.

On Occult Architecture Vol. 1, the term primitive futurism keeps coming to mind. The pair conjure up images of mysterious shadowy figures, druids, shamanistic rituals and pagan mysticism with their obfuscated lyrics and general dark tones and textures. They also invoke the spirit of astral travel and space travel, their songs often resembling a object hurtling through space and free of any earthly restraint. There’s a certain cyber quality to the shape and relentless drive of Moon Duo, albeit infused with human emotions – both good and bad.

‘Cold Fear’ induces just that – a queasy feeling of unease which makes it a less aggressive descendent of Suicide’s experiments at putting their audiences in a state of discomfort. ”Cross Town Fade’ is a curious blend of a tranced-out Sigue Sigue Sputnik stuck in a glam boogie vortex while ‘Will Of The Devil’ spins on an axis of insistent drumming with a yearning, melancholic synth melody sounding like a lost transmission from the point where Joy Division became New Order.

The album closer ‘White Rose’ emerges from the dark mist into a more optimistic world, one built on a perfect Krautrock rhythm and Johnson’s guitar sounding like a demonstrative insect buzzing and demanding to be heard. The glorious drone rolls on for ten minutes, onward and upward toward the light and presumably its spring/summer-centric sibling album.

It’s a fascinating journey, with or without the overarching concept, and reinforces the ability of Moon Duo to create music that is both sonically straightjacketed, endlessly immersive and without visible horizons.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: The Bug Vs Earth – Snakes Vs Rats from their new LP Concrete Desert

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Dylan Carlson (Earth) has once again teamed up with The Bug’s Kevin Martin (Techno Animal, Ice, God, Razor X, King Midas Sound), this time for a full-length LP called Concrete Desert. The album also features guest vocals from Justin Broadrick from Jesu/Godflesh etc on two tracks. Below you can hear the first taste of the album – ‘Snakes Vs Rats’.

Martin says that the album is in some ways a Los Angeles-set companion piece to London Zoo. The record’s beautiful, chiming melodies are like shards of sonic light, glowing in currents of heavy bass darkness. There are pulsing soundscapes, ambient pinks and whites, and irresistible grooves. This is music that grips you entirely, and catches you in its lava-flow – an astonishing, primal album of vast depth.

Inspired by J.G. Ballard’s urban dystopias, Concrete Desert could be understood as reflecting a “mistrust of “Hollywoodisms”, the shadow of Hollywood fantasy that looms large over life in LA, and the USA in general. “Dylan’s a master at amplifying the flavour of America,” Martin says, “but not the side we see in this Trump climate.” For Martin, the “American dream is like a nightmare under Trump” but Dylan captures the “best side of that dream, a utopian openess…I hear the writing of Cormac McCarthy in his music. His playing conjures deserts, and wide open spaces.”

Concrete Desert is out 24th March via Ninja Tune. Preorders available HERE

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LIVE REVIEW: My Disco @ Newtown Social Club

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My Disco, Marcus Whale, Hviske @ Newtown Social Club, 11 February 2017

Minimalism shaping grand emotion was the order of the night at NSC for My Disco’s last stop on their summer tour. From the headliners down through Marcus Whale and opening duo Hviske, there was a common thread of space, intensity and the blurring of technology and organic instrumentation to create dramatic musical pieces.

Hviske are Kusum Normoyle and Ivan Lisyak and they generated a densely rhythmic mix of techno and cold wave electronica that hit the occasional peak but for the most part settled into a rewarding mix of hard surface sounds and minor melodic excursions. Live, Normoyle’s vocals were the weak-point compared to the more layered and integrated sound on their recordings and she seemed unsettled and distracted, never fully immersing herself in the music.

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Marcus Whale

 

Marcus Whale’s solo work seems to go to another level every time I see him live. Flanked by two drummers with stripped down kits (tom, snare, ride cymbal) and performing over backing tracks Whale took us deep into his album Inland Sea, his voice urging, consoling and serenading the audience with conviction and passion. The closest comparison is Bjork’s more recent work crossed with avant hip hop and dark electronica. A compelling performance.

My Disco have progressively peeled back the layers of their sound with each new album, whilst simultaneously ratcheting up the tension and their avant garde leanings. They are still a band of guitar, bass and drums but they now sound like a raw machine, ominous and commanding with their instruments often bathed in as much silence as coruscating noise, relentless drones and repetition. King Sound set the scene with Liam Andrews intoning those two words like an android with a glitch in its system while guitarist Benjamin Andrews scattered shards of distortion across the audience at high volume. The heartbeat of the band is still Rohan Rebeiro who brings the most humanistic element to their music, he controls the machine with his blend of doom and jazz-tinged tribalism. Their intensity and commitment to their sonic aesthetic is what defines My Disco, from throwing in an overlong drum solo to the complete lack of audience interaction, they have their own musical eco-system which made their set feel like we were temporary visitors to their fascinating, hypnotic and shadowy world.

Chris Familton