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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NEW MUSIC: Deep Sea Arcade – Close To Me

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Deep Sea Arcade have been hard at work on their new album Blacklight, their first since Outlands in 2012. We’ve heard the new album, we’ve got a review of it coming soon. The good news is that for the most part it’s been worth the wait.

This single, ‘Close To Me’, is one of the album highlights and an example of the seamless integration of indie, electronic and psych elements the duo of Nick Weaver and Nic McKenzie have put together on the new record.

NEW MUSIC: Fox Grin – Black Tree

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New music in the sense that it’s new to us… Fox Grin (Atlanta, Georgia) actually released their LP King Of Spades back in January of this year but we’ve only just come across this great track, ‘Black Tree’, in the last couple of weeks. It’s a upbeat shimmer and dance through art-rock and avant-pop. Downbeat by nature but thoroughly on the up musically, it cuts a fine sartorial figure as the infectious rhythm section pulses below all manner of guitars and keys. It sounds like Beck buried in a kaleidoscopic studio with Field Music.

Check out ‘Black Tree’ and find your way through to the full record on Bandcamp or hit up the usual streaming services.

INTERVIEW: Nils Frahm

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photo by Alexander Schneider

WHEN MUSIC & ELECTRICITY COLLIDE

The last decade has seen a rise in the popularity of modern classical music and its influence on other genres, particularly electronic music. One of the leading lights in the scene is German composer Nils Frahm and in a revealing conversation with Chris Familton he discusses his musical beginnings, his future and the constant flux of his live shows.

It’s 1:30am on an autumn morning in Berlin and Nils Frahm is ensconced in Saal 3, his studio in the iconic, Funkhaus, a 1950s building that previously housed world-class recording facilities and was home to GDR state radio. “I’m always a professional, always working when I’m not sleeping,” he laughs. “I like the night, it’s perfect for musicians. It’s quiet and inspiring. I’ve been in the studio for four hours and I’ve already unlearned how to speak and so it is civilising to talk a little bit.”

It’s been a big year for Frahm, with a heavy touring schedule on the back of his acclaimed All Melody album, He’s about to return to Australia for the first time in four years but don’t expect to immediately recognise songs from the album when he plays them on stage. “All the songs have changed already. I can’t go back to where I started them,” he says, with a note of satisfaction in his voice. “I deconstruct the compositions all the time and build them in a different way. I feel like the songs are ongoing compositions and when the task is to play them again, no-one could ask me to play them the same every time. I need to destroy what I did yesterday and redo it today. It needs to be a little bit different each time,” Frahm emphasises.

A hallmark of Frahm’s music is his ability to seamlessly blend electronic and acoustic instruments and still retain an organic, tactile and emotionally resonant quality in his work. “It doesn’t matter how something is played, just listen to the music,” Frahm responds, before tracing his fascination with both musical worlds back to the lounge room of his childhood home. “For me it was a natural connection to electronic music because it was always connected to my father’s hi-fi system. It was highly electronic so that connection between music and electricity was always there for me and wasn’t a separate thing. I was aware that a piano didn’t have a plug and other things did, but I thought a vinyl record player was as exciting as a piano. I liked anything that played music to my ears and made me feel amazing,” says Frahm.

“I was always curious about music and I like when I don’t really know how something is made. It can be made by an orchestra, it can be made by a synthesiser or even an algorithm. If it sounds good to my ears, and it all comes out of speakers in the end, I don’t worry. Here in my studio I’m looking at my patch bay and cables one to eight are all microphones and nine to 16 are all synthesisers. They are all the same cables. Even the acoustic piano goes through the same cable as my synthesiser and they come out of the same speakers,” explains Frahm, surveying the array of keyboards, pianos and synthesisers around him.

The conversation leads to where Frahm first had a strong emotional response to music. Not just hearing it as background music on the radio or in the endless hours of practising scales in piano lessons. “There were some songs that amazed me. ECM released John Surman, the saxophone player who played along to synthesisers and loops. It was something that burnt into my heart,” he recalls passionately. “I was crying to that song when I was a kid, and it had no lyrics or anything. It was just a harmonic motif and the timbre of the synthesiser, together with the saxophone. A truly amazing combination of a real instrument and something alien that I couldn’t understand. I heard many good examples of tasteful blends of those two worlds, even before I recorded anything, so I was very confident that it could be done and I was standing on the shoulders of heroes.”

Frahm still has All Melody tour dates stretching into 2019, but what then? He recently released Encores 1 – additional music from the same album sessions, and he hints at but doesn’t confirm that there will be more in that series. For Frahm it seems like his future is something of a mystery at the moment. “I don’t tend to plan too far ahead. I just want to survive next year and then in 2020 who knows what I’m feeling like doing then. It’s a crazy time in life and I’m meeting a lot of people around me who talk about inspiration and what they want to do in life. I hope by 2020 I’ll be smarter and can imagine something a little wiser than what I’m doing now – being the pop icon who is traveling around the world with tons of equipment and lots of people and playing these silly festivals around each corner.” 

It’s a revealing and remarkably candid insight into the decisions an artist has to make – the form, timing and responsibility of presenting their art. “I’m totally open for all of this to end, to be honest. I don’t want to be the person who just stops and takes something away from people. I can’t say I’m excited to just finish a tour in two years and then do the next album and then do a huge tour. I don’t know how many years we can go on like this. It’s really crazy man. I’m not dark about the future, I’m excited… but I’m absolutely puzzled.” says Frahm, before returning to the solitude of the early hours, the empty Funkhaus hallways and the cables and synths of his studio.

NEW MUSIC: Midwife – Angel

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Here’s a nice track from the duo Midwife (Madeline Johnston (of Sister Grotto) and guitarist Tucker Theodore.) It’s a lovely unfurling drone-pop track that has shades of Cocteau Twins and the ambient, dreamier moments of Mogwai. The song creeps along at a funereal pace, shrouded in gauzy haze of distortion before the fog clears to reveal fragments of effected and intertwined guitars, like fading sonic memories.

‘Angel’ comes from the EP Prayer Hands, available on Bandcamp and major streaming platforms.

 

NEW MUSIC: Evelyn Drach – False Premise

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This one is for fans of artists such as Aldous Harding, Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief, Jep and Dep and Molly Burch. Dark folk-based songs that fold in elements of electronic music, with a sense of drama and an appreciation of space, poetry and tension.

With a run of individual tracks being released on Spotify, Evelyn Drach is working towards a full digital album release in 2018 with vinyl to follow in 2019.

According to her bio she is… a musician & storyteller in search of quiet truth and forgotten stories. From the funeral pyres of Varanasi to the heart of London, Drach has spent her life following stories across the world. Often this leads to living in extreme isolation. She has spent months living in a mud hut in the heart of the Amazon jungle, a year exploring abandoned houses in rural France and years working as a house clearer sorting through the possessions of those who have passed on.

From a background of fine art and dance, Drach’s work also includes experimental films and dance pieces using dance to navigate through landscapes and better understand their textures.

Her music is a journey through collective history, ancestral memory & the subconscious realm. Using sound samples, a range of live instruments and spoken word interludes, she collages sound & thought. Her music is presented in unconventional immersive settings. She wants it to be stumbled upon or uncovered like a lost memory, inviting the audience to step sideways in time into her realm which is filled with symbolism & questions.

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

NEW MUSIC: Darren Cross – Sur La Vague (Drive Me Nuts)

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The sonic alchemist that is Darren Cross (Jep and Dep, Gerling) has released the second single from his new LP Peacer. ‘Sur La Vague (Drive Me Nuts)’ is a persistent ear-worm of a track. Over a Krautrock rhythm he weaves a mantra-like vocal peppered with hovercraft synths and saxophone. It’s that sweet blend of downbeat and uptempo – a kaleidoscopic, left-of-centre, pop nugget that brings to mind LCD Soundsystem and Fujiya & Miyagi. It’s also brilliantly enhanced with a suitably skewed and maniacal video clip.

For the full #DARRENCROSSPEACER experience, head to his Bandcamp page to buy the album on vinyl/CD/digital.

If you are in Sydney you can get along to Cross’ album launch at the Golden Age Cinema & Bar in Darlinghurst tomorrow night (September 6th). Music kicks off at 9pm. Entry is free.