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

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ALBUM REVIEW: Eleanor Friedberger – Rebound

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Eleanor Friedberger was the voice of the quirky and inventive Fiery Furnaces before going it alone. Now onto her fourth solo album, she’s more than established herself as a fine songwriter and clearly decided to stretch out into some new sonic territory on the more electronically textured Rebound.

Eschewing the knotty indie guitar sound, she’s delved into a more synthetic world of drum machines, keyboards and melancholic music that references the sadder side of 80s pop but is in no way a nostalgia exercise. There’s a patina to the music whereby the songs sound lush and contemporary with one foot in simple melodic pop and the other in the art-pop world of artists like Stereolab. 

The single Make Me A Song is as catchy as anything she’s done in the past and demonstrates her playful wordplay and consistently infectious way with a chorus hook. The downbeat thrum of Nice To Be Nowhere recalls both Julee Cruise and Jack Ladder in its plaintive soft focus sway while Are We Good dances with a playful kosmiche pulse. Her use of electronic sounds add a warmth to these songs rather than colder machine-like qualities. It’s a re-housing of her songs in a new setting and she’s again matched it with sensitive and astute songwriting.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders – Blue Poles

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The sense of Jack Ladder’s career to date is that he’s constantly been searching for his lost soul sound. The early bluesy rock n roll to the introspective troubadour, the gothic synth sounds of Hurtsville to the brighter colours of Playmates. Blue Poles is named after the Jackson Pollock painting and yes it does draw on all manner of styles but this time around he pulls them together into a cohesive set of nine songs. It’s also the first record he’s self-produced, another clue as to why this feels like the album that is most uniquely and naturally his own sound and vision.

‘Can’t Stay’ is the first introduction and transports the listener back to the junction where post punk met pop art, immediately reminiscent of peak-era Thompson Twins with their twinkling synths and fascinating rhythms wrapped up in pop music. ‘Dates’ takes that scene setter and turns it on its head with a repetitive glam stomp, like prime Roxy Music with Ladder shapeshifting between Eno and Ferry. It’s infectious stuff, enough to induce self-indulgent lounge room strutting. Another song, another colour added to the canvas. ‘Susan’ is all dark and shadowy hues, Cohen circa ‘Everybody Knows’, but Ladder gets pleasingly perverse with a tale of a car accident fatality and and husband calling his wife to join him in the afterlife.

Bowie is never far from Ladder’s orbit and ‘I.N.M.’ is unabashed funk of the Thin White Duke variety, complete with skewed scattershot guitar courtesy of one Mr Kirin J Callinan. ‘Tell It Like It Is’ is of the same ilk, Ladder getting louche and mysterious, dropping great lines such as “Our love is like a door with no handles, you kick it down…”

‘Blue Mirror’ is an exceptional song. The mood it conjures, the nod to ‘Moon River’, the languid swirl and solemn pulse of the music that recalls David Sylvian, the crown prince of austere pop. Ladder finds the perfect backing for his soft bellow of a baritone. Sometimes it has sounded too knowing or a touch too sardonic in other settings. Here it meshes seamlessly. First single ‘White Flag’ is another melancholic highpoint of Blue Poles. Built on little more than a breakbeat and simple tremolo-laced guitar notes Ladder sings ‘I surrender, surrender to be free, in your chains is where I’m gonna be’, conjuring a mood of giving in rather giving up.

‘Feel Brand New’ feels like a respite from the blue mood of much that precedes it. It’s a good old fashioned rock n roll tune with guitars ringing high in the mix, throwing out unabashed and catchy hooks with the kind of optimism you get on a new morning that promises possibilities instead of weariness. Ladder leaves us with ‘Merciful Reply’. An Orbison-styled, solemn yet grand gesture. It harkens back to the lachrymose ballads of yesteryear, yet in Ladder’s hands it rings true and artfully heartfelt.

Blue Poles draws on a sense of romanticism, one steeped in melancholy yet ultimately not fatalism. There is dark humour at play and some fine wordplay on display and it sounds exceptional. This is Ladder’s finest record to date, his maudlin opus par excellence.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Wax Chattels – Career

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Wax Chattels from Auckland, NZ have released the first single from their self-titled debut LP, set for release on May 18th via Flying Nun Records and Captured Tracks.

‘Career’ is a dark and ominous slow building track that conjures up images of fried circuit boards and ghostly monks in a post-punk landscape where sonic stabs pierce the gloom and deadpan vocals are the calm before the storm of swirling dissonant noise.

Album preorders available HERE. If you head to Bandcamp you can also hear the tracks ‘In My Mouth’ and ‘Disappointed’.

Wax Chattels are:

Peter Ruddell (keyboards/vocals), Amanda Cheng (bass/vocals) and Tom Leggett (drums).

DOUBTFUL SOUNDS – Spotify Mix Series

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We’ve got a new series of mixes happening over on Spotify. As is our want, these are all over the show. One minute you’re in downtown LA in the 80s, next you’re off to New Orleans in the 20s before a quick jaunt to Auckland in the 1990s. Dub, post-punk, glam metal, ambient, pop, country and jazz. Anything goes.

Catch up with the first three mixes below….

ALBUM REVIEW: Joan As Police Woman – Damned Devotion

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Joan Wasser is now six albums deep into her solo career and she continues to refine and explore her polymorphous sound that takes in soul, jazz and pop music.

If her last album, The Classic, felt like a slight misstep, Damned Devotion is a return to what Wasser does best – blending mood and atmosphere with classic soul, contemporary R&B and modern technology. There’s an exhilarating sense of both space and intimacy in Wasser’s songs, impressively enhanced by the production of Thomas Bartlett and Parker Kindred. Swelling synths, fractured electronic beats are the backdrop to Valid Jagger, Rely On sounds like a take on the industrial urban soul of Portishead, while Talk About It Later is futuristic Curtis Mayfield with both dark rock and gospel undertones.

“I start to wonder what about my life I can’t settle on” she sings on closer I Don’t Mind. It sums up the questioning nature of many of her lyrics as Wasser explores both the self and the emotional obstacle course of modern life. The highlight comes with the single Tell Me – a heavy yet sweet, neo-soul groove with a perfectly weighted and irresistible hook of a chorus. Damned Devotion is grounded in traditional musical forms yet it blossoms with sonic experimentation and emotional depth.

CHRIS FAMILTON

INTERVIEW: Django Django (2018)

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On the eve of the release of their third album, Marble Skies, and an hour before they take the stage in London to launch it, drummer/producer David Maclean chats with Chris Familton about where the inspiration comes from in the creation of their multifaceted sound.

Django Django are now three albums deep into a career that started with a bang when they released their debut self-titled album, garnered a Mercury Prize nomination and set off on a two year world tour. That segued straight into the follow-up album Born Under Saturn which nearly derailed the band entirely when they hit breaking point. Now they’ve regrouped, built a studio and rediscovered the essence of their music – that dizzying blend of electronic pop, surf guitar and postmodern psychedelia. “Now we’re back into it and excited again!” says Maclean.

With the stage beckoning, he admits that the band are always a bit edgier when taking out new songs for the first time and that they need to be worn in. “It’s always a bit nervy playing them the first few times so they’ll have to settle in a bit and they’ll keep changing and morphing and getting better and better until you kind of go on autopilot a bit and then you can kind sort of enjoy it and just relax and get in the groove a lot more.”

Marble Skies finds the band sounding more settled and focused than ever before and Maclean pinpoints a greater confidence in how they work together. “We’re definitely getting a bit more confident, but you don’t want to get carried away just because you can do something. We don’t want to get obsessed with the techniques. On the first record we didn’t now what we were doing and that was all we needed at the time. Our songwriting is getting better and we strive to keep working because we want our records to be played on the radio in 20 years time like Gerry Rafferty or Blondie or Cat Stevens,” Maclean enthuses.

In hindsight Maclean sees some mistakes with the recording of their previous album Born Under Saturn. “With the last album we went to Angelic which was the keyboardist from Jamiroquai, Toby Smith’s studio. It was a huge studio in the countryside and I guess we felt a little out of our depth as we hadn’t written any songs before we went there,” he laughs. “We ended up being in the communal living room all the time writing songs, even though we were paying thousands a day for the whole place. It’s not really in the spirit of where we came from or how I grew up with a four-track making music. We were more comfortable this time,” says Maclean, referring to their own new studio.

One of the key characteristics of their sound is the fusion of different genres and organic and digital instrumentation. “I think I’ve always been quite good at finding threads in different music. I remember listening to Public Enemy when I was younger and having that eureka moment realising they were sampling Jimi Hendrix licks and mixing in beats. Even looking at their production style and the similarities to what The Beatles were doing. These were all people just experimenting creatively. All music is a lot more connected than people think.”

ALBUM REVIEW: Django Django – Marble Skies

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In the past Django Django have managed to wrangle the seemingly disparate styles of electronic pop and rockabilly rhythms into songs that roll and pulse, both on the dance floor and as highly attractive synth pop. They continue that template here but it all sounds more refined and cohesive.

Their trademark vocal delivery and the way the melodies and harmonies are layered and blended is still the most distinct aspect of their sound. The area where they’ve gained the most traction and taken their songs forward is in the composition and instrumental arrangements. They run the gamut from the sugary jackhammer rhythm and Suicide meets early Depeche Mode of the title track  through to the Jan Hammer assisted piano, dreamy kosmiche vibe of the excellent Sundials. Both Tic-Tac-Toe and In Your Beat excel at marrying brain activity and feet movement with dizzying precision and economy, while the clipped guitar riff of Further reminds that they are still a band that play live instruments.

Marble Skies’ electronic pop psychedelia is a fine soundtrack for the summer months, immediately appealing music from thinking musicians who know how to find that balance between creativity and accessibility.

Chris Familton