ALBUM REVIEW: Adrianne Lenker – abysskiss

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Known predominantly as the singer, songwriter and guitarist for the band Big Thief, Adrianne Lenker is one of those artists who writes constantly, documenting daily life and existential thoughts as she travels the world with her band. abysskiss is her second solo album and it finds her expanding the raw folk of her debut into a freer and more subtly textured set of songs.

Acoustic guitar is at the core of each track. Generally finger-picked and inventive it is the vessel that carries the songs as Lenker’s voice quietly drifts across the music, repeating phrases, re-shaping words into different phrasings and emphasising mood and tone over any quest for perfection. It amounts to a hypnotic effect akin to heavy-lidded lullabies and that sweetly intoxicating drift when you’re halfway between dreaming and awake. As a result the songs have an intangible quality that requires repeat listens to get a handle on them. Each track also contains a secondary element or two – a ghostly backing vocal, field type recordings  or another instrument, adding another thin layer of texture to the music.

Out of Your Mind is the most immediate song, sharing a gentle chug and sound with some of Liz Phair’s work while Blue And Red Horses is catchy in a playground chant kind of way. Symbol is another that lifts the pace and inhabits a nice pocket of ethereal psychedelic folk. Across the album, themes seem to alluding to big picture things such as childhood, the inevitably of death and the cyclical nature of life. Heavy stuff indeed but in Lenker’s hands it has a sense of mystery and wonder that draws the listener into her intimate world of song. 

Chris Familton

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NEW MUSIC: Joe McKee – I’ll Be Your Host

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Joe McKee used to be the main guy in Snowman but now he’s based in Los Angeles and has recorded a new album, An Australian Alien, under his own name, alongside members of Ariel Pink, Drugdealer and The Pixies.

‘I’ll Be Your Host’ is a beautiful hazy, dream-like drift of avant-pop, complete with a heavenly sax solo. Check out the video and then hit the Bandcamp link to stream and buy the album in digital and vinyl formats.

LIVE REVIEW: Jen Cloher, Tiny Ruins @ Red Rattler, Sydney

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Jen Cloher, Tiny Ruins
Red Rattler Theatre, Marrickville, NSW Australia
20th September, 2018

A sold out Sydney show is a great way to kick off a solo tour for Jen Cloher and as she revealed during her set, this was her first ever solo headline gig. A surprising event given the career Cloher’s established over the last dozen years.

Hollie Fullbrook is better known as the central figure in Tiny Ruins but tonight she was performing solo, still in the hazy midst of jet lag following a European tour. It made for a fascinating set as she played old favourites such as Chainmail Maker, Me At The Museum, You In The Wintergardens and Hurtling Through, alongside her new single How Much, her first on Cloher’s Milk! Records label. Blaming the jet lag she admitted feeling nervous and at one point had a lyrical memory failure but recovered gallantly. It was a chance to see an artist at a transitional point with a new album pending, on a new label, singing songs we’ve never heard, stripped back to their essence.

Jen Cloher fitted into the Marrickville warehouse aesthetic in her green mechanic overalls. She was “at work, playing her block of wood”. It was more than work of course, as evident in the emotion she displayed when introducing songs with stories from her life. There were memories of her Jim Morrison teenage obsession, stealing money from her parents to fuel her Galaga addiction while pretending to be an 11 year old boy called Jon, a beautiful tribute to her mother who that day had been posthumously honoured at Auckland University as part of the Suffrage 125 commemoration and more. The stories were laced with humour and honesty and gave the songs context and added depth. 

With just an acoustic guitar Cloher transformed her more rock-leaning recordings into solo reveries that never lost their spirit and energy. It emphasised her strength as a lyricist, allowing the words to cut through in the acoustic setting, riding her near endless array of sweet and melancholic melodies. Tracks such as Sensory Memory, Kamikaze Origami and Strong Woman from last year’s self-titled album drew cheers from the warm and enthusiastic crowd but we were also treated to some dips into the back catalogue with David Bowie Eyes, Needs, Mother’s Desk and Eden With My Eve. 

Fullbrook returned to the stage for the encore and the pair played a touching version of Save Me From What I Want, a song that Cloher recorded with Mia Dyson and Liz Stringer. It capped off a wonderfull night of music. Songs stripped back to their simple yet detailed beginnings as stories, carried on the strings of acoustic guitars.

Chris Familton

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: 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: Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed

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The Horizon Just Laughed comes on the back of the loosely thematic trilogy of albums he recorded with producer and musician Andrew Swift. They were psychedelic in nature though still rooted in the folk form. In contrast, this feels like a retreat from the density and experimentation, to a place of reflection and solitude.

Jurado is often lumped in with songwriters like Phosphorescent, Sam Beam of Iron and Wine and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and on Over Rainbows And Rainier he certainly shares a rustic minimalism with the latter. There’s a plaintive mood across most of these songs, a gentle grandeur and a tender sway. The lyrics are introspective, dealing in character observations (six of the eleven song titles are names) and vignettes that reference fires and ghosts, dreams and Charles Schulz – skilfully shifting from literal to impressionistic storytelling and back.

Allocate is the album’s scene-setter, a dreamy, string-enhanced soulful meander that recalls Jurado’s starker early work. It’s followed by Dear Thomas Wolfe which highlights his seemingly endless ability to effortlessly weave beautiful, understated melodies. Marvin Kaplan introduces a sweet Tropicália via Laurel Canyon shuffle that lifts the album’s heart rate and recalls some of the work of Devendra Banhart, while Florence-Jean is catchy Sixties pop and closer Random Fearless adds some of CSN’s looser moments to the mix. Another gem from this consistent and inventive songwriter. 

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Jamie Hutchings @ The Newsagency, Sydney

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Jamie Hutchings, Sophie Hutchings

The Newsagency, Sydney 

April 27th 2018

It was a family affair at the Sydney album launch for Jamie Hutchings new solo album Bedsit. Sophie Hutchings, an acclaimed musician in her own right, opened the evening with a mesmerising set of solo piano. She’s released three full length albums on the local Preservation label and on stage she translated her hypnotic, subtle style to The Newsagency’s baby grand piano. Notes fluttered and danced like lattice and filigree and there seemed to be a constant dynamic interaction between soft, melodic prettiness and omnipresent melancholic undertones. With an attentive seated audience the effect was transfixing.

Jamie Hutchings has always searched for new ways to present and extrapolate his songs. From the spirited rock of Bluebottle Kiss to the wilder and darker Infinity Broke, the constant recognisable core is always Hutchings’ songs. Bedsit and this tour gave fans the chance to absorb those songs in the raw, unfettered by electricity and volume. With acoustic guitar in hand and accompanied on nearly all songs by bassist Reuben Wills and Sophie adding beautiful piano on a handful, the mood Hutchings created was decidedly laid-back, with a warm conviviality in the air.

Opening with Bedsit tracks Second Winter and Judas Is A Girl, we were again reminded of Hutchings’ unique way around a melody – never taking the easy way, dancing and wrestling with the notes and transitioning from spoken word to falsetto and gnarled, strained vowels with ease. December Park was an early highlight of the new material, as was Here Comes The Frost, a song that could’ve easily inhabited any of the Bluebottle Kiss albums. Speaking of that band, we were treated to a brace of their songs, including Last Playboy In Town, Everything Begins And Ends At Exactly The Right Time and The Weight Of The Sea. 

Now possessing an enviable and near faultless body of work, Hutchings continues to explore creative and intellectual songwriting but never at the expense of spirit and verve. Those qualities were on full display on The Newsagency stage on this autumn night. 

Chris Familton

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….