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40 FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2017

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If anything, their music inhabits even darker territory, the songs collapsing in on themselves as they chug and career along – The Terminals, Antiseptic

In this day and age of accessibility and cultural saturation, it can be hard to unearth music you like, and at the same time discover new music outside the mainstream or the most prominent online access points. Digging through the detritus and overload, I’ve found that more and more I lock onto albums that give a little extra. They create their own world of music for the 30-60 minutes you spend with them. They make you wonder how the artists wrote the songs, how they composed the music. I was drawn to imperfect performances, atmosphere over precision (though The War On Drugs manage to exemplify both), melody, energy, intelligence and rhythm.

My favourite album of the year probably won’t feature on any other list you read (though hopefully it does). The Terminals, from NZ, released a record that mainlines a sense of musical nostalgia in my synapses, harkening back to the music of my teens and early 20’s in the NZ underground. The legacy of Flying Nun, alternative rock and darkly emotive music from a couple of islands at the end of the Earth. In my review I said “The Terminals have never been creatively stronger than they are on Antiseptic. It’s their finest album and the sound of musicians digging deep and exploring a lifetime of musical influences and experiences without concession to anything outside of their own ideas and instruments.”

Elsewhere you’ll find all manner of musical styles, from eccentric folk to kraut-tronica, country to ragged suburban punk rock, gothic 80s synth to skronking saxophone. Dig deep and enjoy.

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1. The Terminals – Antiseptic REVIEW

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2. Aldous Harding – Party REVIEW

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3. Kevin Morby – City Music

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4. Thurston Moore – Rock N Roll Consciousness REVIEW

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5. The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road REVIEW

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6. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent REVIEW

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7. Jep and Dep – They’veBeenCalled REVIEW

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8. Underground Lovers – Staring At You, Staring At Me REVIEW

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9. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding REVIEW

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10. Suicide Swans – Augusta

11. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

12. Ryan Adams – Prisoner REVIEW

13. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream

14. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher REVIEW

15. Omni – Multi-Task

16. David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanack

17. Traveller – Western Movies

18. Daniel Romano – Modern Pressure

19. The Texas Gentlemen – TX Jelly

20. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

21. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Rot

22. Hollow Everdaze – Cartoons REVIEW

23. Feral Ohms – Feral Ohms

24. Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun

25. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now REVIEW

26. Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory

27. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

28. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream

29. The Singing Skies – Head In The Trees, Heart On The Ground REVIEW

30. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives

31. Chomper – Medicine Mountain

32. Ricardo Villalobos – Empirical House

33. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades REVIEW

34. Marty Stuart – Way Out West REVIEW

35. Chain And The Gang – Best Of Crime Rock REVIEW

36. Karl Blau – Out Her Space REVIEW

37. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Barefoot In The Head REVIEW

38. Destroyer – ken REVIEW

39. John Maus – Screen Memories

40. Gold Class – Drum REVIEW

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ALBUM REVIEW: Beaches – Second Of Spring

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Beaches go into overdrive on their new seventeen track album. It’s their magnum opus of sorts, taking everything they’ve explored on the first two albums and synthesising it into one kaleidoscopic take on all things psychedelic.

The album opens with two relentlessly churning tracks that set the stage for what is to follow. It signals their intent to push further out into the sonic aether, bridging the gap between melodic noisy pop hooks and hypnotic guitar-drenched head trips. Void is a brighter, headlong take on Wooden Shjips, psych-Kraut interstellar explorations while on track four they ease up on the gas and introduce chiming guitars, a post-punk interlude and a back half that sounds like The Primitives jamming with Look Blue Go Purple. Calendar sounds like a lost Pixies outtake with its mix of raw grind and dreamy vocals while Wine dives and shimmers like Crazy Horse doing shoegaze.

Arrow is the headiest pop rush the quintet have conjured up, the perfect nugget for the approaching warmer months and it feels like the apex of Second Of Spring. In the back third Bronze Age Babies adds a surprise with a recorder voicing the main melody before Grey Colours takes a gloriously melancholic wander that Robert Smith would be proud of. There’s a lot to take in but it’s an endlessly rewarding and freewheeling album for a band who are the equal sum of their parts and eager to explore all musical possibilities.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent

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Protomartyr immediately stood out from the rest of the anguished post-punk pack when they first emerged four years ago with their debut album All Passion No Technique. They went from strength to strength over their next two albums, twisting Joe Casey’s mantra rants over caustic punk, dark indie guitars and tumbling drums before arriving at their most realised set of recordings to date.

Relatives In Descent stands as their most exploratory and wide-ranging album in that they’ve pulled apart their sound, and reconstructed it with the same elements but a new and revitalised sound. Greg Ahee’s guitar is less all-encompassing. Now it slashes with intent on ‘Here Is The Thing’, spirals in woozy circles on ‘My Children’ and sparkles with chiming funk stabs in ‘Corpses in Regalia’. That diversity allows the rhythm section to conjure all manner of grooves; from the rapid fire jerkiness of opener ‘A Private Understanding’ to the catchy melodic swagger of ‘Caitriona’ and the taut post-punk propulsion of ‘Don’t Go To Anacita’. Elsewhere there’s the introduction of subtle strings and synths that take the songs to endlessly intriguing places.

Joe Casey is often the focal point of Protomartyr with his nihilistic blue collar vibe and barking vocal delivery akin to a transatlantic Mark E. Smith. Here he maintains the speak/sing/howl approach but lyrically he’s followed the lead of the rest of the band and upped his game. Thematically the album takes a look at contemporary America under the mismanagement of Trump and the state of society that Casey’s witnessed from tour van windows and coast to coast trips. It paints a dystopian vision of gluttony, excess and despair but you can still hear the glimmer of hope and humanity in the songs, framed and enhanced by the life-affirming creative intellectualism of Protomartyr.

Chris Familton

Read our recent interview with Joe Casey of Protomartyr

INTERVIEW: Protomartyr

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LOUD NOISE AND FLOWING ALCOHOL

Protomartyr’s frontman Joe Casey calls in from Detroit, MI to tell Chris Familton about the band’s new album, new record label and where that voice of his came from.

Protomartyr are already four albums deep into their recording career, all in the space of five years. It’s the sign of a band riding a wave of creativity and a relentless work ethic but, as Joe Casey explains, it is also about keeping the ball rolling and building on the success of each new album and tour.

“It’s definitely about keeping the momentum going. I can’t figure out how bands can take five years between albums. The space between this and the last has been the longest just because it was the most touring we’ve done. When that’s over and you go home you may as well get stuck in and write new stuff. Hopefully that will be the way forward but I think we’ll be touring this record more than the last one,” Casey predicts.

Relatives in Descent is another stage in the evolution of a band who sounded brash and chaotic on their debut album All Passion, No Technique. Now there’s a clearer attention to detail in the sound and structure of their songs, led by guitarist Greg Ahee, but also a result of working with a new producer.

“I think we always have to have the sound change. It helped recording with the producer Sonny DiPerri out in Los Angeles because he’s very good at sonically capturing things and he was always working and working harder than any producer we’ve worked with,” says Casey. “Our guitar player had some ideas going in, including violins and a different synth sound and I think it worked out really well,” he enthuses. “When he first said he wanted violins on it I had no idea what he was talking about but when we heard it come to fruition it sounded great.”

Casey’s resigned bark and conversational vocal delivery blends post-punk, spoken word and dissonant punk howling and with Protomartyr it developed out of figuring out how to be heard in a small room with loud noise and flowing alcohol. “At the time we were pretty drunk,” laughs Casey. “At the start it was mostly to make noise and have a good time all of the time. It developed from our early practice space which was basically a concrete box and I had to find a way to cut through the guitar and noise and a very sharp vocal attack seemed to work best. I have a very limited range and it’s about knowing what I can do with it, to fit into the songs the right way and not ruin them.”

Casey’s pride in the new album is evident, and their step up from the small label Hardly Art to the large UK indie label Domino means that they’ll be able to promote their music to a much wider audience, including, hopefully, some live shows in Australia in 2018.

“I’m amazed that we haven’t played Australia yet. From early on it was near the top of our list of places to get to, so we better be touring Australia some time in the next year. If it doesn’t happen next year the band is breaking up!”

Read our review of Relatives In Descent

ALBUM REVIEW: Chain & The Gang – Best Of Crime Rock

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With bands such as Nation Of Ulysses, Weird War and The Make-Up, Ian Sevonious has been a underground garage rock provocateur for nearly 30 years. As Chain And The Gang, he’s distilled the essence of what does, right down to it’s bare rhythmic essentials – drums, bass, guitar and vocals.

They’re a highly economical and effective combo, stripped to simple gang chants, sparse riffs and grooves that snake and pulse with vaguely sleazy appeal. The remit of the band is a kind of rock ’n’ roll reverse psychology – Devitalize, Why Not, I See Progress and others embracing deconstruction with a playful approach to ultimate nihilism.

This is primal garage rock with infectious, minimal R&B rhythms and they nail it with tongue-in-cheek attitude, strut and swagger.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Feedtime – Gas

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It’s been two decades since their last album but time and musical trends seems inconsequential to Feedtime as they return to grind out another slab of primitive and unrelenting rock.

They’ve still got that leaden lurch and queasy slide guitar that shifts and shudders like a displaced iceberg in a drunken sea. Perennial underdogs, they proved immensely influential on a raft of bands, from Jesus Lizard to Harvey Milk and here they reclaim their place at the unhinged intersection of post-punk, cow-punk and sludge rock.

The bass is still rough and growling, the guitar like exposed nerve endings and the vocals still sound like a bad night out on the booze. Some things, thankfully, never change.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Dinosaur Jr – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not

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When people drop the needle on the record, insert the CD or click play on their phone and hear the distinctive roar of dense and distorted guitar on the new Dinosaur Jr album a great number of them will think “this sounds like just another Dinosaur Jr album”. That was my gut reaction on first listen. All the components are there. The symbiotic fusion of The Stooges and Crazy Horse, Mascis’ spiralling classic rock guitar solos, the solid and dependant Murph locking it all together on drums, the thrum and pound of Lou Barlow’s low-slung bass and the usual 80/20 songwriting split between Mascis and Barlow.

Hit play again, return the stylus to the first groove and let the songs sink in for this is one of the strongest batch of songs the trio have collected since the trio shuffled back into the public eye in 2005. The speed of the songs and the brittle, heady rush of heavy, heavy melodic guitar rock is right in the pocket. It’s economical and sprawling at the same time. It feels grounded and earthy while launching in the stratosphere on the back of Mascis’ howling, fuzz-laden Fender Jaguar.

There isn’t a great depth to explore in the lyrical content of the songs, they still read like relationship snapshots, polaroids of an argument, a misunderstanding, a yearning. “I want to know, I want to go, I’m all alone” sings Mascis on ‘Tiny’, a typical loose treatise on love lost or temporarily misplaced.

The centrepiece of the album is ‘I Walk For Miles’ with its monolithic slabs of doom-laden riffage. It’s like a lumbering and melancholic lost Black Sabbath song that just keeps growing and growing to epic proportions over five minutes before it climaxes and then cleverly kicks off again like a regenerated monster from a b-grade movie. The album isn’t all gonzo rock moves though. ‘Knocked Around’ is a sweet document of the damage and aftermath of a bruising emotional relationship while Be A Part feels like a warm sonic hug, wistful and nostalgic.

Barlow’s contributions are as important and strong as ever with ‘Love Is’ sounding like R.E.M jamming with The Byrds while album closer ‘Left Right’ is as brilliant as anything else before it as Barlow mixes Cure-like grandeur with a super-hooky staggered rhythm and a beautiful vocal performance.

Yes it’s exactly what you’d expect, and most importantly, want from another Dinosaur Jr album in 2016. It’s a band still on a winning streak, still exploring the seemingly endless creative possibilities within their minimal musical framework, without a hint of boredom or simply trading on past glories.

Chris Familton

 

NEW MUSIC: ROYA – End Times

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Roya is a six piece band from Brooklyn with a strong pedigree: singer Rahill Jamilifard fronts Habibi, drummer Hamish Kilgour is a member of legendary band The Clean, Jay Heiselmann is from the critically acclaimed Grooms, and bassist Alix Brown is previously of The Lids, Jay Reatard and Golden Triangle.

This is their latest release, to mark theUS political events of the last 24 hours.