ALBUM REVIEW: Karl Blau – Out Her Space

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Karl Blau experienced a taste of wider critical acclaim on the back of his last album Introducing Karl Blau. The title and the fact that it was a collection of country covers was somewhat misleading, given that he’s has already released something more than 20 albums. With Out Her Space, Blau has shape-shifted into the world of avant rock, funk and soul, eschewing his lo-fi origins and retaining the lush production quality of his last album.

There are clear comparisons that can be made with another inquisitive songwriter such as Bill Callahan and Will Oldham. Callahan and Blau also share a love of dub music, the latter reconfiguring the Paul Simon/bong-inhaling sound of Poor The War Away into Dub The War Away, a tripped-out bass-heavy excursion that would make Bill Laswell proud. Valley Of Sadness is an attempt at pastoral psychedelia but it ends up sounding frivolous and unnecessary. Blue As My Name finds a nice brisk strum into Love territory, I Got The Sounds Like You Got The Blues draws jazz horns into Blau’s pulsing rhythmic orbit before the eight minute Where You Goin’ Papa goes on a poly-genre journey akin to Harry Nilsson singing the hits of every section in the record store. This is a fine exercise in fearless and inventive songwriting.

Chris Familton

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Destroyer – ken

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Now up to album number twelve as Destroyer, Dan Bejar, one-time member of The New Pornographers, has fully embraced the world of lush and literate sophisticated synth pop. Think New Order’s primitive machine sound, the avant, collage-like work of The The and Morrissey’s lyrical twists and turns of phrase and you’re in the right region.

Musically there are plenty of glorious post-punk melancholic moments with Bejar obtusely detailing doomed romance, broken love, fame and misfortune – all in his characteristically dramatic and pretentious singing style.

The themes may be universal but the sonic setting is specifically England in the mid 80s, making it a highly successful marriage of poetic and acutely-knowing musical nostalgia, not dissimilar to Jack Ladder and Alex Cameron.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Neil Finn – Out Of Silence

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Out Of Silence is unique for the fact that it was rehearsed and then recorded live at Finn’s Auckland studio, whilst being streamed live to the world via Facebook and You Tube. It was a fascinating insight into a logistical and creatively adventurous undertaking. Even for those who didn’t see or know about the process, the spirit and communality of the session is imbued in one of Finn’s most intimate and ornate albums.

Written and performed wholly on the piano, Finn takes a baroque pop approach to the songs, draping them in rich and sweeping orchestral figures, minimal guitar and drums and a choir that includes famous New Zealand names such as Tiny Ruins, Don McGlashan, SJD and Lawrence Arabia. As you’d expect, Finn’s voice is the icing on the cake – delicate and fragile at times as he explores the personal and universal mysteries of love (‘Love Is Emotional’), uplifting and melodically expansive on the infectious ‘Second Nature’ and the sweet falsetto soul of ‘Chameleon Days’.

‘Terrorise Me’ is a deeply affecting and resolute repudiation of the terrorism that struck Paris and the simple act of celebrating music. It has a melancholic Ray Davies feel, culminating in a chorus with the line “love is stronger when it hurts”. Finn once again proves his ability to translate both joy and deep emotion into concise and poetic lyrical form. Add in his classic and inventive melodic framework and Out Of Silence is another tour de force from New Zealand’s finest songwriter.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Aldous Harding (2017)

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The New Zealand folk singer arrived with a reputation for unsettling live performances which suggested a fragile personality that was, at the same time, quite unique and creatively courageous. Aldous Harding wrote and sang like a distant echo from archaic times. It was heart-on-sleeve stuff but delivered with a a theatrical bent that sounded quite magnificent and intriguing but perhaps obfuscated the content of her songwriting. Now, on her second album Party, she continues the mystique but brings it blinking and still resolutely eccentric, into a clearer and ultimately more rewarding spotlight.

“I would’ve taken to the fucking hills back then. It wasn’t a great time,” says Harding, grimly recalling her emotional state around the time of the release of her debut album. “It’s getting easier now and I want the music to get the attention it deserves but I do still struggle with the attention in a sense that I don’t want things like rushed answers or awkward interviews or weird promo shots to detract in any way from what I want to do musically.”

This new streak of creative self-confidence and a clear vision of where Harding wants to take her music is catapulting her into a comprehensive touring and media schedule for the rest of 2017 yet, in her mind, it’s all part of the game when you’re passionately pursuing your muse. “It’s definitely a step-up in terms of what’s expected of me. In terms of press, touring, photos. I’ve always felt pressure to write good music and to be honest I do put a bit more pressure on myself to write better music but that’s what most artists do,” admits Harding. “They’re always trying to make the next one better. I just want to make better music than I do now, however I don’t even really know what that will sound like yet. I just want to write good songs and put them out with the support of a label.”

Harding travelled from the South Island of New Zealand to Bristol, England to record the album with acclaimed producer and musician John Parish (PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse, Eels). That experience was surprisingly painless for someone who in the past has discussed the emotional stress of recording her songs.

“It was good, it felt natural and John made it really easy,” Harding enthuses. “We were really professional about it, not a lot of mucking around. We sat down had coffee and went straight into ‘Imagining My Man’ and didn’t stop until the record was done. There were quite a few elements and we had to figure out what I wanted to do with them, filling up songs that were written quietly. John was very patient too,” she concedes. “Perfume Genius and Laura Jean, they were two records he’d produced where I could feel where I might want Party to go and so I got his email and sent over the demos. Within three or four months I was over there. It felt like it happened really quickly.”

Party contains a more direct, less obtuse style of songwriting, particularly lyrically, yet Harding is reticent to identify any specific life events or emotional changes that may have contributed to the shift. Instead she explains it as part of her natural artistic evolution.

“Art just develops and I’m getting older and I’m listening to new music that I haven’t heard before. I definitely have a free feeling where I don’t feel like I have to write anything in particular. I’m not bound to any genre or that I have to always be dark. I’m not working from a manual, I’m just trying to write decent songs,” Harding reiterates. “ You should be able to go wherever you want.”

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Gold Class @ The Lansdowne, Sydney

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Gold Class + Flowertruck + Neighbourhood Void @ The Lansdowne, July 15th, 2017

It was great to arrive and see the newly re-opened Lansdowne hit the ground running with a busy downstairs bar and a band room that, as it filled, had a definite vibe and communal atmosphere. Youngsters Neighbourhood Void were the first to grace the low stage and they played a strong and impressive set, on the back of their recently released debut album. Raw enthusiasm, a direct line to Kurt Cobain and probably a love for Car Seat Headrest have shaped their quiet/loud, noisy/melodic sound but they own it and played it like their lives depended on it with a mix of gleeful abandon and desperation.

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Flowertruck have garnered praise and gained momentum over the last couple of years and that experience was evident in their tight and consummate performance. Some songs still drift by while others like recent single Dying To Hear and older song I Wanna Be With You, stick like glue. Frontman Charles Rushforth’s over-emoting can still grate at times but there’s no denying the strength of his voice and the band’s ability to deliver rousing indie pop to a receptive audience.

Gold Class have stepped up a notch with this sold out show, fans baying for them to take the stage and the rapturous, bouncing mosh pit reception they received. Their live sound is even more brittle and visceral than their recordings, the uniformity and minimalism of their sound enhanced even more. They almost had a monochrome palette of sound with a grinding industrial post-punk bass, slashing, dissonant guitar and in new drummer Logan Gibson they have a human metronome tying it all together with tension and propulsion. New songs were aired – including the excellent new single Twist In The Dark that highlighted how much darker and intense the new songs are getting when held against older songs like Michael. Singer Adam Curley seems more at home on stage, still aloof and slightly detached but willing to go all in when the song demands it. His glorious bellowing, austere voice is a commanding instrument, perfectly matched by the rest of the band. Gold Class were a band on the cusp of great things. Album number two has all the hallmarks of the group achieving them.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Hollow Everdaze – Cartoons

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Artistically speaking, pop art is an apt description of the style and approach that Hollow Everdaze have near-perfected on Cartoons.

A decade into their career they’re still uncovering lush, sun-kissed pop nuggets that swoon, sway and deftly swagger through 60s eccentricity, 80s/90s British indie and right up to the modernism of a band such as Spoon. There’s a wistful quality to the songs yet they invest just the right amount of grit and depth to keep them grounded.

The distorted guitar on the title track and Flat Battery, the bass and reverb on Running Away, and the violin on Same Old Story and the warped psychedelia of Still Ticking all add fascinating tangents and layers to their sound.

This is sophisticated pop music par excellence, endlessly inventive, devoid of schtick and all class.

Chris Familton

Cartoons is out now via Deaf Ambitions.

 

NEW MUSIC: Chad VanGaalen – Pine and Clover [Official Video]

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Canadian musician and artist Chad VanGaalen first came on our radar back in 2008 with his third album Soft Airplane and in particular the single ‘Molten Light‘. Since then we’ve kept a keen eye on everything he’s released, from Diaper Island (2011) through to Shrink Dust (2014) the forthcoming new LP Light Information (September 8th, 2017, Sub Pop).

Here’s the first clip from the new album, the beautiful gentle thrum and jangle of ‘Pine and Clover’.

ALBUM PRE-ORDER

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.”