ALBUM REVIEW: Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains

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The fascinating evolution of Joshua Homme continues on this, the band’s seventh album. He’s spoken of not wanting them to become a parody of their own original sound and if you rewind back to Regular John, the opening track on their self-titled debut it sounds positively primitive and a million miles away from how they sound now. Back then he was peddling Kyuss mark II but it didn’t take long for the cogs of creativity to start spinning forward, gaining momentum with each new album.

Villains comes at the point where Homme has a fanbase who have grown with him and accept and delight in his darker moodier excursions, equally as much as they pine for the heavy stoner fuzz rock of lore. For the most part Villains eschews the slow and shadowy songs and goes straight for the hips with a kind of glam boogie, rock sound. With Mark Ronson producing, they’ve clearly focused on rhythm and groove, pulling in funk elements and colouring them with effect-laden guitars, handclaps and Homme less in croon mode and embracing his inner pop strut. That isn’t to say it doesn’t rock. The last minute of The Evil Has Landed is prime QOTSA riffage, a straightening of their sound that jolts the listener back to an almost nostalgic place. The way the band have arranged the songs is testament to their ability to add detail in the music. Counter melodies constantly splinter off and collide with one another as the rhythm section tumbles on like a musical robot gone AWOL.

This is bereft of the couple of top-shelf songs it would need to be up there with their best albums but Villains is for the most part a fascinating and dizzying prog rock collision of Devo, ZZ Top and Bowie.

Chris Familton

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ALBUM REVIEW: Boris – Dear

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Boris are now 25 years into a career that has stretched from the barren expanse of doom to hazy dream pop renderings and onto avant garde soundscapes and blistering, psychedelic punk rock. They hone in on a style and explore it to its logical extreme. On Dear they again hit the heavy button but this time they go deep into the detail, exploring both heaviosity and spaciousness.

There is usually a reactionary element to the way Boris approach a new album and given that their last release, Noise (2014), blended space rock, grunge and prog it was to be expected they’d retreat into the shadows again and dispense with traditional rock song structures. Dear is post-metal deconstructed and amplified. The drums sound like they were recorded in a cavernous tomb, the guitars are distorted to the point where they sound like sonic locusts and the bass rumbles with tectonic gravitas.

Boris haven’t abandoned their rockets tendencies altogether though. ‘Absolutego’ lumbers and crashes with both punk and metal ferocity, ‘Biotope’ is weighty shoegaze not dissimilar to Smashing Pumpkins, ‘Dystopia (Vanishing Point)’ sounds like J Mascis shredding over Pink Floyd and ‘Beyond’ pushes the limits of quiet/loud dynamics. Boris are at their best in these kinds of songs, where they find that sweet spot between noise and melody and where those contrasting elements blend and overlap, combining to produce emotional and physical music.

The rest of the album is much more introspective and indulgent, albeit in a fascinating way from the perspective of sonic architecture and sound design. Thunderous and screaming chords hang in the air, crashing drums enter and exit at seemingly random moments and Wata’s lead guitar is gloriously alien in the way it is played and processed. The ideal way to experience these songs would be standing directly in front of the band’s amplifiers, all on 11, feeling the sound as much as hearing it. ‘Karego’ threatens to melt speaker cones with the density and drone of the guitars while ‘The Power’ sounds like an attempt at inter-dimensional communication with everything in the red, bristling and pushing at its digital fabric.

The human voices in closer ‘Dear’ are guttural and exultant. A primitive greeting card and the most organic moment on the record. It sounds like Boris laid bare, a monumental encapsulation of their music and given that initially Dear was intended as a possible farewell record, it’s an open-ended way to finish the album and leaves both Boris and their fans asking where the trio will go next.

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

 

LIVE REVIEW: Shihad @ The Factory Theatre, Sydney (15/07/16)

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Shihad have been investing a lot of time in revisiting their back catalogue in recent years with reissues, tours of their best albums and greatest hits shows. That threatened to cement their place as a band built on past glories until the brutal and re-energised FVEY album came out in 2014. This night, though focused on celebrating their self-titled yet commonly known as The Fish album, served to reinforce the band’s history and their intense and still beating collective rock ’n’ roll heart and spirit.

The Vanns played to a near empty room yet they still played with youthful exuberance, matching skilful chops with a bluesy hard rock sensibility that was an attractive collision between Kings of Leon and Hendrix. They know their pop smarts and know how to match them with earthy hard rock.

Adelaide trio Grenadiers were a harder beast to pin down. One minute they were pounding at the door with post-hardcore intensity and aggression, the next they were decidedly mid-90s alternative rock and punk, channeling everyone from The Bronx to QOTSA. Energy-wise they lifted the temperature in the room but in terms of memorable hooks and songs they were left in the shadows when the headliner hit the stage.

Nothing much changes with a Shihad live show. Frontman Jon Toogood is still the limbs-askew crowd-rousing vibe merchant. He was constantly calling for the audience to bounce up and down, clap along and SCREAM! Behind him, the band bristled like a pre-match cage fighter, on their toes as they played their four favourite songs from their self-titled (Fish) album. The songs showed the balance between melody and riffs they were searching for in the mid 90s and those best examples proved they were on the right track. From there it was a trip through the rest of their back catalogue with the conspicuous absence of anything from the three albums between 2005-2010. The General Electric is still an undeniably monstrous rock song but it was the latter part of the night that cemented it as a superb show. Four songs from their excellent FVEY album before an encore of Factory (at the Factory of course) and the sledgehammer You Again. At their best Shihad are a brutal marriage of metallic swagger and bittersweet melodicism and they’re very much still alive and kicking in 2016.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Surgical Meth Machine – Surgical Meth Machine

 

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Rating7.5Surgical Meth Machine is the latest warped incarnation from Al Jourgensen (Ministry, Lard, Revolting Cocks) with his longtime producer Sam D’Ambruoso and in many ways it acts as a summary document of all his musical explorations. From his early electronic days, through the industrial speed-freak sound of Ministry and the sample-laden diversions of other projects, Jourgensen has always revelled in the sublime and the ridiculous extremes of avant art-rock.

His signature high-velocity apocalyptic sound is still in full effect on the first half of the album with Jourgensen screaming “I don’t fucking care” on I’m Sensitive, the machine-gun metal riffing of album highlight Tragic Alert and the Jello Biafra-assisted (and Lard sounding) I Don’t Wanna.

At the album’s mid-point things take an even more obtuse turn, heralded by the hilarious Unlistenable where the singer rails against the perceived musical crimes of Nickelback, Morrissey, The Cure, Lamb Of God and in typical style – Ministry. The only winner is Devo who “fucking rule!” as Jourgensen launches into a fairly standard rock version of their Gates of Steel. Spudnik is another nod to a musical influence – Sigue Sigue Sputnik – with its swirling glam synths and cyberpunk sound. The back end of the album delves into dark electronica – a pummelling and disorientating blend of brutal psychedelia and cold synthetic beats and samples. We’re left with the Faith No More-styled I’m Invisible, a piece of lounge twang noir with Jourgensen delivering his best sleazy croon.

There’s a grab-bag of styles across the album, all within previously explored realms, yet the humour, sonic irascibility and provocateur attitude of Al Jourgensen is defiantly present and in fine form.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Tindersticks – The Waiting Room

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TRating8.5indersticks have traveled their own considered career trajectory with intermittent suspensions of activity and then a return to active duty, always with the same ear for detail in their nuanced and ornate, soulful baroque pop music.The Waiting Room is yet another excellent entry to their discography. It’s measured and draws on found sounds, field recordings, guest vocalists, jazz, post-rock, pastoral psychedelia and just the right amount of avant garde atmospherics. Stuart Staples’ voice is the crooning, crowning glory as always yet, essentially, the band provide the perfect cinematic backdrop for his poised and considered lyrics. The Waiting Room is easily the equal of their finest work.

Chris Familton