ALBUM REVIEW: Low – Double Negative

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Press play and the first thing you’ll hear on the new Low album is the equivalent of a digital sandstorm.

Slowly but surely, out of the static and sonic scree comes the voice of Alan Sparhawk, sounding like a ghost trying with all his might to re-engage with the physical world. It’s a fascinating way to open an album; a new approach for Low and one that sets the scene for their most experimental and strangely beautiful record to date.

There’s a strong David Lynch aesthetic at play across Double Negative. That blend of a sense of foreboding and unease mixed with tender and affecting musical emotiveness. ‘Dancing And Blood’ continues to ratchet up the tension and usher the listener further into the present. Producer BJ Burton has worked in Bon Iver’s studio and you can certainly hear elements of the creative deconstructionist approach to traditional song that has happened within those walls. Mimi Parker takes the lead vocal on ‘Fly’ and it’s a powerful moment, almost backwoods ecclesiastical in the way it billows and urges. The defiance is short lived though as ‘Tempest’ submerges their voices in grainy, almost all-consuming decay. The clouds part momentarily before the connection is again violently disrupted.

‘Always Trying To Work It Out’ is a soulful suffocated pop song while ‘Poor Sucker’ is unsettling and laced with existential dread. When ‘Dancing And Fire’ emerges with pristine, clean guitars and an unprocessed vocal from Sparhawk, it sounds positively calming, Parker’s voice acting like a tonal echo chamber. “It’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope,” they sing, and it sums up the album’s themes of standing up for one’s beliefs, the danger of losing optimism and how the negative forces in the world are warning signs to correct things before it’s too late.

Low leave us with ‘Disarray’, a robotic dance at a death disco and a plea for change; “Before it falls into total disarray, you’ll have to learn to live a different way.Double Negative is bold and powerful music, fusing the avant-garde and traditional song with both friction and harmony. It’s unnerving, visceral and wholly compelling.

Chris Familton

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ALBUM REVIEW: Roadhouses – Roadhouses

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They say that it is harder to play music slowly than it is to play it fast. Things fall apart and momentum is lost. In the case of Sydney trio Roadhouses, sedated rock music is their calling card. They deal in drifting, alt-country-imbued, slowcore torch songs where heartache is just a tear away. If you got Lucinda Williams to front Spain, at the Twin Peaks Roadhouse – you’d have a pretty accurate summation of the sound and aesthetic of this album.

Skirts as short as sin, drinks that don’t touch the side – you get the picture of where Yvonne Moxham takes her songs. Late night bars, heartbreak and yearning populate her songs of burgeoning and fracturing relationships. First you’ll be mesmerised by the band’s haunting, atmospheric sound, then drawn in by Moxham’s lyrics that hang heavy in the air. Drummer Cec Condon (Mess Hall) throws inventive rhythms and accents into the mix, like a slow motion Jim White. 

‘Black Lights’ throws a subtle curveball into proceedings with its melancholic synths and trip hop drumming that brings to mind Everything But The Girl jamming with Cowboy Junkies. Elsewhere, ‘Heartless’ recalls the haunting minimalism of Low and in ‘Drinkin’’ they conjure up a wonderfully lush, swoon and swell of a sound. Sadness, pain and bruised romance never sounded as good as it does on this excellent debut album.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Alice In Chains – Rainier Fog

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They were one of the heavyweights of the 90s metal/grunge scene, successfully blending melodic, down-tuned riffs and harmonies with crunching distortion and classic rock elements. Of course theirs is a tale of tragedy with the drug issues and subsequent death of singer Layne Staley curtailing them for a decade, but it is also one of resurrection, determination and integrity. 

Recruiting vocalist William DuVall 12 years ago, they’ve churned out three accomplished albums that have built on the band’s legacy. The latest, Rainier Fog takes the revitalised feel of their comeback album Black Gives Way To Blue and improves on the middling The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here, with rewarding results.

Leading the pack is first single The One You Know with its serrated riff and headbanging call to arms. Jerry Cantrell and DuVall’s vocal harmonies are instantly recognisable as the song opens into a soaring, ‘eyes on the horizon’ type chorus. The title track, a reference to weather in Seattle and a tribute to the scene they grew out of, is another gem. Less metal and more of a churning punk feel, it springs from the speakers with a surging glam rush. Red Giant sounds like an outtake from the Dirt album while Maybe showcases their ability to blend acoustic guitars and sweeter melodies without losing the weight of their sound. Never Fade is the only real misfire in that it tries to blend the sound of Rage Against The Machine and Stone Temple Pilots on an average song. 

Alice In Chains are still bound to their past but they’ve found a way to maintain relevance, grace and swagger with each new album they release and remain a benchmark in the world of hard rock.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Deaf Wish – Lithium Zion

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Straight out of the gates the Melbourne quartet lock into a relentless distorted churn of guitars that sounds like 90s era Bailter Space sharing a practice room with Blank Realm. The guitars never let up but the lazy vocal smears a dull monotone melody across the surface of the song. It’s a wonderfully hypnotic and mildly unsettling start to an album that has a real sense of sonic self-determination about it. In the face of dippy psych rock and lightweight indie rock, Deaf Wish are resolute in their celebration of post-punk informed rock ’n’ roll.

Sonic Youth are an obvious touchstone and an unavoidable comparison when Sarah Hardiman intones a Kim Gordon-styled sing/speak vocal on ‘FFS’. Beneath her the guitars rip, chop and howl, combining dissonance and hook-laden melody, as they do right across the album. Things slow down with ‘The Rat Is Back’ but essentially it’s the same thing on half-speed – a pause for breath before they hurtle back into the rapid-fire dispatch of ‘Ox’. The title track best encompasses all that the band attempt to cram into their sound – the density and sonic collision of rhythm and riffs. It’s one of those songs that could easily power on for ten unrelenting minutes without outstaying its welcome.

There’s a dark beauty across Lithium Zion. Sometimes it feels impenetrable but when the songs come up for oxygen they can blossom on something as simple as an ungainly vocal line or  a melancholic, fuzzed out trail of guitar notes.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Harmony – Double Negative

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Melbourne’s Harmony have had a four year break between albums but that time has clearly been well spent with Double Negative the strongest culmination of their soulful, ragged and cathartic sound.

 Carpetbombing (2014) was a sprawling collection of songs that often sounded brittle and impenetrable, the core of the songs sonically buried beneath the surface. It still impressed but the good news is that on Double Negative they’ve tightened their arrangements and collated an economical 40 minute record that blossoms courtesy of a warm and open production sound. 

The key tenets of Harmony are the full-throated bellows and raw exaltations of singer Tom Lyngcoln and the contrasting beauty of the female-voiced avant-choir. Combined with the post-punk meets Neil Young and Dirty Three musical backdrop, it all makes for a constantly fascinating and emotionally visceral album. 

Stripping the songs of extraneous noise has provided a focal point for Lyngcoln’s songs and lyrics, where his words are carried aloft on his delivery, not relegated to just sounds and vowels. Opener ‘I Love You’ sets a high, almost attainable, bar but they consistently get close, right across the album. ‘Fatal Flaw’ has a wonderfully infectious, maudlin quality while ‘It Hurts’ is a primitive collision of astral guitar and hammering drums. 

Constantly exploring the possibilities of their sound – from minimalism to angst-ridden, inner city confessional howls, it all makes glorious sense in the hands of Lyngcoln and his existential choir.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: East Brunswick All Girls Choir – Teddywaddy

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There’s something undeniably visceral and raw about everything that East Brunswick All Girls Choir do. Exaltation and exorcism are part of their musical modus operandi, such is their commitment to making music that embraces emotion with an unflinching directness.

Teddywaddy, the followup to the acclaimed Seven Drummers, charts a course through coruscating punk-laden peaks and drifting, desolate valleys where the songs are stripped and stretched, allowing singer Marcus Hobbs voice to take centre stage. Though the dynamics and playing are excellent throughout, Hobbs’ voice is the deal breaker here. ‘Exile Spree’ is the centrepiece of the album with his voice going further and further after each breath of air. From a wavering wail to a throat-stripping howl he conveys a bucket load of emotion. It makes the languid, wandering country-folk sound of ‘Never/Never’ that follows even more effective. 

Their ability to use contrast in their songs is never overplayed, a testament to the songwriting and arrangements. Freedom of expression and restraint are both key aspects of why this album works so well, whether it be the pummelling post-punk dirge of ‘Cicada Chirps The Chicane’, the soulful gospel-tinged lament of ‘Old Phil’ that indirectly channels The Drones, or the widescreen warmth of the closing title track, the same wistful spirit runs through all these songs, making for an intense and cathartic listening experience.

Chris Familton

NEWS: The Babe Rainbow Announce New LP ‘Double Rainbow’

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The Babe Rainbow, those cats behind last year’s superb single ‘Johnny Says Stay Cool’ and self-titled album are back with a brand new record, Double Rainbow, and its first single and video, ‘Supermoon’. It’s a moorish slice of languid, pastoral psychedelia.

Double Rainbow is released July 13th, 2018 via Flightless Records.

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NEWS: Interpol Announce New Album ‘Marauder’

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Interpol are back with their first album in four years. Marauder is set for release on August 24th on Matador Records / Remote Control Records.

“Marauder is a facet of myself. That’s the guy that fucks up friendships and does crazy shit. He taught me a lot, but it’s representative of a persona that’s best left in song. In a way, this album is like giving him a name and putting him to bed”Paul Banks

Today they’ve also shared the first single ‘The Rover’, an insistent and choppy run through a tale of a figure drawn to disarray.

Below you can also watch the Daniel Kessler, Paul Banks, and Sam Fogarino’s full press conference in Mexico City where they discuss the writing and making of the Dave Fridmann-produced Marauder.

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Interpol – Marauder

1. If You Really Love Nothing
2. The Rover
3. Complications
4. Flight of Fancy
5. Stay in Touch
6. Interlude 1
7. Mountain Child
8. NYSMAW
9. Surveillance
10. Number 10
11. Party’s Over
12. Interlude 2
13. It Probably Matters