ALBUM REVIEW: Chastity Belt – Chastity Belt

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Music is about mood and the way it sonically hits the ears, heart and mind just as much as it’s about the stories and ideas conveyed by the lyrics. The appeal of Chastity Belt’s new self-titled album lies in both elements but it’s the overall sound and the warm dreaminess that billows out of the speakers that provides the strongest appeal and connection point.

All four band members share lead vocal duties and they’ve spoken of adding more dynamic harmonies and violin on this record. Those changes are key to the overlapping, drifting and lightly psychedelic sound across the ten songs. Structural experimentation, such as the drums taking a minute and a half to enter the fray on Elena, take the song structures away from standard rock shapes and closer to post-rock or a dream-pop version of Sonic Youth, bereft of their sharper edges. In a way the album sounds like lo-fi jangly guitar songs recorded in high fidelity, given the rich and lush treatment given to the recordings. The result is immersive and, once the listener lets go, quite immersive.

Many of the songs unfurl slowly, gently revealing their melodies on repeat listens as they seep in. A distant descending guitar riff on Rav-4, the counter playing on Half-Hearted that works like a beautifully disembodied version of Verlaine and Lloyd duelling in Television. Split is another gem, bathed in reverb and a tumbling verse that breaks through the clouds into a skyward chorus, it again shows the band quietly pulling at the threads of guitar pop – like The Smiths and some of the bands that emerged from the underground scene in ‘80s New Zealand.

The album never reaches the peak and immediacy of the single Different Now from 2017 but taken as a whole and listened to accordingly, there’s a beauty in the textural nuance and overall gentle hypnosis of the album.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Rhian Sheehan – Last Time We Spoke

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New Zealand musician and ambient/electronic composer Rhian Sheehan has built a name for himself with nearly a dozen releases plus a wealth of soundtrack work and appearances on numerous compilations.

Fans of Nils Frahm will appreciate the nuance and blending of organic and synthetic elements in this piece. The way it pushes and pulls with it’s drifting piano melodies and mechanically-inclined rhythmic pulse.

‘Last Time We Spoke’ comes from Sheehan’s most recent album A Quiet Divide. He’s also composed the original score for the just-released Capcom Go!: The Apollo Story, an immersive 3D Planetarium Dome show documentary that showcases the historical achievements of the Apollo program and what it took to put the first human on the Moon.

NEW MUSIC: The Laurels – Sound System

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The Laurels are back with a new single/video, ‘Sound System’, their first with new member Kat Harley (Mezko) on bass and vocals.

As usual they’re working that hazy and fascinating space between genres that they’ve always navigated so well. Indie rock with art-pop melodies filtered through shoegaze and psych. This time round the song has a distinctly futuristic sheen to it, in keeping with its subject matter.

“High rise apartments and rent prices loom large over this paean to a future dystopian city, the inhabitants of which are doomed to a lifetime of evenings spent in queues waiting to eat at fine dining restaurants after a round of putt putt golf.” He continues “Sound System finds this group of part-time disc jockeys loading up their van with generators and loud speakers as they seek to reignite the street party.”
– Luke O’Farrell

The Laurels have Sydney and Melbourne shows happening soon:

The Lansdowne, Sydney
Saturday, July 20th
TICKETS

The Gasometer, Melbourne
Saturday, July 27th
TICKETS

NEW MUSIC: Blain Cunneen – Feelin’ Kinda Fragile

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Here’s the debut single from Sydney singer-songwriter (and guitarist for Julia Jacklin), Blain Cunneen. ‘Feelin’ Kinda Fragile’ comes from his four track EP The Prizes We Demand which is due out later this year and finds him crafting a fine line in art-pop that reminds us of Beck, Sparklehorse and dEUS .

The song’s melodic hooks are draped over some wonderful angular and interwoven instrumentation, where a light psychedelia is built on simplicity and strong musical ideas rather than being oversaturated in effects or weirdness for weird’s sake. We’re looking forward to hearing the rest of the EP later in 2019.

ALBUM REVIEW: Cass McCombs – Tip Of The Sphere

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Cass McCombs
Tip Of The Sphere
Anti- / Cooking Vinyl Australia

For a number of years, across seven albums, Cass McCombs flew under the radar for the most part. He was recognised for his work but it wasn’t until the critical acclaim and success of Mangy Love in 2016 that he went overground and found himself the talk of the indie world. That album was a fairly direct affair with a smooth veneer and darker themes lurking beneath the surface. Now, on Tip Of The Sphere, McCombs has taken a more circuitous route with a more cohesive, hypnotic and searching sound.

There’s a bucolic feel to much of the album, ‘Estrella’ being a typical example of the way McCombs weaves a 70s folk aesthetic into dreamy indie rock. There’s a fair amount of repeated phrases and insistent bass rhythms that add to the heady, aqueous and meditative vibe. ‘Real Life’ is like Tim Buckley jamming with Porno For Pyros with its percussion, strummed guitars and new age mysticism. The album centrepiece ‘Sleeping Volcanoes’ is a real highlight with cascading guitars, primitive yet pulsating bass and McCombs’ way with constantly renegotiated vocal melodies forging a gentle path through the song. ‘Prayer For Another Day’ is a more intellectually astute cousin to Kurt Vile, heading closer to the newer work of Steve Gunn. 

Perhaps sensing a need to inject some aural unease into proceedings, ‘American Canyon Sutra’ is a queasy trip through spoken word over a minimal drum machine that distracts rather than provide an engaging contrast. It’s only a momentarily blip before the cosmic psych folk resumes and the album closes out with the ten minute countrified jazz-fusion noodling of ‘Rounder’, a glowing reverie of sun kissed guitars that embarks, mid-song, on a psychedelic journey that sounds like it could wind on endlessly into the cosmos.

All in all this feels like an intimate set of creative and explorative musical expositions. Eloquent, contemplative and for the most part intriguing and absorbing.  

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Joey Walker – On Top

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This song caught my attention early with a vocal sound and feel that reminded me of Wild Beasts. Stick with it and it’ll take you on a journey. It builds into a turbulent cacophony like Josh T Pearson’s Lift To Experience before the clouds part momentarily and a more darkly euphoric swell spirals upward for the last two minutes. It’s epic and immersive, emotive post-rock built on great dynamics and Walker’s fine voice.

“This is probably my most autobiographical song on the album,” Walker explains, “No–I haven’t murdered anyone, but I could’ve foreseen myself on a similar path if I gave into my sexual desires in a violent way like the character of the song. Even though the character ends up a murderer, he’s hardly to blame and easy to empathize with, maybe like Aileen Wuornos.”

ALBUM REVIEW: The Goon Sax – We’re Not Talking

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They were young when they formed, young when they recorded their first album and they’re still only just sloping out of their teens as they release their sophomore album. At its strongest, We’re Not Talking still reaches the same impossibly catchy jangle-pop heights that they impressed with on their debut, but across its 30 minutes some minor risk-taking doesn’t quite pay off. 

Their trademark innocence and honest dives into the realities of approaching and entering adulthood is still intact and if they were previously singing about those things from an observational POV, now they’re reporting from the inside, as they experience them. Other changes include the three band members take a greater share of lead vocals, with Riley Jones’ voice particularly impressing on the tender Strange Light. They’ve also experimented with different instrumentation such as strings, piano and a drum machine, widening their palette from the straight rock trio format.

When the album works it’s a thrilling dash through young love and self-doubt. Opener Make Time 4 Love is brisk, fun and infectious, She Knows is reminiscent of the rough and barely contained sugar rush of The Strokes while Sleep EZ and Get Out recall the golden heyday of Flying Nun’s skewed pop moments. In contrast, other songs such as Now You Pretend are only partly formed interludes. They add variety to the album but they feel like filler before the next primitive, melodic pop explosion occurs.

The many highlights on We’re Not Talking suggest that The Goon Sax are still evolving and successfully exploring the art and craft of confessional, catchy and quirky songwriting.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Adrianne Lenker

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THE OVERWHELMING SENSATION OF BEING ALIVE

Three years on the road with her band Big Thief has been a life changing experience for Adrianne Lenker and as she explains to Chris Familton, she wanted to document and archive her thoughts and emotions through that period on her new solo album abyskiss.

I made my first solo record when I was 21 and I was so much closer to my influences then. Now I’ve got farther from those influences although I’m more influenced by more things than I’ve ever been,” explains Lenker as she ponders they ways in which she’s evolved musically and personally since her debut, Hours Were The Birds, was released. “I’m 27 now and I feel like there have been so many things that have happened. When I made that record I hadn’t even met the band and I’ve spent the last three years on the road and they’ve become my family. That in itself has completely changed me. I’ve shed skins. I’ve been so influenced by the music the guys in the band have shared with me and people I’ve met on the road. My heart has been expanding with the challenges and heartbreak and the wounding and mending over that time.”

The album was predominately written on the road, something many artists choose to avoid. For Lenker, her muse has a habit of dropping in at any time and capturing the songs in certain situations can make for a difficult creative process. 

“Songs are always welcome in my soul but reality sets in sometimes and there are moments when I can’t give attention to a song that’s coming through. That can be so frustrating. Time is so fleeting and with touring pretty much all of your hours in each day are structured and everything is planned out ahead of time. Writing on the road is about stealing time from myself, finding moments to get lost in my soul,” says Lenker. “That can just be for 20 minutes or a couple of hours or for a day, but there have been so many times when an idea has been forming that I’ve felt really excited about and then we have a soundcheck or a show or a meeting. That’s happened countless times where I’ve lost ideas that I’ve loved. I also think when it doesn’t form fully it is meant to be, they’re just stepping stone ideas to get to another thing.”

Sonically, there is a clear separation in the sound of the album from the full band elements used on Big Thief recordings. “I had the intention to keep them minimal because I really wanted the acoustic guitar to shine,” explains Lenker. The approach is an effective one, drawing the listener into the intimacy of her performance and the simple details of her songs. “I just sat in front of the microphone and sang and played the songs and recorded them. There was no editing at all and we only aded one or two other elements. I was conscious to keep it like that – quiet.”

Lenker is known for her astute and sensitive approach to detailing events and the emotional impact they have. On abysskiss she again takes a magnifying glass to life experiences but places them in  the context of big picture existential questions.

“The biggest theme is the least original thing possible. Life, pain, birth, death, the cyclical nature of things. A lot of it is about questions themselves. The aching bittersweetness of being alive and the inherent duality of everything. What kind of twisted, hilarious or crazy thing brought all of this into being and how insane it is that we are brought into his world and then leave and the only guarantee we have is that we will die and lose everyone that we love. Somehow that’s what makes it so rich,” she says, with a mix of wonder and passion in her voice.

“I’m fascinated by the microcosms and explosions that are happening minute to minute within all of us. It’s creating this crazy tapestry that feels extremely gruesome, morbid, gory and bloody and also so delicate and magical and pure. The ocean exists and the most beautiful harmony exists but also war and destruction. I’m constantly overwhelmed by the sensation of being alive. That’s where it’s coming from.”