ALBUM REVIEW: Beck – Colors

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Beck’s much anticipated 13th album follows the lush and melancholic Morning Phase and though Colors is equally lush, it’s an album built on widescreen technicolor, bold sonic brushstrokes and a saturated pop aesthetic.

On first listen it feels like the quirks and eccentricities that made Beck so iconic are absent on this album but dig below the pop-laminated surface and you’ll find an equally audacious approach to song-craft.

Beck dials in funk, hip hop and psychedelia, exquisitely blending rock guitars and low slung beats in a clever collision of synthetic and organic musicality. ‘No Distraction’ is a standout with its clipped funk and snaking vocal melodies. Like many of these songs he operates in areas of structural cliche – build-ups and anthemic choruses – but it’s all done with an auteur’s ear and sleight of hand that belies the complexities at play.

Old school Beck fans will enjoy the collage-constructed ‘Wow’ but the overwhelming focus of Colors is Beck’s continuing exploration of the frontiers of pop music, like a 21st century Steely Dan.

Chris Familton

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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

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: Alex Cameron – Candy May

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Alex Cameron has a new album called Forced Witness coming out on September 8th via Secretly Canadian and here’s the first single from it – ‘Candy May’.

Cameron and sidekick Roy have been traveling the US-of-A for a while now, spreading their electro-croon lounge music from coast to coast on the back of the successful debut LP Jumping The Shark.

LIVE REVIEW: Kirin J Callinan @ Oxford Art Factory

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Kirin J Callinan, Spike Fuck, Hviske @ Oxford Art Factory, June 10th 2017

Sydney has produced a number of forward thinking songwriter/musicians in recent years who blend differing levels of theatricality into their performances. From Jack Ladder to Alex Cameron and Mossy, they all cultivate a persona and carefully consider an image as part of their creativity. Kirin J Callinan though, is out on his limb of kaleidoscopic eccentricity.

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Hviske were cruelly given low volume as the first act and it was a disservice for their industrial -tinged techno sound that requires an immersive sound for full effect. Augmented by the buried vocals of Kusum Normoyle which acted as another instrument rather than a lyrical tool, they showed enough (at low volume) to suggest they strike a nice balance between headphones and the dancefloor.

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Spike Fuck is another emerging enigma, from the challenging moniker to an ambiguous fashion sense, she sang over laptop backing tracks, peppering the songs with Alan Vega-styled whoops and an emotionally battered yet righteous blend of Las Vegas croon, country pastiche and melancholy-drenched synth music. There was plenty to like in her performance though adding a backing band would really allow her music to shine in the live sense.

One microphone, bathed in a sea of blue light. A static image delayed for minutes before a large brimmed, heavy-jacketed figure strode on-stage. The unmistakeable figure of Kirin J Callinan had arrived, taking the audience from the first and owning them until the final parting clang of heavily treated guitar.

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Callinan and band mixed it up, digging into both the Embracism and Bravado albums. Like Bowie taking his stage cues from Lindsay Kemp, Callinan has created a distinct stage manner of grand gestures, quirky dance moves and facial expressions that run the gamut from knowing sleaze to innocent glee.

Many of the new album tracks worked even better live, stripped off their production sheen and layers. My Moment was epic EDM, Callinan playing the build and drop to the hilt. Living Each Day was a perfect twee pop song, from the audience’s response S.A.D felt like a hit single, while Family Home showed at the heart of the pomp and primp it’s the strength of songwriting that holds everything up.

An audience member tore Callinan’s leather cod-piece from his person, exposing him literally and figuratively yet he embraced the moment and made the most of the opportunity to test and titillate his audience. This was a magnificent return home for Sydney’s singular pop provocateur.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Rickie Lee Jones

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RICKIE’S STILL IN LOVE WITH MUSIC

Rickie Lee Jones, she of the long and diverse career that began back in the late 70s with that single Chuck E’s In Love, is still passionate about music and her achievements, as she explains to Chris Familton.

Beginning at the start of her career in Hollywood, odd jobs, a chance encounter with Tom Waits and her demo tape brought her to the attention of Lenny Waronker, producer and executive at Warner Bros. Records, who beat out other labels to sign her and launch her career.

“It was a dream at the time because before that I was just trying to pay the rent. I had a boyfriend at the time who was in school and he encouraged me to go out and play and make money to pay the rent. That helped me get started. It was hard, I was homeless for a lot of the time and and I had nothing to fall back on. When it happened it happened very quickly. At the time I was 23 I wrote Chuck E’s In Love and The Last Chance Texaco and I was on an unemployment benefit. Then one year later I was in a studio and recording an album. Once I decided in my mind to do it, it took about a year to sixteen months,” recalls Jones. “To be able to devote oneself to it is really helpful in gaining early success,” she says, before adding “that success, who doesn’t want that? But it comes with a lot of baggage.”

Jones’ most recent album, The Other Side Of Desire, was her first in a decade and was released independently after a crowdfunding campaign; making it a world apart from her experiences with major labels in the 70s and 80s heyday.

“It feels good not to have any pressure from an outside person to meet their expectations. The thing I had going when I was first signed was they were the best label in the world, they had the best A&R and they just loved music. They dropped you if you didn’t sell records but they didn’t sign you and then drop you straight away, they tried to develop artists and they kept them on the label,” she explains. “I was spoilt by that and know what it’s like to be on a label run by a company that loves its business more than business, that loves music and artists and doesn’t try to make them act like business people. We live in a time where artists act like business people, they talk about the bottom line and their brand. They talk about the brand of Beyonce and the brand of Madonna, this is shameful in the arts. It shows the whole process is corrupted.” says Jones, a tone of disillusionment creeping into her voice.

Jones sounds like she’s in a great place musically and personally as she looks to the future and what it may hold for her. “I am writing and I’m finishing a book which should be out around Christmas. I’m having fun right now performing and I can feel people engaged in ways that I didn’t feel before. I’ve accepted my place in music and I like that I’ve lasted this long and I just want to keep working on it. When I stand in front of an audience I know exactly who I am and that is a great gift.”