NEW MUSIC: Darren Cross – Sur La Vague (Drive Me Nuts)

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The sonic alchemist that is Darren Cross (Jep and Dep, Gerling) has released the second single from his new LP Peacer. ‘Sur La Vague (Drive Me Nuts)’ is a persistent ear-worm of a track. Over a Krautrock rhythm he weaves a mantra-like vocal peppered with hovercraft synths and saxophone. It’s that sweet blend of downbeat and uptempo – a kaleidoscopic, left-of-centre, pop nugget that brings to mind LCD Soundsystem and Fujiya & Miyagi. It’s also brilliantly enhanced with a suitably skewed and maniacal video clip.

For the full #DARRENCROSSPEACER experience, head to his Bandcamp page to buy the album on vinyl/CD/digital.

If you are in Sydney you can get along to Cross’ album launch at the Golden Age Cinema & Bar in Darlinghurst tomorrow night (September 6th). Music kicks off at 9pm. Entry is free.

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NEW MUSIC: Bad Sav – Hens Teeth 

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The wonderfully named Bad Sav are releasing their debut album on September 21st via Fishrider Records in New Zealand. The trio is comprised of Death And The Maiden guitarist/vocalist Hope Robertson and bassist/vocalist Lucinda King, plus Shifting Sands guitarist Mike McLeod (on drums here).

We’re digging the blend of chugging rhythms, dreamy vocal delivery and guitars that jangle in a distant fuzzed out way – like Dinosaur Jr and Bailterspace in a dream pop haze.

INTERVIEW: Harmony

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THE HAZARDOUS TERRAIN OF LOVE

It’s been four years between albums for Melbourne’s Harmony, with members focusing on other projects and babies entering the frame. As Tom Lyngcoln explains to Chris Familton, this time around there were changes in both the recorded sound of Double Negative and the way he approached the writing of its songs.

“Alex [Lyngcoln, drummer] and I had a baby daughter in that time so that’s where the majority of our energy has been placed,” explains Lyngcoln, as he reflects on the years since the band’s last album, Carpetbombing, was released. Away from Harmony, Lyngcoln is also at the core of The Nation Blue and recently made his first foray into releasing solo albums, while other members, such as Erica Dunn (Tropical Fuck Storm), have multiple extra curricular activities. “It’s an allocation of time for things,” Lyngcoln explains. “The band was dormant after we did a couple of tours. Everyone has been really busy with other things and Harmony has just been sitting there. It’s nice to put it back together.”

After the confessional, angst-ridden content of Harmony’s previous releases, Lyngcoln felt compelled to approach Double Negative from a new perspective and, as stated in the album’s title, he used a technique that incorporated the style of his earlier writing and cleverly reconfigured it towards a more positive outlook. “I just wanted to flip it and sing about something else. With the birth of a child you really struggle to continue putting a lot of negativity out into the world. I just found it wasn’t helping my depression and mental wellbeing singing about negative shit, so I decided to write about something more positive,” he explains. “That’s really hard to do, it’s so much easier to hide behind self-deprecation and much easier to mope than it is to celebrate. Wallowing in the crucible of grief was just something I couldn’t do for another record so we changed our focus to try and write about love, which is one of the most hazardous terrains you can enter into as a songwriter. It’s been responsible for some of the greatest music of our time and also the vast majority of the worst,” he grimaces.

“I worked my way in to it by trying to employ negative language. I looked at it through descriptors of negative things such as war. Taking the same kind of lexicon that I’ve used in the past but try to print it in double negative and apply it in a positive way. When I write a chord progression it always tends to revert to the same tricks and my vocabulary is limited to a certain amount of words that slide together. I wanted to try and refine them and use them differently.”

Previous Harmony albums have had a dense, lo-fi quality to them, and though it suited Lyngcoln’s throat-shredding howls, it often obscured the songs and lacked the warmth and nuance that Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuishe and Erica Dunn’s lush vocal harmonies called for. This time they worked with producer Mike Deslandes and recorded in a group environment at Kyneton Mechanics Hall. 

“It was recorded much in the same way as the two last The Nation Blue records. Mike has an amazing mobile studio and so we went to the same hall because it is suited to Harmony a lot more. I’d wanted to do it there for a long time. Mike recorded it and as I was recovering from wrist surgery and a hernia, I had a solid eight weeks to mix it over summer and obsess and fall in and out of love with it. I’m happy with it, it’s the best thing I’ve done recording-wise,” he proudly states. “The other records have been pieced together. This was the band playing in a room live and then each night the girls would come in and record their vocals live. They were long days. Mike would clock off recording the band and then I’d jump in the seat and start recording the girls until 2am. There are vocal takes where I’ve nodded off and they were trying to wake me up. It was probably a bit ambitious,” laughs Lyngcoln.

That ambition has resulted in by far and away the band’s best work and with Lyngcoln and family relocating to Greece for a year in 2019, fans would be well served to catch them on their upcoming tour, before temporary hibernation again beckons.

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

LIVE REVIEW: Cash Savage & The Last Drinks @ The Lansdowne, Sydney

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Cash Savage & The Last Drinks, Blake Scott, Roadhouses @ The Lansdowne, Sydney – 23rd June, 2018

With a new album Good Citizens on the horizon and a fresh new single out in the world, Cash Savage & The Last Drinks hit Sydney with a fine pair of opening acts in tow. 

Roadhouses also have new music freshly imparted to the universe and they played a typically strong set. Their sound suits the size of the Lansdowne live room with it’s compact stage and always spot-on sound. The trio showcased their new album, slowing heartbeats to the shimmering drowsy tempo of their music. They’re a band who know how to get the most out of well placed instrumentation, leaving notes hanging in the air. When they did get busier it was Cec Condon’s drums and James Bellesini’s bass that added subtle details. It was only the last minute of their set where the tempo increased into a Velvet Underground-esque accelerated strum.

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Blake Scott is travelling the solo route while his band The Peep Tempel are on hiatus. You get the sense he is finding it a therapeutic experience – getting to scratch his musical itch on stage, yet there  are also cracks in his stoicism, particularly in his between-song comments that suggest he’d rather have the full band on stage with him. There’s a real appreciation for his guitar playing that takes it’s own exploratory trip through his songs, independent of, yet also fully complementing his words and melodies. Warmly received by the audience, he’s a hard songwriter to pigeonhole and one gets the sense that’s exactly how he likes it.

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Cash Savage has firmly established herself on the strength of her songwriting and live performances, and with The Last Drinks behind her you’d be hard pressed to find a more exhilarating and heart swelling live band in this country. Their set was perfectly paced, beginning slow and moody, all their power in the restraint of their playing. Slowly, song by song they opened their shoulders and loosened their hips, fully immersing themselves in the cathartic aspect of playing the songs. Savage  possesses one of the most commanding thousand yard stares, her eyes fixed on the back wall of the venue, occasionally scanning and momentarily locking eyes with various punters. The new single Better Than That was resplendent in its warm pulse and glow, referencing the marriage equality events of last year. Other new songs sounded equally impressive but the strength of familiarity meant that crowd favourites such as Rat-A-Tat-Tat, the lurching Let Go and a version of Run With The Dogs that teased and teased before lifting off with sonic gusto. There’s a tension in the music that Savage clearly knows is crucial to protect. The more she holds onto that, the more powerful the effect when it’s released, and as evidenced by the moving mass of bodies and satiated grins, the greater the experience for both band and audience.

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Johnny Marr – Call The Comet

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Johnny Marr has proven himself time and time again. Whether it’s the legacy of The Smiths, his collaborative work with Electronic, The The, Modest Mouse and countless other projects, a fascinating autobiography or just his commitment to always moving forward. He’s now three albums deep into his solo career and Call The Comet finds him settling into his most natural and cohesive sound to date, embracing the best of his past and present. 

The least satisfactory moments on his previous two albums were when he used strident sloganeering and a lack of texture in the music. Call The Comet corrects that wonderfully with trademark lush and chiming guitars that resonate across synths, strings and heavily rhythmic landscapes. ‘Hi Hello’ may be the closest he’s veered towards that iconic Smiths sound, the ghosts of some of their most famous songs such as ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’, drifting through Marr’s minor chords. It’s the finest solo song he’s released. That band isn’t the only reference point from that era with opener ‘Rise’ recalling Disintegration-era Cure and ‘The Chasers’ hinting at a Sisters Of Mercy influence just below its surface. Marr has talked about the album having a loose theme of Earth welcoming a different intelligence from the cosmos to save us from our own plight and though there’s plenty of turmoil and wringing of hands over world issues, there is ultimately a sense of optimism that humanity can still rise above the discord and conflict and find it’s way. 

Marr’s strong point still remains his guitar playing and compositional abilities. The way his playing can paint in colours and create mood from simple patterns of notes or layered, dense arrangements. Bug takes in a certain kind of funk as filtered through the baggy Manchester scene while ‘Actor Attractor’ channels both Suicide and early New Order. and though the highlights are many, some judicious pruning of its weaker moments would have made for stronger album. Johnny Marr may have influenced generations of musicians but on Call The Comet he’s in turn paying homage to those contemporaries that have shaped his musical life.

Chris Familton