ALBUM REVIEW: Stuart A. Staples – Arrhythmia

a4076234397_10

For Stuart Staples, he of the silken croon out front of UK moodists Tindersticks, it’s been 13 years since his last solo album, Leaving Songs. That record was comfortably in the same musical orbit as Tindersticks – baroque, jazz-informed and dramatic songs placed somewhere between latter day Talk Talk, Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen. In the intervening years he’s continued to work on film soundtracks which goes some way to to explaining the more cinematic and experimental scope of this new four track album.

‘A New Real’ opens the album with an echo-laden primitive drum machine and a dub bass line before that distinct low and nasally coo of a voice drifts into view, questioning the shape and form of love. Slowly unfurling at a heavy-lidded pace it suddenly blooms into cascading keys and strummed guitar, the mood quickly shifting from desolate melancholy to some kind of cautious optimism.

‘Memories Of Love’ surveys similar subject matter, this time looking at love as nostalgia. It’s in keeping with the album title Arrhythmia, in this case Staples sees irregular heartbeats as being at the mercy of the vagaries of love. The song rides on nothing more than a ride cymbal and sparse, resonant piano chords before bells and other percussive melodies permeate the song in the vein of Bjork’s textural explorations. ‘Step Into the Grey’ goes deep soul on a jazzed-out breakbeat as if the band Spain were playing R&B. Staples seems to be exploring the greyed out feeling of post-relationship despair before a restrained string-led avant freakout intervenes.

‘Music For ‘A Year In Small Paintings’’ is a 30 minute instrumental track that works like a short film as it traverses multiple moods (scenes) borne from the reactions of various musicians to 365 oil paintings of the sky by artist (and his wife) Suzanne Osborne. It takes on modern classical, ambient and jazz forms with wonderfully emotive and immersive results, making this album an intimate and evocative solo release from the enigmatic Staples.

Chris Familton

 

Advertisements

NEW MUSIC: Low Share Three New Songs from ‘Double Negative’.

Low

Low have a new album called Double Negative coming out via Sub Pop Records on September 14th and today the label has shared a clip featuring videos for three of its songs – ‘Quorum’, ‘Dancing And Blood’ and ‘Fly’.

Working again with producer B.J. Burton, Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk and bassist Steve Garrington returned once again to Justin Vernon’s April Base studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (where they recorded 2015’s Ones and Sixes). Rather than obsessively write and rehearse at home in Duluth, Minnesota, they would often head southeast to Eau Claire, arriving with sketches and ideas that they would work on for days with Burton. Band and producer became collaborative co-writers, building the pieces up and breaking them down until their purpose and force felt clear.

Tracklisting:
1. Quorum
2. Dancing and Blood
3. Fly
4. Tempest
5. Always Up
6. Always Trying to Work It Out
7. The Son, The Sun
8. Dancing and Fire
9. Poor Sucker
10. Rome (Always in the Dark)
11. Disarray
uploads-1528756717184-Low_DoubleNegative_Cover_600_RGB

ALBUM REVIEW: Ryley Walker – Deafman Glance

ryleywalker.deafman

Ryley Walker is a restless musical soul, constantly shapeshifting and looking for new ways to present his avant jazz/folk guitar songs. Over his first three solo albums he travelled from Tim Buckley/Van Morrison/Nick Drake traditional folk to the songs that, three years ago, explored more eclectic and contemporary territory on Golden Sings That Have Been Sung. 

On Deafman Glance he continues that work, taking further influence from the Chicago post-rock sound and draping his songs in synths, brass and tactile percussion. Songs change tempo, jump from meditative to frenetic and dance loosely on instrumental flights of fancy. Opener ‘In Castle Dome’ possesses a languid bluesy shimmer akin to his earlier work, his vocal strangely recalling Eddie Vedder. That thought is quickly eviscerated by the jazz shuffle of 22 Days, sounding like a more organic version of the band I’m Not A Gun. Boundaries are stretched and abstraction increasingly embraced on each song, adding up to a sense of both calm and unease, often within the same track. Lyrically there is little to grasp onto thematically other than a sense of questioning and a desire to find a surer footing in life.

With the album highlights ‘Opposite Middle’ and its gentle Tortoise-like propulsion, the prog and psych qualities of ‘Telluride Speed’ and the gorgeous closer ‘Spoil With The Rest’, Deafman Glance occasionally amounts to a disorientating listen but it never tips over the edge into wilful self-indulgence. It’s the sound of an artist inching closer and closer to realising the wild sounds in his head.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Roadhouses – Black Lights

 

 

Roadhouses_05_0881_medium copy

Sydney slowcore dream rock trio Roadhouses have released their second single from their forthcoming self-titled debut LP.

ROADHOUSESBlackLights_single art_preview

 

Pre-order Roadhouses 

‘Black Lights’ is an atmospheric piece of late-night, wistful psychedelia with Cec Condon’s drumming recalling Portishead and Yvonne Moxham delivering a beautifully melancholic vocal. Sweet sadness never sounded so good.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Jamie Hutchings – Bedsit

JAMIE HUTCHINGS

It’s been seven years since the last solo album from Jamie Hutchings. In the interim he’s busied himself with 2 noisy rock records with Infinity Broke and the wonderful Down The Unmarked Road, the result of his collaboration with Peter Fenton of Crow. Now he returns to the solitude of the self with the intimate, graceful and poetic Bedsit.

This is a sparser and more delicate set of songs than those on his previous solo album Avalon Cassettes. They feel weightless, unconcerned with time and the restraints of conventional song structures. There is a fragmentary and fragile quality to the music with guitars pulling in and out of focus, with gentle augmentation from strings, harmonica and the emotive piano of sister Sophie Hutchings on Above The Rain and Shadow On The Lung. For the most part this is Hutchings and his vignettes and song poems. Opener Second Winter details a dream of waking up with blocks of ice as feet and the resulting surreal happenings. A highlight is December Park, propelled by light flurries of guitar strings, upright bass and Hutchings’ voice sounding weary like a hazy, late-night afterthought.

References to dreams, seasons and nature abound, framing existential questions and the foibles of human relationships. Centennial Park and Marrickville get name checked and it feels very much like a Sydney album, albeit a reflective, introspective and intensely personal one from the melancholic side of town.

CHRIS FAMILTON

INTERVIEW: Ben Salter

Ben Salter Promo 7 by Barry Douglas_preview

If there’s one thing that Ben Salter (The Gin Club, The Wilson Pickers) always appears to do, it’s to back himself. This time he’s even gone so far as to name his new solo album Back Yourself, and in the spirit of impromptu creativity and capturing songs on the fly he took a new and challenging approach to the writing and recording of the album.

“It was very different. I initially conceived it as being entirely improvised in the studio, says Salter. “I anticipated I’d do it fairly cheaply in friends’ studios, write the songs, record quickly and keep it playful – but if you don’t have any ideas when you get to the studio it can go downhill fairly quickly!” he laughs.

“We did a couple of weeks like that in Tasmania but came away with far less material than I’d hoped and it didn’t quite work as I’d thought. I had someone offer me help to finish it and they put me onto producer Chris Townend in Melbourne. I told him my plan and what I’d done and he was down with doing some more of the improv thing but I was kind of lamenting the fact that I hadn’t written the songs and that I’d gone about it this way. I think it ended up being good in the end though, I think it works,” reflects Salter.

Attention to detail and willingness to experiment with the songs to find their most interesting form made for an equally thrilling and frustrating process, but one that ultimately yielded the most rewarding results. ”There’d be days when we’d sit there, take songs apart and replace every single part – different bass lines, instrumentation etc. It ended up being a mix of what I’d anticipated and some studio re-working. It was quite challenging at times to go into the studio and just have nothing and be plagued by the normal doubts with the added indignity of not having any actual songs! Now in hindsight I can see that the impulses and instincts that drive the creation are still intact,” says Salter.

“I don’t really write for anything in particular,” admits Salter, when asked about his writing process and how it differs as he shifts between musical projects. “A lot of the sound is very much down to the personnel and the vibe. I’ve just finished recording an album with Conor Macdonald from The Gin Club here in Tasmania and Adrian Styles from the band played on it too. When we get together it just automatically has a very Gin Club sound. Some songs just don’t fit with other bands or I want to keep some for my own albums, Salter explains. “Writing these in the studio meant I didn’t even get the chance to make that decision as I needed all the songs I could get!”

Having a hand in a number of project means Salter operates as a full-time musician, yet it is only in the last year or two that he’s started earning what anyone would consider a reasonable amount of money as a recording and touring artist.

“Before that it was constant poverty,” Salter grimly recalls. “It’s certainly not getting easier. I treat it as my own thing – I book my own shows and I’m lucky I have a label who give me money and support. I don’t like it when musicians complain about it being hard. I just think, get another job if you don’t like it. There are plenty of other people who would love the opportunity they have,” says Salter.

“I don’t see things like Spotify being run in a very fair way. It’s hard with intellectual copyright as a musician,” states Salter, before switching his attention to the positive side of being a working musician. “Playing live, it’s never been better. If you’re willing to work and play all the time and you’re halfway decent, you can do it all the time. With the internet and email I can organise a NZ tour and a tour of Japan. It’s not rocket science. I’ve never been able to afford hotels all the time and you get a bit worn out but I wouldn’t swap it for anything to be honest.”

CHRIS FAMILTON

ALBUM REVIEW: Boris – Dear

Boris

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: The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road

the tall grass

Jamie Hutchings (Bluebottle Kiss, Infinity Broke) and Peter Fenton (Crow) have come together as The Tall Grass, which began as a live acoustic duo project before being expanded upon and sonically coloured in the studio with a wide-ranging band sound.

It’s still on the laid-back vibe though – wistful, poetic, and melancholic. The sound of their other bands is still evident, particularly Hutchings with his more distinct vocal stylings but it’s wholly a collaborative effort with the pair playing off each other with a melodic ebb and flow, tension and release.

Songs are expertly built on close harmonies and traded lines, guitars that weave in and out and springboard off each other amid melodic bass lines, field recordings and jazz-leaning drums and percussion. It all comes back to the songs though, and Moller, The Buyer Beware, The Two O’Clock and Little City in particular, match the best either has written in the past.

I keep mentioning the strength of songwriting and the interplay between the two musicians but it is the hallmark of a collaborative project when the creative lines between the artists are blurred, carry equal weight and ultimately the art is the sum of its parts. There’s a delicate tenderness to the music here, built on mutual respect and the willingness by both Hutchings and Fenton to explore the shadows and sunlit corners of emotion and experience.

Chris Familton