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40 FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2017

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If anything, their music inhabits even darker territory, the songs collapsing in on themselves as they chug and career along – The Terminals, Antiseptic

In this day and age of accessibility and cultural saturation, it can be hard to unearth music you like, and at the same time discover new music outside the mainstream or the most prominent online access points. Digging through the detritus and overload, I’ve found that more and more I lock onto albums that give a little extra. They create their own world of music for the 30-60 minutes you spend with them. They make you wonder how the artists wrote the songs, how they composed the music. I was drawn to imperfect performances, atmosphere over precision (though The War On Drugs manage to exemplify both), melody, energy, intelligence and rhythm.

My favourite album of the year probably won’t feature on any other list you read (though hopefully it does). The Terminals, from NZ, released a record that mainlines a sense of musical nostalgia in my synapses, harkening back to the music of my teens and early 20’s in the NZ underground. The legacy of Flying Nun, alternative rock and darkly emotive music from a couple of islands at the end of the Earth. In my review I said “The Terminals have never been creatively stronger than they are on Antiseptic. It’s their finest album and the sound of musicians digging deep and exploring a lifetime of musical influences and experiences without concession to anything outside of their own ideas and instruments.”

Elsewhere you’ll find all manner of musical styles, from eccentric folk to kraut-tronica, country to ragged suburban punk rock, gothic 80s synth to skronking saxophone. Dig deep and enjoy.

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1. The Terminals – Antiseptic REVIEW

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2. Aldous Harding – Party REVIEW

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3. Kevin Morby – City Music

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4. Thurston Moore – Rock N Roll Consciousness REVIEW

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5. The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road REVIEW

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6. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent REVIEW

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7. Jep and Dep – They’veBeenCalled REVIEW

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8. Underground Lovers – Staring At You, Staring At Me REVIEW

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9. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding REVIEW

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10. Suicide Swans – Augusta

11. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

12. Ryan Adams – Prisoner REVIEW

13. Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band – Dreaming In The Non-Dream

14. Jen Cloher – Jen Cloher REVIEW

15. Omni – Multi-Task

16. David Rawlings – Poor David’s Almanack

17. Traveller – Western Movies

18. Daniel Romano – Modern Pressure

19. The Texas Gentlemen – TX Jelly

20. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

21. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Rot

22. Hollow Everdaze – Cartoons REVIEW

23. Feral Ohms – Feral Ohms

24. Mogwai – Every Country’s Sun

25. Pissed Jeans – Why Love Now REVIEW

26. Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory

27. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

28. Trevor Sensor – Andy Warhol’s Dream

29. The Singing Skies – Head In The Trees, Heart On The Ground REVIEW

30. Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives

31. Chomper – Medicine Mountain

32. Ricardo Villalobos – Empirical House

33. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades REVIEW

34. Marty Stuart – Way Out West REVIEW

35. Chain And The Gang – Best Of Crime Rock REVIEW

36. Karl Blau – Out Her Space REVIEW

37. Chris Robinson Brotherhood – Barefoot In The Head REVIEW

38. Destroyer – ken REVIEW

39. John Maus – Screen Memories

40. Gold Class – Drum REVIEW

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ALBUM REVIEW: Beaches – Second Of Spring

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Beaches go into overdrive on their new seventeen track album. It’s their magnum opus of sorts, taking everything they’ve explored on the first two albums and synthesising it into one kaleidoscopic take on all things psychedelic.

The album opens with two relentlessly churning tracks that set the stage for what is to follow. It signals their intent to push further out into the sonic aether, bridging the gap between melodic noisy pop hooks and hypnotic guitar-drenched head trips. Void is a brighter, headlong take on Wooden Shjips, psych-Kraut interstellar explorations while on track four they ease up on the gas and introduce chiming guitars, a post-punk interlude and a back half that sounds like The Primitives jamming with Look Blue Go Purple. Calendar sounds like a lost Pixies outtake with its mix of raw grind and dreamy vocals while Wine dives and shimmers like Crazy Horse doing shoegaze.

Arrow is the headiest pop rush the quintet have conjured up, the perfect nugget for the approaching warmer months and it feels like the apex of Second Of Spring. In the back third Bronze Age Babies adds a surprise with a recorder voicing the main melody before Grey Colours takes a gloriously melancholic wander that Robert Smith would be proud of. There’s a lot to take in but it’s an endlessly rewarding and freewheeling album for a band who are the equal sum of their parts and eager to explore all musical possibilities.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Karl Blau – Out Her Space

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Karl Blau experienced a taste of wider critical acclaim on the back of his last album Introducing Karl Blau. The title and the fact that it was a collection of country covers was somewhat misleading, given that he’s has already released something more than 20 albums. With Out Her Space, Blau has shape-shifted into the world of avant rock, funk and soul, eschewing his lo-fi origins and retaining the lush production quality of his last album.

There are clear comparisons that can be made with another inquisitive songwriter such as Bill Callahan and Will Oldham. Callahan and Blau also share a love of dub music, the latter reconfiguring the Paul Simon/bong-inhaling sound of Poor The War Away into Dub The War Away, a tripped-out bass-heavy excursion that would make Bill Laswell proud. Valley Of Sadness is an attempt at pastoral psychedelia but it ends up sounding frivolous and unnecessary. Blue As My Name finds a nice brisk strum into Love territory, I Got The Sounds Like You Got The Blues draws jazz horns into Blau’s pulsing rhythmic orbit before the eight minute Where You Goin’ Papa goes on a poly-genre journey akin to Harry Nilsson singing the hits of every section in the record store. This is a fine exercise in fearless and inventive songwriting.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Nic Cester – Sugar Rush

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Eight years since the release of the last Jet album Shaka Rock, frontman Nic Cester has finally stepped out under his own name with his debut solo album.

Sugar Rush isn’t a great stylistic departure from the band’s last record, but it does dial back the rock elements, instead taking a trip into a tantalising stew of soulful psych-pop and Black Keys-flavoured boogie rock grooves. It’s a slinky and rhythmically progressive affair that channels Beck and Tame Impala on the songs ‘Psichebello’ and ‘Who You Think You Are’, where clipped electronic funk collides with technicolour pop production.

There’s no denying Cester has successfully melded modernism and retro soul into a seamless listening experience but its greatest asset is that it doesn’t obfuscate his powerful, bluesy voice, which still possesses the power to elevate a song. ‘God Knows’ in particular finds him hitting stratospheric notes like Charles Bradley on a gospel bender.

The bombast of it all can be overbearing at times and a little more subtlety would’ve gone a long way but this is just as the packaging describes – a heady hit of creative energy in the form of a musical sugar rush.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

 

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Adam Granduciel has called this album A Deeper Understanding but it could’ve quite easily been called A Clearer Understanding given the clarity he’s applied to his songs this time around. He approaches them with direct and confessional lyrics that sound unquestionably autobiographical  but he’s also pared back some of the hazy, gauze-like qualities of the dreamy approach he’s taken to the music in the past.

There is less drift and more direction in these ten songs but that doesn’t mean he’s sacrificed any of that wide open sound and the propensity to indulge musically. There are still epic guitar solos, now paired up with equally grand and soaring 80s synths as the rhythm section diligently chugs and occasionally canters along with loping country rock or gently propulsive Krautrock grooves. As a result it’s a rarity for a song to be under six minutes, with Thinking Of A Place stretching to a cosmic and hypnotic eleven minutes. If ‘meditative rock’ is a genre (it is now), they are the torchbearers.

Vocally, Granduciel sounds less Springsteen and more Dylan, accentuating the nasal qualities of his voice, that husky whisper that always sounds wistful and like an afterthought as he searches for answers to what sound like existential answers. There’s a spiritual quality to The War On Drugs but it comes across as a cosmic more than religious.

A Deeper Understanding requires commitment from the listener and it’s one of those slow reveal albums. Give it the time it deserves because this is their best and most complete album to date.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Peter Bibby – Medicine

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The larrikin troubadour returns with his first new release since his 2014 debut Butcher/Hairstylist/Beautician. ‘Medicine’ rolls and tumbles along with his trademark stagger and loose swagger. Super catchy, twitchy and jangly as he rattles off all kinds of medicinal relief. Top stuff.

The track is available September 8 via Spinning Top / Caroline and Bibby plays Big Sound next week:

Tue, Sep 5th | 11:30pm @ Ric’s Big Backyard

Thu, Sep 7th | 11:40pm @ The Foundry

ALBUM REVIEW: Underground Lovers – Staring at You Staring At Me

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Still one of the leading lights of the Australian strand of guitar strummed, literate indie pop/rock songs, Underground Lovers have influenced the sound of many a local band over the years from The Sleepy Jackson to Blank Realm and on to Shining Bird. They’ll no doubt continue to hold that sphere of influence with their latest and one of their best albums.

Staring At You Staring At Me is a multi-dimensional collection of songs, stretching from the experimental clatter and propulsive dirge of ‘Glamnesia’ to the alt-rock swagger of ‘Every Sign’, ‘The Rerun”s cold synth, reminiscent of their exceptional 1998 single ‘Cold Feeling’ and on to the glorious indie-rock melancholia of ‘Conde Nast Trap’.

They don’t put a foot wrong and they continue to produce effortless sounding and richly melodic music.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Die! Die! Die! – How Soon Is Too Soon (It’s Not Vintage It’s Used)

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New Zealanders Die! Die! Die! are back with a new album and a new clip for the single ‘How Soon Is Too Soon (It’s Not Vintage It’s Used)’. It’s definitely not as punk driven and intense as some of their earlier material but it’s equally as commanding, drawing on distorted and looped effects and a kind of warmly-detached Bailter Space feel as the song circles around some fine bass playing.

The new album Charm. Offensive. is due out October 6th via the label Banished From The Universe. Preorders are now available from Flying Out.