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

 

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LIVE REVIEW: Underground Lovers

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Underground Lovers, Simon Holmes @ Leadbelly, Newtown, May 18th, 2017

With an excellent new album in tow, Underground Lovers finally made it back up the highway to Sydney after a few years absence. They’ve clearly retained and widened their audience too, with two sold out shows to celebrate the release of the new record.

Simon Holmes of The Hummingbirds had to battle the restless and chatty punters but he did so by virtue of some fine vocal melodies and the late-set addition of Adam (vocals) and Simon Gibson (drums) of the Ark-Ark Birds for a trio of their songs. A nice inclusion was a stripped back but still effortless and catchy version of the 1989 Hummingbirds single Blush.

Complete with a cache of psychedelic video projections, Underground Lovers put on a consummate, almost celebratory set. There was a false start with a miscued drum machine on the new song Unbearable but they laughed it off, with frontman Vincent Giarusso blaming nerves. From then on they never put a foot wrong, playing a big chunk of the new album Staring At You Staring At Me, intermingled with highlights from their back catalogue.

They’re a more muscular and propulsive band on stage than on record, the rhythm section locking into fluid and repetitive grooves that strayed into motorik Krautrock territory and down psych rock sonic rabbit holes. Melancholy permeates their music but the shared lead vocals between Giarusso and Philippa Nihill, the blend of Glenn Bennie’s guitar and the electronic elements ensured an all-encompassing sound that filled the room and was much dance-inducing as it was forlorn. Every Sign and The Rerun were two highlights from the new record – dark dance music akin to Primal Scream at their most rewarding junction of electronic and rock music. The biggest crowd response came with Dream It Down’s Las Vegas. A chanted sing-along ensued and when Giarusso hit the line “Lots of feathers, fluffy and pink, and cigarettes” an audience member responded with one. It was a weird sight seeing a cigarette inside a venue in 2017 but it was a fine moment at a gig where the mood of re-lived youth and fresh musical discovery was in the air.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Underground Lovers

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THE JOY OF HUMAN IMPERFECTION

Underground Lovers return with their second post-hiatus album Staring At You Staring At Me and a run of live shows. The band’s Vincent Giarrusso talks with Chris Familton about the theme of the album and harnessing the human element in machines.

As is their trademark, Underground Lovers have created a new album that draws from a wide range of styles – acoustic songwriter, electronica, shoegaze, psychedelia and indie rock. They marry those sounds together with seamless synchronicity but never lose their grasp on the art of songwriting. “At the end of the day it’s about songs and songwriting and we’re really interested in the emotion of songs and how they can evoke feeling,” reflects Giarrusso.

“The initial idea for this album was just a bunch of songs about Melbourne – St Kilda, Richmond, Warrandyte. As we started structuring the album we realised it was about the things we always write about which is male/female relationships within a chaotic and unbalanced world. Those ideas drove it. There are lots of ideas and themes that recur in our music over the years. That’s just how it works,” Giarusso reveals. “Having a few years between albums gets you thinking more and thinking deeper about what you want to do. I think that comes across on the album. It’s quite complex at times even though we’re always striving for simplicity.”

The album title refers to a world where human contact is diminishing and as well as exploring that subject lyrically, it’s also reflected sonically in their songs. “Instead of people looking and staring at each other they’re looking at screens. We tried to get that idea across in the technology we used. We all come from the school where we think that computers are dumb instruments and just tools to use and that they have to suit your needs instead of you following what they do. Whenever we use loops we try to make them as manual as possible so we are in control and it still has some human imperfection.”

The realities of life, full-time jobs, having to organise six people and waiting times for German-pressed vinyl meant Staring At You Staring At Me has has a long gestation process, explains Giarrusso. “It was hard to get six people together when everyone is busy. We recorded it over six months and we didn’t know how it would turn out until the end. We pushed ourselves and found a new sort of structure for the long-play which was surprising for us. That kept it fresh.”

The great story behind Underground Lovers is that after a nine year hiatus, which Giarrusso puts down to the “twists and turns of human life” and describes personally as a tough time, the band are still creatively as strong as they ever have been.

“When we came back together it was brilliant. It just the same as it ever way which was fantastic. It was worth the wait. We’re getting a lot of young people coming to shows which is exciting. They’re saying they like our new stuff better than the old stuff which is great and surprising!”

ALBUM REVIEW: Ghost Wave – Radio Norfolk

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Three years on from their debut Ages, Ghost Wave sound a wholly more authentic and lived-in proposition. Ages sounded like the sum of its influences (UK indie, Krautrock, NZ 80s alt-guitar pop) and they mastered them exceedingly well, but Radio Norfolk takes those sounds further and deeper, co-mingling and cross-pollinating with more sonic grit and subtlety.

Psychedelia has permeated music strongly in recent years, much of it centring on garage rock and folk music. Ghost Wave take the elements of trippiness and narcotic haze to a rhythmic and repetitive place. There is a stoned danceability to much of the album where the bass and the drums provide the movement and drive of the music. It can be uplifting and bright (‘Honey Punch’, ‘Don’t Ask Me’), snaking and smoky (‘Blues Signal ’79’) or insistent and pulsing (‘Snow Cone Descent’). That combination of moods creates a wonderful flow to the album akin to both the predictability and variability of rolling ocean swells or a road trip through hills, valleys and plains.

Producer Sonic Boom (Spaceman 3) has tied together the band’s sound superbly, It never descends into dreary drone from a lack of ideas or noise for noise sake. The balance is there and a surprisingly rich batch of melodies rise to surface on repeat listens. The xylophone on ‘Spaceman’, the range of effects applied to the guitar lines and Matthew Paul’s incantations and vowel bending vocals are all elements used to add shape and colour to the songs.

Radio Norfolk is kaleidoscopic in nature and psychedelic by design yet never at the expense of the song at the heart of each track. That balance of vision defines what is an exemplary and timeless take on hypnotic rock music.

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: The Laurels

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THE SCIENCE OF PSYCHEDELIA & BREAKBEATS

The Laurels have re-emerged from the studio with an adventurous take on their brand of psych rock that takes influence from both Primal Scream and Public Enemy. Singer and guitarist Luke O’Farrell takes Chris Familton inside the creation of Sonicology.

“I went a bit nuts, we all went a bit crazy in the studio working on these songs “ says O’Farrell, describing the long and intensive process of writing and recording Sonicology. They set up their own studio and “started getting samplers and experimenting with junk shop records, sampling them and making beats” before spending numerous hours recording and sampling themselves to avoid copyright issues. “It is very much a studio album. The guitar took a back seat on this album. If anything samplers were the main instrument. Even the guitars were fed into samplers and triggered and sequenced. It still sounds like us and is guitar heavy but the way we approached the recording was completely different to what we’d done before,” explains O’Farrell.

The genesis of the new album reaches right back to before the band started recording their previous record. “With Plains, we were playing those songs for six years before recording them and then you have to play them on the road for another two or three years. We really adjusted to that way of working as a live band. With this one we started getting into hip hop influences just before we started recording Plains – a lot of Public Enemy, a lot of funk and soul, stuff like James Brown. That was the headspace we were in after the Plains tour finished and then it was a matter of convincing the other guys to try something really different in the studio this time around.”

Between albums, drummer Kate Wilson (The Holy Soul) decided to leave the band and Jasper Fenton, who O’Farrell and Piers Cornelius had played with in other groups, was drafted in. “It wasn’t easy, it was very sad to see Kate go after that amount of time. We’re still mates and we still love her. With the new tracks and the way we wanted to approach them in the studio, that wasn’t what she wanted to do with the band. Jasper is also a multi-instrumentalist and a producer which really helped the recording,” says O’Farrell.

One hurdle to overcome after making an album steeped in studio production and different technology is how to present the songs live. O’Farrell explains that they’ve got their head around the songs now. “It’s taken us a few months going back and re-learning and adjusting songs. Their entire life has been in the studio, they weren’t really made for live performance but we’ve figured out a way to represent them live. There are three of us triggering samplers now but we’re not tethered to a click track, we want to still keep it loose and free and incorporate the samples from the album.”

“This album was more collaborative than anything we’ve done in the past,” says O’Farrell, when asked if the band is a collective vision or driven by one or two people. “There’s never really been a leader, we all have ideas bout how we want the band to sound and we try to incorporate everyone’s vision. It’s a mix of all of us and I guess that’s why we are still together after ten years.”

NEW MUSIC: The Tambourine Girls Preview New Album

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The Tambourine Girls are releasing their self-titled debut LP this week and in the lead up they’ve posted a lyric video for the album track ‘Ignaz Semmelweis’ and a video interview with frontman Simon Relf chatting with Marcus from Spookyland about some of the tracks on the album.

The Tambourine Girls were formed by Relf (formerly of Deep Sea Arcade) and signed to Chugg Music before partially recording the new LP with producer Tim Whitten (Powderfinger, The Go-Betweens, Hoodoo Gurus and Augie March). Early singles from the album were ‘Police‘ and ‘Cupo‘.

Album Track Listing:
01. Southern Change
02. The Tambourine Girl
03. The Clamour
04. Cupo
05. Song for Gerard
06. Watching the World
07. Ignaz Semmelweis
08. Townes van Zandt
09. Much Older Now
10. Ghosts
11. Police
12. Johnny Be Or Don’t. Whatever
13. Lay Down

LIVE REVIEW: Witch Hats, The Laurels, Terza Madre, Melbourne Cans @ Red Rattler Theatre, Sydney (19/08/16)

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Melbourne Cans made the trip up to Sydney with their soulful, shuffling and shaking sound. There was a lo-fi backbeat to their songs, somewhere between the 80s Postcard Records sound and a woollier Royal Headache. Keyboards took the songs out of straight strum and sing territory, adding a psychedelic feel which worked well.

Terza Madre have been gathering a slow buzz and reputation. They are hard to pin down – hard to fit on small stages too, with the 7-piece, black-attired outfit adding an additional vocalist and a trumpet player at times. The music was considered and emotive, occasionally showing hints of 70s prog as they sang Italian pop songs with an almost gothic drama. Their set got better as they settled in. There is little to compare them to on the current scene which is good thing.

The Laurels are a band who have been in a period of sonic transition in recent times. With an imminent new album they showcased some songs from it, some old ones and even one written the night before. Luke O’Farrell was surrounded by a bank of digital instruments to add to his already impressive guitar pedal-board. They were loud – the bass still propels their songs, and with more tools at their disposal their sound has loosened and allowed more rhythm and flow into their guitar revelries.

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Witch Hats took the stage late to a thinning yet still enthusiastic audience. On their new album they’ve added more nuance and melody yet it’s still a primal sound, with singer/guitarist Kris Buscombe holding court centre-stage while stick-figure bassist Ash Buscombe carried the bottom-end whilst constantly bouncing and lunging to and fro. Live, there was a bristling fervour to their new songs, more urgency and attack in the delivery and when they hit extended sections the dissonance and noise entered the fray as the guitars fragmented over the dark pummelling grooves of the rhythm section. Their set added credence to this writer’s belief that of the current crop of post-punk/alt-rock Australian bands, there are few that can match Witch Hats.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Swervedriver @ Factory Theatre, Sydney 25/06/16

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Guitars, amps, effects pedals and volume were the order of the night for Swervedriver’s return to Australian shores. Local rock ’n’ roll fringe dwellers The Holy Soul were the best of the support acts with a raw, brittle and at times brilliantly inventive set. They showed once more why they are the city’s best kept secret with their fusion of Pere Ubu, Television, The Gun Club and Can.

Grinding Eyes look like a band who worship at the altar of BRMC, The Cult, The Black Angels etc. With a psychedelic video backdrop and plenty of dry ice they hit some compelling rhythmic grooves but it all felt too much like style over substance in terms of their songs. A band to watch nonetheless.

Sounds Like Sunset, like The Holy Soul, are inner west live perennials and their short set showcased their five-piece wall of sound approach. High volume gave their songs an eye of the hurricane feel with Dave Challinor’s sleepy, melodic vocals drifting above the thunderous squalls and providing the perfect segue to the headliner.

Swervedriver have managed the transition from reunited touring act to a fully functioning band with the release of last year’s I Wasn’t Born To Lose You. Opening with Autodidact, that album’s first track, they immediately showed that the newer songs have earned the right to sit amongst such iconic songs as Rave Down, Son Of Mustang Ford and Last Train To Satansville. The band, featuring their newest recruit in bassist Mickey Quinn (Supergrass), included half of their most recent album and though the songs were more nuanced and less visceral than the band’s 90s output and the attention of the audience ebbed and flowed through the night, they showed they still possess the key elements of their sound – inventiveness and propulsion. Adam Franklin remains a man of few words though he did make a joke at the expense of “the worst fucking band” Guns N Roses and made a sly and topical reference to their homeland as an insular island nation. This was their best Sydney show of their three since 2011.

 Chris Familton