ALBUM REVIEW: Low – Double Negative

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Press play and the first thing you’ll hear on the new Low album is the equivalent of a digital sandstorm.

Slowly but surely, out of the static and sonic scree comes the voice of Alan Sparhawk, sounding like a ghost trying with all his might to re-engage with the physical world. It’s a fascinating way to open an album; a new approach for Low and one that sets the scene for their most experimental and strangely beautiful record to date.

There’s a strong David Lynch aesthetic at play across Double Negative. That blend of a sense of foreboding and unease mixed with tender and affecting musical emotiveness. ‘Dancing And Blood’ continues to ratchet up the tension and usher the listener further into the present. Producer BJ Burton has worked in Bon Iver’s studio and you can certainly hear elements of the creative deconstructionist approach to traditional song that has happened within those walls. Mimi Parker takes the lead vocal on ‘Fly’ and it’s a powerful moment, almost backwoods ecclesiastical in the way it billows and urges. The defiance is short lived though as ‘Tempest’ submerges their voices in grainy, almost all-consuming decay. The clouds part momentarily before the connection is again violently disrupted.

‘Always Trying To Work It Out’ is a soulful suffocated pop song while ‘Poor Sucker’ is unsettling and laced with existential dread. When ‘Dancing And Fire’ emerges with pristine, clean guitars and an unprocessed vocal from Sparhawk, it sounds positively calming, Parker’s voice acting like a tonal echo chamber. “It’s not the end, it’s just the end of hope,” they sing, and it sums up the album’s themes of standing up for one’s beliefs, the danger of losing optimism and how the negative forces in the world are warning signs to correct things before it’s too late.

Low leave us with ‘Disarray’, a robotic dance at a death disco and a plea for change; “Before it falls into total disarray, you’ll have to learn to live a different way.Double Negative is bold and powerful music, fusing the avant-garde and traditional song with both friction and harmony. It’s unnerving, visceral and wholly compelling.

Chris Familton

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ALBUM REVIEW: Roadhouses – Roadhouses

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They say that it is harder to play music slowly than it is to play it fast. Things fall apart and momentum is lost. In the case of Sydney trio Roadhouses, sedated rock music is their calling card. They deal in drifting, alt-country-imbued, slowcore torch songs where heartache is just a tear away. If you got Lucinda Williams to front Spain, at the Twin Peaks Roadhouse – you’d have a pretty accurate summation of the sound and aesthetic of this album.

Skirts as short as sin, drinks that don’t touch the side – you get the picture of where Yvonne Moxham takes her songs. Late night bars, heartbreak and yearning populate her songs of burgeoning and fracturing relationships. First you’ll be mesmerised by the band’s haunting, atmospheric sound, then drawn in by Moxham’s lyrics that hang heavy in the air. Drummer Cec Condon (Mess Hall) throws inventive rhythms and accents into the mix, like a slow motion Jim White. 

‘Black Lights’ throws a subtle curveball into proceedings with its melancholic synths and trip hop drumming that brings to mind Everything But The Girl jamming with Cowboy Junkies. Elsewhere, ‘Heartless’ recalls the haunting minimalism of Low and in ‘Drinkin’’ they conjure up a wonderfully lush, swoon and swell of a sound. Sadness, pain and bruised romance never sounded as good as it does on this excellent debut album.

Chris Familton

 

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.

NEW MUSIC: Loomis – Deep

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New music today from musician and songwriter Loomis who hails from New Orleans. There are some great moody, gauzy textures going on in this song ‘Deep’ that remind me of New Zealand band JPS Experience filtered through Chicago post-rock. The circular nature of the way he arranges the instrumentation is great on this track.

You can check out his album Shark Water on Spotify and Bandcamp.

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

 

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