ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1

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Moon Duo return with the first of two albums they plan to release in 2017, with both volumes rooted in balanced and oppositional ideas and textures. The conceptual approach of the double album is, in their words “an intricately woven hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons and the journey of day into night, dark into light.” That Yin Yang format won’t of course make complete sense until Vol. 2 is released later in the year but for now you can be assured that Moon Duo are still doing what they do best – laying down dense, surging and grinding psych rock rhythms.

Their music is always one of perpetual motion and since their first releases, which were dominated by a colder and more mechanical mood, they’ve slowly evolved to find a unique common ground between machine-like repetition, Sanae Yamada’s kosmiche synth washes and melodies and the free-spirited guitar explorations courtesy of Ripley Johnson.

On Occult Architecture Vol. 1, the term primitive futurism keeps coming to mind. The pair conjure up images of mysterious shadowy figures, druids, shamanistic rituals and pagan mysticism with their obfuscated lyrics and general dark tones and textures. They also invoke the spirit of astral travel and space travel, their songs often resembling a object hurtling through space and free of any earthly restraint. There’s a certain cyber quality to the shape and relentless drive of Moon Duo, albeit infused with human emotions – both good and bad.

‘Cold Fear’ induces just that – a queasy feeling of unease which makes it a less aggressive descendent of Suicide’s experiments at putting their audiences in a state of discomfort. ”Cross Town Fade’ is a curious blend of a tranced-out Sigue Sigue Sputnik stuck in a glam boogie vortex while ‘Will Of The Devil’ spins on an axis of insistent drumming with a yearning, melancholic synth melody sounding like a lost transmission from the point where Joy Division became New Order.

The album closer ‘White Rose’ emerges from the dark mist into a more optimistic world, one built on a perfect Krautrock rhythm and Johnson’s guitar sounding like a demonstrative insect buzzing and demanding to be heard. The glorious drone rolls on for ten minutes, onward and upward toward the light and presumably its spring/summer-centric sibling album.

It’s a fascinating journey, with or without the overarching concept, and reinforces the ability of Moon Duo to create music that is both sonically straightjacketed, endlessly immersive and without visible horizons.

Chris Familton

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ALBUM REVIEW: Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now

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Hot on the heels of her collaborative album with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, Jesca Hoop backs it up with a new solo album that dives deeper into her experimental songwriting, drawing on folk, indie and art pop.

The songs here are minimal, skeletal even. Simple percussive elements, at one point just the keys of a typewriter, form the basis for hypnotic melodies and lyrical concerns that often draw on themes of empowerment, seizing one’s destiny and the moment.

It’s Hoop’s sense of musical adventure and experimental lean, yet not at the expense of a strong song, that lends comparison to St Vincent and a more organic Bjork. Endlessly catchy and boldly creative, Memories Are Now is a thrilling escape from the doldrums.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: The Bug Vs Earth – Snakes Vs Rats from their new LP Concrete Desert

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Dylan Carlson (Earth) has once again teamed up with The Bug’s Kevin Martin (Techno Animal, Ice, God, Razor X, King Midas Sound), this time for a full-length LP called Concrete Desert. The album also features guest vocals from Justin Broadrick from Jesu/Godflesh etc on two tracks. Below you can hear the first taste of the album – ‘Snakes Vs Rats’.

Martin says that the album is in some ways a Los Angeles-set companion piece to London Zoo. The record’s beautiful, chiming melodies are like shards of sonic light, glowing in currents of heavy bass darkness. There are pulsing soundscapes, ambient pinks and whites, and irresistible grooves. This is music that grips you entirely, and catches you in its lava-flow – an astonishing, primal album of vast depth.

Inspired by J.G. Ballard’s urban dystopias, Concrete Desert could be understood as reflecting a “mistrust of “Hollywoodisms”, the shadow of Hollywood fantasy that looms large over life in LA, and the USA in general. “Dylan’s a master at amplifying the flavour of America,” Martin says, “but not the side we see in this Trump climate.” For Martin, the “American dream is like a nightmare under Trump” but Dylan captures the “best side of that dream, a utopian openess…I hear the writing of Cormac McCarthy in his music. His playing conjures deserts, and wide open spaces.”

Concrete Desert is out 24th March via Ninja Tune. Preorders available HERE

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INTERVIEW: The Bats

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LONG HAUL FLIGHT

Still with their original lineup, The Bats are the longest running band in New Zealand and after more than three decades they’re still finding fascinating new variations on their iconic sound. Frontman and songwriter Robert Scott talks to Chris Familton about how their new record came together and how they’ve maintained their longevity.

Down the line from his home on the coast just outside Dunedin, on the lower South Island of New Zealand, Robert Scott is enjoying the tranquility punctuated by the visiting cruise ships that grow exponentially in number over the summer months. Things are also about to get busy for The Bats after a five year gap since the album Free All Monsters came out, and though it’s taken a while to see the light of day, The Deep Set emerged from the same creative process as most of their records.

“I stockpile songs, I’m pretty much writing all the time,” explains Scott. “After a couple of years have gone by since the last album we’ll decide if we actually want to do another one. Then I say I have a bunch of songs, do some rough demos and the others choose the ones they like before we narrow it down to around 15 for the album. Then we’ll start working on them together as a band. In the studio the songs will be about 90% done but before we do the takes we might make a few changes. On the whole these have come out pretty much the way they were written though,” Scott reflects.

After so long together as a band, Scott reveals that their recording process is a simple and intuitive one that isn’t influenced to any great extent by the studio or producer they use. “It’s more just concentrating on getting a great version of the song. That’s what we’ve found over the years makes our stuff work best – getting a good flowing, natural sounding take – whether that’s urgent or laid-back. We’re attuned into that more than anything else.”

Looking back at the legacy of the band, Scott proudly claims the mantle of having “the longest continuous line-up of any band in NZ,” before revealing some of the key reasons why they’ve stayed together for so long. “Part of that might be down to having long breaks, there were nine years in the late 90s/early 2000s where we didn’t release any music. We pick and choose things we feel comfortable doing so we’re not putting ourselves in a position of too much pressure. We’re obviously very used to each other’s company so we’re aware of any weirdness that comes up and know how to deal with it. We’re all reasonably laid-back people as well so there aren’t any ego issues that you get often get in bands.”

The band will be launching The Deep Set at the 2017 Sydney Festival and they’re bring along the string players that appeared on the album. “It’s the first time we’ve taken a string section overseas. We thought we’d do that for a bit of a change, to spice things up and have a bit of fun,” enthuses Scott. “In Sydney we’ll probably do seven or eight songs from The Deep Set and then because the 30th anniversary of Daddy’s Highway is coming up we’ll be doing a set of mainly songs from that album too. The two ends of our career – which will be quite a different show for us!”

  • MELBOURNE: Sat Jan 28, Northcote Social Club. Tickets on sale now from Northcote Social Club.
  • SYDNEY: Sun Jan 29, Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent, Sydney Festival. Tickets on sale now from Sydney Festival.

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