ALBUM REVIEW: Beck – Colors

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Beck’s much anticipated 13th album follows the lush and melancholic Morning Phase and though Colors is equally lush, it’s an album built on widescreen technicolor, bold sonic brushstrokes and a saturated pop aesthetic.

On first listen it feels like the quirks and eccentricities that made Beck so iconic are absent on this album but dig below the pop-laminated surface and you’ll find an equally audacious approach to song-craft.

Beck dials in funk, hip hop and psychedelia, exquisitely blending rock guitars and low slung beats in a clever collision of synthetic and organic musicality. ‘No Distraction’ is a standout with its clipped funk and snaking vocal melodies. Like many of these songs he operates in areas of structural cliche – build-ups and anthemic choruses – but it’s all done with an auteur’s ear and sleight of hand that belies the complexities at play.

Old school Beck fans will enjoy the collage-constructed ‘Wow’ but the overwhelming focus of Colors is Beck’s continuing exploration of the frontiers of pop music, like a 21st century Steely Dan.

Chris Familton

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INTERVIEW: Protomartyr

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LOUD NOISE AND FLOWING ALCOHOL

Protomartyr’s frontman Joe Casey calls in from Detroit, MI to tell Chris Familton about the band’s new album, new record label and where that voice of his came from.

Protomartyr are already four albums deep into their recording career, all in the space of five years. It’s the sign of a band riding a wave of creativity and a relentless work ethic but, as Joe Casey explains, it is also about keeping the ball rolling and building on the success of each new album and tour.

“It’s definitely about keeping the momentum going. I can’t figure out how bands can take five years between albums. The space between this and the last has been the longest just because it was the most touring we’ve done. When that’s over and you go home you may as well get stuck in and write new stuff. Hopefully that will be the way forward but I think we’ll be touring this record more than the last one,” Casey predicts.

Relatives in Descent is another stage in the evolution of a band who sounded brash and chaotic on their debut album All Passion, No Technique. Now there’s a clearer attention to detail in the sound and structure of their songs, led by guitarist Greg Ahee, but also a result of working with a new producer.

“I think we always have to have the sound change. It helped recording with the producer Sonny DiPerri out in Los Angeles because he’s very good at sonically capturing things and he was always working and working harder than any producer we’ve worked with,” says Casey. “Our guitar player had some ideas going in, including violins and a different synth sound and I think it worked out really well,” he enthuses. “When he first said he wanted violins on it I had no idea what he was talking about but when we heard it come to fruition it sounded great.”

Casey’s resigned bark and conversational vocal delivery blends post-punk, spoken word and dissonant punk howling and with Protomartyr it developed out of figuring out how to be heard in a small room with loud noise and flowing alcohol. “At the time we were pretty drunk,” laughs Casey. “At the start it was mostly to make noise and have a good time all of the time. It developed from our early practice space which was basically a concrete box and I had to find a way to cut through the guitar and noise and a very sharp vocal attack seemed to work best. I have a very limited range and it’s about knowing what I can do with it, to fit into the songs the right way and not ruin them.”

Casey’s pride in the new album is evident, and their step up from the small label Hardly Art to the large UK indie label Domino means that they’ll be able to promote their music to a much wider audience, including, hopefully, some live shows in Australia in 2018.

“I’m amazed that we haven’t played Australia yet. From early on it was near the top of our list of places to get to, so we better be touring Australia some time in the next year. If it doesn’t happen next year the band is breaking up!”

Read our review of Relatives In Descent

ALBUM REVIEW: Neil Finn – Out Of Silence

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Out Of Silence is unique for the fact that it was rehearsed and then recorded live at Finn’s Auckland studio, whilst being streamed live to the world via Facebook and You Tube. It was a fascinating insight into a logistical and creatively adventurous undertaking. Even for those who didn’t see or know about the process, the spirit and communality of the session is imbued in one of Finn’s most intimate and ornate albums.

Written and performed wholly on the piano, Finn takes a baroque pop approach to the songs, draping them in rich and sweeping orchestral figures, minimal guitar and drums and a choir that includes famous New Zealand names such as Tiny Ruins, Don McGlashan, SJD and Lawrence Arabia. As you’d expect, Finn’s voice is the icing on the cake – delicate and fragile at times as he explores the personal and universal mysteries of love (‘Love Is Emotional’), uplifting and melodically expansive on the infectious ‘Second Nature’ and the sweet falsetto soul of ‘Chameleon Days’.

‘Terrorise Me’ is a deeply affecting and resolute repudiation of the terrorism that struck Paris and the simple act of celebrating music. It has a melancholic Ray Davies feel, culminating in a chorus with the line “love is stronger when it hurts”. Finn once again proves his ability to translate both joy and deep emotion into concise and poetic lyrical form. Add in his classic and inventive melodic framework and Out Of Silence is another tour de force from New Zealand’s finest songwriter.

Chris Familton

Neil Finn – Out Of Silence album recording/webcast

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Out Of Silence was recorded live in-studio via webcast on Facebook and YouTube and will be mixed, mastered and digitally released one week after the recording, on 1 September 2017.

“It’s pretty damned exciting. It’s the way I always dreamed of making music.”

Each Friday for the last month, Neil Finn has been convening in his Roundhead Studios in Auckland, New Zealand with a collection of musical friends and colleagues and a worldwide audience of over 15,000. Live streaming the sessions has allowed the general public into the world of the recording studio and a chance to intimately witness the technical and creative process that goes into preparing for, and recording an album.

The first three weeks of the Out Of Silence webcasts were used to rehearse and fine-tune a selection of the songs destined for the album as well as treat the studio and online audiences to some musical surprises. Finn was determined to make it an interactive experience, allowing for Skype calls from both members of the public and friends and family from overseas. Crowded House bassist Nick Seymour called in from Ireland and playing along to their song As Sure As I Am, Liam Finn and Connan Mockasin beamed in from Los Angeles and Jimmy Barnes (whose daughter EJ was part of the studio choir) delivered a thrilling Skype duet of the Split Enz classic Shark Attack.

Though the primary purpose of the early sessions was to rehearse for the album recording in week four, Finn rose to the sense of occasion that the process presented. In week two brother Tim joined him for a set of Finn Brothers songs while the following Friday saw Neil back on guitar fronting a tight rock band comprised of James Milne (bass), Elroy Finn (drums), Delaney Davidson (guitar) and Finn Scholes (keyboards) playing Crowded House songs (Weather With You) and Split Enz songs such as I Got You.

Each of the lead-up sessions were a tightly focused two hours but for the final webcast and full recording of the album, a four hour window was allocated. There was clearly less frivolity and loose joking around with the seriousness of the matter at hand. One got the sense the preceding week had been an intense period of rehearsing and ironing out any weaknesses in arrangements and performances. Finn also alluded to a week where many of the musicians had to battle winter illnesses to get to the final stage of the project.

“Is there anything we need to remember?” asks Finn. “Don’t fuck it up!” came the reply from his son and the album’s producer, Liam.

In a tightly packed studio, with Finn solely on piano, brass and woodwind sections, a percussionist, choir, drummer and guitarists as well as studio technicians and a film crew it was clearly an exercise in logistics and planning. As the session progressed it became clear how much of a people-person Finn is. In a high pressure environment, with the world watching, he was still able to create a working atmosphere that allowed individuals to relax and express themselves, for opinions to be voiced and all without a raised voice or overtly autocratic approach. It made for an inclusive and harmonious vibe in the room and one that filtered through into the soul of the music.

With son Liam Finn in the producer role, the album songs were recorded out of sequence, allowing them to ease into the session and also to bracket together the songs that required the various additional groups of musicians. The one constant was the choir, a who’s who of New Zealand music, including James Milne (Lawrence Arabia), Hollie Fullbrook (Tiny Ruins), Reb Fountain, Sam Flynn Scott (The Phoenix Foundation), Don McGlashan (The Muttonbirds), Sean Donnelly (SJD), EJ Barnes and Tim’s son Harper Finn. Dressed in robes and described by Finn as looking like “the mysterious alumni of some obscure university”, they provided a warm, campfire vibe that took in gospel and folk elements, giving weight and ascendency to Finn’s voice across the recordings.

Multiple takes of each song were undertaken, with micro adjustments made on each successive performance. Finn experimented with the interplay between his piano playing and singing, requesting a click track on some takes and none on others – anything to find the right mood and feel for each song. He fine-tuned string arrangements on the fly with arranger Victoria Kelly and provided suggestions to the choir on where to focus the impetus of their singing. It was a fascinating insight into both the process and Finn’s creative spirit and attention to detail.

From the momentum and pulse of Second Nature to the swooning melancholy of More Than One Of You, the Robert Wyatt’ish Alone with Tim Finn on guitar and vocals to the topical and Split Enz-sounding baroque pop of Terrorise Me with the line ‘love is stronger when it hurts’, Finn touched on themes of war, terror and policing but countered it with the greater and often more mysterious power of love. The overarching sound of the album was one of ornate and highly textured music, classic in tone and sophisticated and adventurous in its emotional range.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile – Over Everything (2017)

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The indie rock matchup of 2017 has finally revealed the first single and video with Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile releasing their new song ‘Over Everything’. It’s a stunning black and white video too, with swapped lip-syncing and some amazing scenery.

The album Lotta Sea Lice will be released on 13th October via Milk! / Matador and they’ve also roped in colleagues such as Mick Turner and Jim White of the Dirty Three, Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint and Mick Harvey to play on it.

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