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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NEW MUSIC: The Rebels of Tijuana – Erotique

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Psychedelia out of France from The Rebels of Tijuana. This track, ‘Erotique’, comes from their new double album Asile recorded on analog tape at the Back To Mono Studio with Christian Hierro and due out on October 5th.

Gallic pop drips all over this track as it digs a psych garage rock groove and follows it with swing and verve. Great video clip too. The band have released a bunch of albums and EPs over the last decade and toured with some high profile names like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. You can check out their earlier albums and another recent single over on SPOTIFY and APPLE MUSIC.

NEW MUSIC: Joey Sweeney & The Neon Grease – On Monday

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Joey Sweeney hails from Philadelphia and as well as writing some great music he also does a very good thing in donating proceeds from his sales to charities. In the case of his album Catholic School, which ‘On Monday’ comes from, half of all profits from album sales, both digital and physical, will go directly to Rock To The Future, a non-profit organization that provides music education for Philadelphia’s underserved youth, at no cost to them or their families.

“They’re tearing the old church down”

Saxophone carries across the song like a bittersweet summer breeze as Sweeney paints a scene of a city and a person’s experience and connection to it. It’s a slowburn of a song that hits its straps with dualing organ and keyboards hinting at a less-pretentious Arcade Fire influence, an affinity with Wilco and a Springsteen obsession. It all amounts to a thrilling journey of a song over its four minutes. Great clip too.

Catholic School on Spotify

NEW MUSIC: Darren Cross – Sur La Vague (Drive Me Nuts)

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The sonic alchemist that is Darren Cross (Jep and Dep, Gerling) has released the second single from his new LP Peacer. ‘Sur La Vague (Drive Me Nuts)’ is a persistent ear-worm of a track. Over a Krautrock rhythm he weaves a mantra-like vocal peppered with hovercraft synths and saxophone. It’s that sweet blend of downbeat and uptempo – a kaleidoscopic, left-of-centre, pop nugget that brings to mind LCD Soundsystem and Fujiya & Miyagi. It’s also brilliantly enhanced with a suitably skewed and maniacal video clip.

For the full #DARRENCROSSPEACER experience, head to his Bandcamp page to buy the album on vinyl/CD/digital.

If you are in Sydney you can get along to Cross’ album launch at the Golden Age Cinema & Bar in Darlinghurst tomorrow night (September 6th). Music kicks off at 9pm. Entry is free.

NEW MUSIC: Grand Sun – Go Home

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Here’s the debut single from the Lisbon, Portugal quartet Grand Sun. ‘Go Home’ is a sunny psych pop trip built on bouncing rhythms, quirky diversions in chants and handclaps and, aesthetically speaking, one foot in 90s England and the other in 60s California. A wonderfully infectious track.

Hit up their Bandcamp page below to buy the track at a ‘name your price’ and find links to more info.

 

INTERVIEW: Lee Ranaldo (2012)

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The common impression of Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo is one of a polymorphic artist with ideas constantly tumbling out as spoken word, art and of course music. His collaborative projects are numerous, as are the publications of his poetry and one senses he is totally consumed by the creative process. With this in mind as we chatted over the phone from his New York home it was slightly surprising to hear that he was preparing to head to Nova Scotia in Canada for a few weeks of rest and relaxation the following day. 

“Sometimes it is nice to not have any agenda and just be out experiencing things but usually downtime involves moving from one art form to another. Usually one is a vacation from doing the other so when I’m not touring I get to work on drawings or something else in my studio.” he explains.

Having his fingers in a number of artistic pies allows Ranaldo flexibility in how he expresses himself creatively and as he explains, none of the disciplines he works in are mutually exclusive. 

“I see myself first and foremost as an artist who doesn’t work in a particular field. I’m interested in visual artists whether that’s painting, drawings and cinema and I’m interested in language whether it be writing as poems or stories or journals or lyrics and I’m interested in music and I feel like they feed each other. Its really all about tapping into creativity in whichever area you work in. I’m pretty active in visual arts these days, I’ve got work in shows in a few different places right now and I’m always writing and putting out new small books of poetry. The things feed off each other. The words end up on canvas, the music informs ideas for cinema and spoken word finds its way into some of the performance events.”

The most prominent of Ranaldo’s recent projects in the wake of the Sonic Youth hiatus enforced by Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s split is his solo record Between The Times & The Tides. Ranaldo has released solo works in the past but this album sees him working primarily in a standard rock band format and in fact was written and recorded prior to the current hibernation of his main band.

“This record was done during one of those periods before we found out what was going on between Thurston and Kim. Over the last decade we’ve built a lot of time into our schedule for people to work on their own projects outside Sonic Youth. I’m thankful it was done before I had any inkling of that stuff so it was done as normal without any added pressure that my band was stopping or anything like that.”

Though the album is predominantly an electric guitar, rock album, the songs started life acoustically in Ranaldo’s lounge room before undergoing a process that included the addition of a rhythm section and a number of guest appearances from friends he had collaborated with on other musical projects. 

“I wouldn’t say it came about by accident but I wasn’t really planning to make a record like this. The songs just started coming out and I performed the first couple that I wrote and that led to writing some more. I started off thinking it was going to be an acoustic and voice record and then it ended up as this rock band record so it just built in this very natural, organic way from the very first tunes that came out of my acoustic guitars in my living room,” explains Ranaldo.

“Early on I got Steve (Shelley) to play drums on a few things and right away we decided we’d try to find a bass player and put a rhythm section on some of the songs. That’s how we started tracking the record, with bass, drums and me and then I invited everyone else in to play after that, so the structures were pretty well worked out and there was a framework for people to get an idea of what I was looking for in each song. The songs were just coming out and I was following them, I wasn’t trying to make them into anything they weren’t.”

“It’s been a really fun process and just as surprising to me as any one else at this point. I still say that for me to make a more traditional singer/songwriter record like this – on one hand it is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – on the other hand it is as experimental a phase in my career as all the other experimental things I’ve done from spoken word to noisy music to film soundtracks.” 

Though Between The Times And The Tides is a solo record there are contributions from a number of guest musicians that are essential to making the songs sound as detailed and expansive as they do.

“There is a certain group of people playing on them, a lot of friends and collaborators from various points in my life from Sonic Youth members like Steve Shelley and Jim O’Rourke to Alan Licht. Nels Cline and John Medeski also played on the album and they’ve worked with me on various other projects over the years so it was really fun to make the record and see these songs come up,” says Ranaldo enthusiastically.

Rather than collecting together a group of songs, tacking on some cover art and sending them out into the world, Ranaldo was determined to create an album in the traditional sense where there is an ebb and flow and a narrative to both the music and the packaging. Like so much of the cross-pollination in his work, the initial seed for the album came from a photograph.

“It really started with this picture of me that we used on the front cover. I was writing the first of these songs and I did an interview with some people for a documentary and one of the guys took those pictures and when he sent me that one I thought “wow, this looks it would be a really cool album cover”. That goaded me into writing the record, to wrap in this package in a sense,” explains Ranaldo. “I was very aware it was going to be an album, with a gatefold and liner notes about the sessions and the feeling that “this is going to be the last song on side one,” so there was a grouping of songs you could listen to as a side of a record. We pretty much thought we were making a vinyl record right up until it was done and then we had to prepare the CD issue. So many records these days devolve into being about one or two songs and bunch of others so we were really trying to make a group of songs that hung together in an interesting way.”

“I really wanted it to be a personal record harking back to a singer/songwriter album like they were when I was listening to records like that in the 60s and 70s, where it would be a window on somebody’s life and you hoped you’d find a commonality and shared experience from listening to it. Records then were these experiences that they’re not really now. You’d get a record and pore over the liner notes and who played on each track and they’d stay with you longer and be this real listening experience. Even if it was for no one other than me I wanted this record to be made in that kind of mindset.“

Looking back to those early years of folk rock as inspiration for the format of Between The Times And The Tides was also in keeping with the musical inspiration for the songs in their initial incarnations. 

“I was playing acoustic guitars again seriously for the first time in ages so I guess that really took me back to certain things I listened to when I was much younger, when I was predominately an acoustic guitar player – whether it was John Fahey or  Leo Kottke or David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Velvet Underground and Reverend Gary Davis – all kinds of people that were working with open guitar tunings.”

As our conversation winds up there is the matter of addressing the elephant on the phone line, the future prospects for Sonic Youth. Together for 31 years, they are currently in a holding phase while each member explores other projects and Moore and Gordon are given the space to decide whether they can still work together artistically.

“We are all enjoying the freedom to do other things as we have done for many, many years over the lifetime of the band,” says Ranaldo. “None of us are in any way even thinking about or certainly not talking to each other about ideas of what might or might not happen. The idea of getting to that point is a long, long way off. I have no doubt that we’re all going to continue. We are all doing interesting things now and that spirit that has driven us all these years isn’t just going to dry up if we stop working together. I wouldn’t say building towards this but we’ve really prepared ourselves well by over the last ten or fifteen years being involved in lots of independent projects outside Sonic Youth. It’s easy to fill time, the challenge is filling it in a significant way and all of us get offers to do various things all year long.”

Chris Familton

INTERVIEW: Harmony

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THE HAZARDOUS TERRAIN OF LOVE

It’s been four years between albums for Melbourne’s Harmony, with members focusing on other projects and babies entering the frame. As Tom Lyngcoln explains to Chris Familton, this time around there were changes in both the recorded sound of Double Negative and the way he approached the writing of its songs.

“Alex [Lyngcoln, drummer] and I had a baby daughter in that time so that’s where the majority of our energy has been placed,” explains Lyngcoln, as he reflects on the years since the band’s last album, Carpetbombing, was released. Away from Harmony, Lyngcoln is also at the core of The Nation Blue and recently made his first foray into releasing solo albums, while other members, such as Erica Dunn (Tropical Fuck Storm), have multiple extra curricular activities. “It’s an allocation of time for things,” Lyngcoln explains. “The band was dormant after we did a couple of tours. Everyone has been really busy with other things and Harmony has just been sitting there. It’s nice to put it back together.”

After the confessional, angst-ridden content of Harmony’s previous releases, Lyngcoln felt compelled to approach Double Negative from a new perspective and, as stated in the album’s title, he used a technique that incorporated the style of his earlier writing and cleverly reconfigured it towards a more positive outlook. “I just wanted to flip it and sing about something else. With the birth of a child you really struggle to continue putting a lot of negativity out into the world. I just found it wasn’t helping my depression and mental wellbeing singing about negative shit, so I decided to write about something more positive,” he explains. “That’s really hard to do, it’s so much easier to hide behind self-deprecation and much easier to mope than it is to celebrate. Wallowing in the crucible of grief was just something I couldn’t do for another record so we changed our focus to try and write about love, which is one of the most hazardous terrains you can enter into as a songwriter. It’s been responsible for some of the greatest music of our time and also the vast majority of the worst,” he grimaces.

“I worked my way in to it by trying to employ negative language. I looked at it through descriptors of negative things such as war. Taking the same kind of lexicon that I’ve used in the past but try to print it in double negative and apply it in a positive way. When I write a chord progression it always tends to revert to the same tricks and my vocabulary is limited to a certain amount of words that slide together. I wanted to try and refine them and use them differently.”

Previous Harmony albums have had a dense, lo-fi quality to them, and though it suited Lyngcoln’s throat-shredding howls, it often obscured the songs and lacked the warmth and nuance that Amanda Roff, Quinn Veldhuishe and Erica Dunn’s lush vocal harmonies called for. This time they worked with producer Mike Deslandes and recorded in a group environment at Kyneton Mechanics Hall. 

“It was recorded much in the same way as the two last The Nation Blue records. Mike has an amazing mobile studio and so we went to the same hall because it is suited to Harmony a lot more. I’d wanted to do it there for a long time. Mike recorded it and as I was recovering from wrist surgery and a hernia, I had a solid eight weeks to mix it over summer and obsess and fall in and out of love with it. I’m happy with it, it’s the best thing I’ve done recording-wise,” he proudly states. “The other records have been pieced together. This was the band playing in a room live and then each night the girls would come in and record their vocals live. They were long days. Mike would clock off recording the band and then I’d jump in the seat and start recording the girls until 2am. There are vocal takes where I’ve nodded off and they were trying to wake me up. It was probably a bit ambitious,” laughs Lyngcoln.

That ambition has resulted in by far and away the band’s best work and with Lyngcoln and family relocating to Greece for a year in 2019, fans would be well served to catch them on their upcoming tour, before temporary hibernation again beckons.

NEW MUSIC: Darren Cross – 90’s High

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Darren Cross has just released his second solo LP PEACER, a 100% self-recorded and independent album that finds him balancing the day-glo deconstructed indie guitar pop of his years as the main-man in Gerling and his more recent dark avant-folk leanings.

The first single and video from the album is ’90’s High’, a song with a strong sonic link to that peaking rush of Gerling guitar shapes and dance beats but also tinged with a kind of melancholic hangover. It all amounts to a catchy and thrilling first taste of the album if you haven’t checked it out yet. For more info and to purchase the album on vinyl/CD/digital, head to:

https://darrencross.bandcamp.com/album/peacer