ds album reviews

by Chris Familton

square-600Star Rating DS 4Since the days when bands like Fugazi, Nirvana and Jesus Lizard ruled the underground of American rock, before death and hiatus cut them short, there’s been a relative sparsity of sonically like-minded bands taking up the mantle set by those and many other acts. Melvins are still carving a unique path and bands like Harvey Milk and Pissed Jeans are promising inheritors but on their debut self-titled LP three Canadians going under the name METZ are kicking out a new take on post-hardcore, industrial-grade punk rock.

At only thirty minutes long this is a pummeling and exhausting listen. Those are of course the type of qualities you want from this kind of music. It lurches and flails like a drunk bison yet it is concise and trimmed of all excess musical fat. Brilliantly recorded to feel live and in your face with needle-in-the-red intensity, the lack of studio sheen was a wise move with the end result more sonically akin to In Utero than Nevermind. All good trios succeed due to a well balanced mix of guitar, bass, drums and vocals. Nothing takes centre-stage, everything moves forward as one and that is where the glorious teeth-grinding tension originates. Whether it is the frantic strut of single Wet Blanket, the cavernous drums of Headache or the queasy dissonance of Nausea the trio are constantly contorting their music into tight riffs and energising rhythmic barrages while Alex Edkins variously castigates the speakers with his voice that staggers between a David Yow yowl and John Lydon rant.

METZ is a brutally endearing listen that knocks you about but it never outstays its welcome. Raw, concise and as much about the sound as the songs, this is the kind of music the world needs right now.


ALBUM REVIEW: The Jim Jones Revue | The Savage Heart

by Chris Familton

With a reputation born mainly from their sweat and swagger live shows, The Jim Jones Revue have finally captured some of that frantic magic on their third and best album The Savage Heart.

Breathing new life into purist rock n roll isn’t an easy task when you consider the originators of the genre and the huge number of the bands over the decades who have succeeded and failed at nailing its energy and attitude, yet Jones and his gang make it sound vital all over again. The Savage Heart is bristling with a sneering rebellion that sometimes borders on pastiche but like the best musical characters (Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Little Richard) Jim Jones will make you a believer. The band rip through Stooges-styled garage rock, barroom piano shakedowns (Where Da Money Go?) and the sleazy slow groove of Eagle Eye Ball. Call and response vocals and superb piano playing are two  key features of the album’s sound that ensure The Savage Heart isn’t as primitive as first impressions might suggest. If you’re looking for a fix of primal rock n roll with genuine depth and vigor this is it.

this review was first published on FasterLouder


ALBUM REVIEW: The Soft Pack | Strapped

by Chris Familton

The LA quartet return with their sophomore album that finds them throwing more influences into the mix while still maintaining their highly melodic indie rock sound. Strapped feels like a step up for a band that specialized in efficient garage rock dispatches and even though they have softened their rawer edges they have compensated by dialing in more expansive textures and song structures making Strapped more laid-back and less frenetic than their debut.

Opener Saratoga recalls the vocal melodies of The Stone Roses, highlighting some new variations in Matt Lamkin’s vocal style while saxophone is another great addition that features on half of the album’s twelve tracks. The result sounds like a collision between The Smiths and The Stooges’ Steve Mackay. Elsewhere, dreamy synths take the lead on Tallboy and they head into tropical guitar pop territory on the crisp and smooth Bobby Brown. Thankfully though they have kept their diversification in check and wisely included enough bristling three minute post-Strokes guitar songs to satiate fans of the first album making this a highly enjoyable snapshot of The Soft Pack, past and present.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

LIVE REVIEW: Beck @ State Theatre, Sydney (14/11/12)

by Chris Familton

It is always a pleasure to visit the ornate surroundings of Sydney’s State Theatre with its outlandish detailing and proclivity for gold and chandeliers. It creates a certain mood and atmosphere and definitely lends a sense of occasion to whichever band is gracing its stage. UK’s Dark Horses had the opening honours and, with quite a different sound to Beck, they played a set of dark and dramatic rock music that took in moody psychedelia, some minor krautrock influence on songs like Boxing Day and the occasional gothic overtone. It all worked pleasantly well but often felt too measured in both song and presentation. Singer Lisa Elle showed she possesses an undeniably strong voice, especially when she shifted gears from deadpan to displaying some fragility and emotion but those moments were few and far between.

The stage for Beck looked distinctly bare with only one keyboard and a few racks of guitar pedals and as the lanky one appeared he cut a solitary figure in leather jacket, wide hat and playing some back porch slide guitar, but then the audience’s ears latched onto that familiar set of notes that kickstarted his career, the curtains parted to reveal his full band and a lighting rig and we were treated to Loser, the first of many, many highlights.

The first half of the set saw a mixture of early tracks like One Foot in the Grave, his mid period hits such as Devil’s Haircut, Girl and Que’ Onda Guero and a great cover of Dylan’s Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat. The style pendulum swung wildly as one would expect with funk, soul, hip hop, new wave and rock all fighting for a place on the setlist yet Beck himself was a picture of slacker calm (gone are the dance moves), offering the occasional hilarious anecdote about playing Bondi Beach in the late 90s and discovering a lost 80s guitar solo in the bowels of the State Theatre before effortlessly dispatching another highlight from his now burgeoning back catalogue.

One of the best moments came with a retreat to some acoustic, countrified songs, particularly a trio from his excellent Sea Change album. The Golden Age had a gorgeous drifting quality and highlighted what an exceptional singer Beck is when he plays the traditional song card.

As we headed towards the two hour mark Beck and band upped the party vibe with a stellar run of songs – The New Pollution, Nausea, Gamma Ray and a show-stopping Where It’s At that brought the audience to their feet and toward the stage, able to scratch that dancing itch that had been bugging them in their seats for much of the night.

At roughly thirty songs the night was a real sonic survey of the man’s brilliant songwriting cache and showed that he has excelled at pretty much every stylistic corner he has explored. He seemed relaxed and enjoying the chance to stretch out, untethered from festival stage times and as a result it felt like one of those special shows that those in attendance will rave about to friends in years to come.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

LIVE REVIEW: Charlie Horse @ The Factory Floor, Sydney (03/11/12)

Charlie Horse | photo by Chris Familton

by Chris Familton

Featuring Charlie Horse bassist Craig Beck on guitar and vocals, Rushing Dolls have a big strong sound that relies on 90s rock dynamics and impassioned vocals from the school of Placebo but they lacked a stage presence that might otherwise make their songs more believable and enjoyable. They build melody into their rock and there were some flashes of where they might progress to but the trio came across as too tentative like they’re still searching for a sound and attitude to stand out above the rest.

The City Lights | photo by Chris Familton

The City Lights on the other hand know exactly who they are – a razor sharp power-pop trio with punk edges and energy to burn. It wasn’t as if they were leaping around the stage throwing poses but the way they play, like they are leaning into the wind, makes their music sound and feel like a shot of adrenalin. They dispatched short and concise songs with ruthless efficiency, interspersed with hilarious banter and one liners, showing that they were having as much fun as the music sounded. In short they were superb and they have a new album out which deserves attention. See them live, buy the album… I did.

The night of course belonged to Charlie Horse and the celebration of their album I Hope I’m Not A Monster. As a live band they cut a fine figure with guitarist Paul McDonald dividing his attention between strings, pedals and whammy bar while drummer Matt Brown drove the songs with a style that harnessed power and dexterity. Out front the focal point of the band was without doubt Crystal Rose who surely must be one of the country’s strongest female rock vocalists. It is her voice that defines their sound whether it be the frantic urgency of I Killed My Mind the jerky Divinyls pop shapes of Am I Not Your Baby No More or the bittersweet ache of Dead Roses, one of the highlights of their set. Rose mixed attitude and melody and that, backed by a band who were playing right in the pocket, will always be a hard recipe to beat. Sometimes you see bands live that leave you bemoaning the fact that they aren’t more widely known and appreciated. Charlie Horse are one of those bands.

this review was first published in The Drum Media

INTERVIEW: Melodie Nelson



In 2011 Melodie Nelson released her debut album Meditations On the Sun, a collection of songs deeply indebted to the sound of late 60s girl groups filtered through the glow and haze of 90s Mazzy Star. Now, only a year later, she is releasing its successor To The Dollhouse which takes the premise of that first record and expands it with confidence and clarity. Although the gap between releases seems short, the new album was in fact recorded only a few months after her debut release and finished early in 2012.

“It’s been about a year since we went down to Melbourne to record it which is crazy, I can’t believe how quickly the year has flown by. I mixed it in January and then I wasn’t 100% happy so I took it to Chris Townsend in Tasmania who mixed the first one. That was a little bit time consuming and then we got caught up in doing a single and video clip and I was still looking for a label as the last one dissolved a week before my album launch which wasn’t great! It was those types of things that delayed it. My manager even wanted to push it out to next year but we thought it’s done and ready to go out so we may as well just get it out. A year is still quite a quick turnaround and I’ve noticed a few others doing that. I mean really, what else are you doing? I didn’t pick up massive tours and I wasn’t traipsing overseas all the time so what else am I going to do other than hang out at home and write some new songs,” says Tsamoglou.

Heading into album number two Tsamoglou had a much clearer view of what she wanted to achieve  in terms of the narrative of the songs and how they would sound. “I had a bit more of a plan with this one. I had a deadline and I stuck to it, I made notes and I had more of an idea of what I wanted. Now looking back I can see that the first one is more of a collection of songs over a period of four years so I knew I wanted a particular theme on this one. I knew how I wanted the songs to sound, with a suburban, late 60s/early 70s vibe. I recorded the first album in the country so there were themes of nature, if there was any theme that tied those songs together. This one I actually had an idea that because I was recording it in suburban Melbourne I wanted a seedy, suburban side to it like the Polanksi movies Rosemary’s Baby and Repulsion. The concept was the seedier side of the late 60s and that shift in western culture. It is a fascinating era. I realised I’d been interested in the pop culture around that for years so it made sense.”

Musicians often talk about records that loom large during either the writing or recording of their own albums and for Melodie Nelson there were a number of important influences that soundtracked the making of To the Dollhouse. “I couldn’t stop listening to The Beach Boys Surf’s Up because it is such a weird album. I think that is where Brian Wilson had pretty much lost his mind and only contributed a few songs but it has these insane four part harmonies and some great songwriting by Carl Wilson. I was listening to Isaac Hayes which influenced the bass lines and Serge Gainsbourg was a big influence as always, even more so on this album. Another one was The Manson Family album which has these crazy girl harmonies. Listening to that got a bit scary after a while though.”

this interview was first published in The Drum Media.


ALBUM REVIEW: The Datsuns | Death Rattle Boogie

by Chris Familton

The key to The Datsuns’ longevity and relevance in the present is their ability to filter and process the best of the past and inject it with some enthusiasm and energy. Fifth studio album Death Rattle Boogie released 10 years to the day since their acclaimed self-titled debut – is no exception, finding them in ruthlessly efficient form.

Spread around the world and working on different musical projects, the New Zealand-born band came together in Sweden to record what might be their best album to date. It finds them still kicking out the jams in a metal-garage tradition where the riff is king, the lyrics cartoonish and the rhythm section primitive. However, the record has a more varied feel than previous efforts. There’s the introduction of bluesier moments like the White Stripes-ish Brain Tonic, the jazzy vibe of the album’s centrepiece Wander The Night and gothic/post-punk shadows on Death of Me.

The type of music The Datsuns play has a million pretenders, but on Death Rattle Boogie they’re back to reclaim their place as genuine contenders.

this review was first published on FasterLouder


INTERVIEW: Fat Freddy’s Drop



New albums aren’t a common occurrence in the world of Fat Freddy’s Drop. To date there has only been 2005’s debut Based On A True Story, Dr. Boondigga & The Big BW in 2009 plus an EP and live album. Ever since the band first formed around the start of the new millennium the’ve maintained a strong focus on their live shows and subsequently touring has taken up a major part of their time and played a key role in their songwriting process. As the band readies themselves for a brief run of dates in Australia they are also in the middle of recording their next album Blackbird which will take flight in the first part of 2013.

Europe is a key territory for Fat Freddy’s Drop and the region where they have focused most of their international touring. The band recently got back from another tour there which keyboardist Dobie Blaze (Iain Gordon) rates as the most enjoyable one they’ve done in terms of the shows and the personal relationships between band members on the road.

“It was an awesome tour, the best we’ve ever done really. It was a combination of our own shows and festival shows so we had great audiences and lots of beautiful venues. We get on really well on the road, especially with touring being managed so well which is a huge part of everyone getting on. We have an amazing tour manager through Europe and it’s just the way they structure the tour that takes the stress out of it. Everyone is there to do the job so no one gets pissed off. On the tour I don’t think there were any issues so it is nice to come home and feel like it was a success and there is no big drama to deal with when you get back.”

Returning home, in Blaze’s case to Paekakariki just north of Wellington, is a chance to recoup and reunite with family who don’t get the chance to accompany the band on the road, as much as they would like to share the experience with them. “When you get home it is a case of back to reality. As my wife puts it, it takes a little while for me to land,” chuckles Blaze. It’s always wonderful getting back to family so by the end of the tour you can’t wait to get home and the kids can’t wait to open their presents. Life on the road is very different, it’s all go and you get into your routine of bus travel and sleeping when and where you can. There is the luxury of living in hotels and not having to clean up after yourself though. You have to change those bad habits a lot when you get home. It’s great to be able to have those experiences as part of my life though.”

Fat Freddy’s Drop have played Sydney a number of times but this will be their first performance at the Sydney Opera House, as part of the Graphic festival, where they’ll be previewing the forthcoming Blackbird album accompanied by animation and illustrations. It promises to be a special evening as the band combine music and visuals in a venue seen as one of the world’s best. “I’ve got absolutely no idea what to expect from the Opera House so I’m really looking forward to checking out such a legendary and prestigious venue. It feels like we are doing something very grown up and arty,” says Blaze before adding “ I better go and get a new hat from my hat man for the occasion.”

This interview was first published in Drum Media.

Listen to the brand new single Silver And Gold from the forthcoming 2013 Fat Freddy’s Drop album Blackbird: