ALBUM REVIEW: Wooden Shjips | Back To Land

wooden-shjips-back-to-landRating8Wooden Shjips have been mining the same rich vein of droning, psychedelic space rock over three albums and a couple of compilations yet here, on their fourth, they show no signs of going stale as they slyly inject subtle variations into their tried and true style.

If Back To Land has anything to differentiate itself from previous releases it is in the looser and lighter feel to many of the songs. The quartet still find those grooves and riffs, lock them in and bleed them dry but now they don’t sound as leaden and dense as much of their previous work. These Shadows is a prime example with its breezy swing while Ruins is positively upbeat and frisky with a skip in its stride.

Wooden Shjips are a band still built on the success of their instrumental chemistry. Ripley Johnson’s vocals are by no means superfluous but they continue to act as another melodic layer. His words are incidental and for the most part their meaning and what he is actually saying is clouded and hazy in the mix and his delivery. The clever yet simple effect of his voice is that it distracts or leads the listener away from those spiraling, interstellar guitar lines and the insistent, repetitive rhythmic mantras making those instrumental features all the more rewarding when the spotlight returns to them.

The absolute highlight of Back To Land and possibly the best song the band have recorded is Everybody Knows. It’s a song that recreates the slacker fuzz of Dinosaur Jr and marries it to a gorgeous repeating keyboard line. It’s one of those songs that feels like it could and should go on forever with a melancholic vibe that sounds both sunny and sad at the same time. There is a dreamy quality to ‘Everybody Knows’ and it is that feel that permeates the whole album and makes it such an absorbing and hypnotic treat.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on FasterLouder



ALBUM REVIEW: T54 | In Brush Park

Rating7.5square-600-3Noisy psych guitar pop is in abundance in New Zealand at the moment and the cream of the crop like Popstrangers, Surf City and these fine gentlemen, T54, are improving with each new release. Flying Nun is a natural home for the band as they deal equally and unassumingly in melody and adventurous sonics, soaking up the influence of their predecessors like 3Ds, JPS Experience and Loves Ugly Children while still carving out their own sound.

In Brush Park is the band’s debut full-length release and a very assured and mature-sounding one at that. There is little impression of them still still trying to find their feet stylistically, they’ve already arrived at it with woozy, chiming guitars alternating between beauty (O Nina) and coruscating attack like the dissonant Return Of The Worm and the punky SW Chops. Joe Sampson’s vocals add texture more than meaning in the context of the album. It drifts in and out of the frame adding angst, yelps and counter-melodies to the guitars and economical drumming.

Brutally efficient, In Brush Park only just hits the 30 minute mark yet it feels like a full and often overflowing album with more than enough swerves and variation to show the full range of T54’s writing and playing abilities. Its strength also lies in its toughness, its lack of soft indie shoe-gazing best exemplified by Biscuit City Sisters epic 7 minutes of driving krautrock that closes the album, the crowning glory of a very, impressive guitar rock record.

 Chris Familton

this review was first published on


ALBUM REVIEW: Surf City | We Knew It Was Not Going To Be Like This

Rating7square-600-1Three years after their debut album, Surf City return with another batch of songs that maintain the dense, opulent melodies and archetypal kiwi indie sonics but now built around a more confident compositional core.

From the outset the band fall straight back into the deep end of their hooky, slacker vocal delivery with oohs and doo doos aplenty. Their songs are deceptively simple, based around a central catchy melody while the rest of the band chugs along slack-jawed and with a casual swing. The ever present aura of krautrock has always hovered around Surf City and they bring it to the fore on Song From a Short Lived TV Series. The rhythm section pulses along before the repetitive tension is released and chiming guitar riffs bring a cascade of light and colour to the song. It’s the strongest track on the album and though others like NYC follow its template they’re imitations of the paler shade.

No Place To Go dials back the wash of gentle psych and takes the more direct route with its sugary pop feel reminiscent of 90s countrymen Garageland. Similarly stripped back (sonically and thematically) is I Want You, a 60s boy/girl pop song with no pretensions to be anything else. It shows how effectively Surf City can do honest, straightforward pop as well as immersive psychedelic excursions like the Television-esque album closer What Gets Me By.

Surf City have widened their oeuvre on We Knew It Was Not Going To Be Like This and show their willingness to explore new areas of their songwriting capabilities. For the most part they nail it save for some distracting, unresolved noodling at a couple of points. Firmly part of the current wave of NZ acts like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Opossom and Popstrangers, Surf City continue to breathe new life into combinations of older musical forms.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on FasterLouder


ALBUM REVIEW: The Ape | The Ape

Rating7square-600-2Tex Perkins sure knows how to draw a gang of musicians together for each new band and project he convenes. From Beasts of Bourbon to The Cruel Sea, Tex, Don and Charlie to TNT, Perkins has always surrounded by some of the best players on the Australian rock scene and here, as The Ape, he’s joined forces with Raul Sanchez (Magic Dirt), Pat Bourke (Dallas Crane) and Gus Agars (The Dark Horses) with impressive results.

The Ape for the most part keep things primal with a strong emphasis on groove and rhythm. From the brutal riffs and barked vocals of album opener Man On A Mission to the slithering, pulsing dark funk of All The Same, they sound like a band built on the sum of their parts and relatively fat free at that. The economy of the music gives it a fresh and raw feel and something of a stylistic middle ground for Perkins’ music where you can hear the strains of The Cruel Sea and the distant swaggering echo of Beasts of Bourbon in equal doses.

Some of the best moments come when the quartet drop the bravado and the tempos and mess with their sound a bit. The instrumental Monkey in the Kitchen gets all psychedelic snake charmer over tripping, tumbling drums, while closer Can’t Feel A Thing is a Lanegan-esque slow-burner that gently swells into a wonderful miasma of intertwined instruments before ending way too soon. All of Us is another that eschews the ballsy rock vibe and finds Perkins singing a touching pop melody, stripped off his prowling rock-isms.

The Ape is a bone fide album with plenty of rock shapes but also some tantalising diversions into the shadows where the band are clearly stretching themselves to see where the music might take them. For the most part those instincts are on the money, setting up The Ape up as a collaborative unit with the songs, sound and nous to more than justify their continued existence.

Chris Familton

this review was first publish on FasterLouder


ALBUM REVIEW: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds | Live From KCRW

Rating8.5square-600This is Cave and cohorts fourth live album, capturing them at in interesting junction in their career with Grinderman running its course, Push The Sky Away being the first album to not include founding member Mick Harvey and unlike some of its more varied predecessors it is for the most part considered and restrained in its delivery. Live from KCRW continues that mood, even when it includes seminal Bad Seeds tracks like Mercy Seat, here stripped of its bombast and imbued with creeping dread and angst. Remarkably the intensity remains just as gripping, with added ache and sorrow courtesy primarily of Warren Ellis’ violin.

All four of the Push The Sky Away songs are the real highlights of the set. Higgs Boson Blues sets the scene with nine minutes of funereal, pulsing gothic blues, laced with line after line of Cave’s finest lyrics. Wide Lovely Eyes sticks closely to the album version with its gospel feel and rhythmic industrial chug while Mermaids is a warmer and improved rendition with the addition of a magical distortion-drenched guitar solo rumbling and groaning through the latter sections.

Not everything works as well as the most recent songs with And No More Shall We Part sounding forced and not quite in the band’s grasp. The session winds up with a comical introduction to Jack The Ripper, the band hamming it up teaching pianist Cave the chords before he commands Jim Sclavunos to “hammer it Jim” and the the sonic bar brawl of a song kicks into life. As live albums go this sounds fantastic and it feels like a celebration of the rarefied air the band are currently working in.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music


LIVE REVIEW: METZ @ Goodgod Small Club, Sydney (05/12/13)


Batpiss kicked things off with a blistering set of punk rock riffs and barked/screamed vocals with rhythmic deviations and a melodic interplay between the guitar and bass elevating them above generic thrashers. One song dropped the BPM considerably, for part of it at least, with the resultant dark and doomy groove sounding like Earth and a sign that the band can match their live intensity and tight delivery with interesting dynamics.

TV Colours haven’t been around long yet they’ve quickly risen from underground acclaim to poking their noses over the barricades with their album Purple Skies, Toxic River starting to appear in end-of-year best-of lists. From what started as a one-man project, the full band showed they can deliver the music with a real confidence and they delivered a damn impressive set. From the uber-anthem Beverly to songs that started in one stylistic dimension and ended up in another they nailed the sonic and emotive desperation of the album with ease. The quartet mined Husker Du and Sonic Youth, Thin Lizzy riffs, new wave and post punk anxiety and jerky neurosis with frontman Robin Mukerjee leading the charge and from the audience enthusiasm it felt like we’d all witnessed an important moment in the rising star of TV Colours.

That left METZ with work to do if they wanted to claim headline honours and the relentlessly touring Canadian trio rose to the occasion superbly. A few songs into their industrial hardcore onslaught the Goodgod pit started building up momentum with bodies careening into one another in response to the band’s physical and deafening performance. There were old songs, sneak peaks of new songs, a cover of The Damned’s Neat, Neat Neat and a healthy slab of their self-titled album played. As a unit METZ are brutally tight and they never let up. The only hiccup of their set was a power outage onstage which momentarily halted their momentum. It mattered little though and seemed to galvanise band and punters to push even harder. They finished with an extended version of Wet Blanket that was the perfect summation of METZ as a live experience with sweat soaked musicians, neck-bulging screams, a pulverising rhythm section in full flight and audience members overflowing onto the stage and being lifted high into the lights and mirror ball on the ceiling with joyful exuberance.

Chris Familton

This review was first published in The Music

ALBUM REVIEW: Machine Translations | The Bright Door

J Walker returns with a new collection of dreamy and inventive songs that simultaneously serenade and gently challenge the listener.

square-600-4Rating7.5Ostensibly the solo project of J Walker, Machine Translations is now eight albums deep in a discography that has proven to be one overflowing with inventiveness, creativity and in many cases unassuming genius. Walker is one of those musicians who flies under the mainstream radar yet in musical circles his work is held in great esteem. This might be a dilemma for some yet one gets the sense from his self-assured songwriting and the feeling of contentment emanating from the speakers that he isn’t one hellbent on nailing himself to the cross of the triple j Hottest 100. The Bright Door continues in the vein of his previous work with a plethora of slow-revealing moments of beauty and delicate refrains.

This is an album that requires attentiveness and focus from the listener. Play it in the background at your own peril as it will waft away leaving little sonic imprint. Each song is a vignette with carefully placed melodies, diverse percussion and a variety of string and woodwind instruments. Its intimacy and the way the songs gently reveal their hooks are the triumph of The Bright Door. From the repetitive gossamer piano drone of Applecore to the circling guitar shapes of Anne and the gentle chug of You Can’t Give It Back Walker’s secret weapon is weaving those threads of repetition into the songs without the listener consciously hearing them or tiring from their effect. The result is an album that has a dreamy, hypnotic nature, both light on the ear and heavy on the heart at the same time.

Walker sits comfortably amongst peers like Sparklehorse, Califone, The Notwist, Deus and even Beck in his most meditative moments – all acts that excel in deconstructing popular song and re-imagining it with a romantic and melancholic emotive streak in the context of post rock, folk and gentle psychedelia. The Bright Door is a wonderfully rich and immersive album and a reminder that out past the trends and popularity contests there are still songwriters like J Walker trawling the deep waters of creativity.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on FasterLouder

LIVE REVIEW: ARIA Week Showcase: Bad//Dreems… @ Upstairs Beresford, Sydney (27/11/13)

DS Featured Imageariadreems

Bad//Dreems nearly didn’t make it up from Adelaide due to cancelled flights. Thankfully they did as they provided the most rock n roll and adventurous moments of the night. The four-piece showed why they have deservedly been 2013’s most exciting new proponents of melodic Australian guitar music. Songs like Caroline, Hoping For, Too Old and Chills were given a more caustic and anxious edge on-stage as singer Ben Marwe, paced and grimaced and Alex Cameron wrestled and coaxed those hookladen riffs from his guitar. Big things are expected of Bad//Dreems.

Bandito Folk were in many ways the anthesis of the openers with their delicate indie-lite guitar songs and choirboy vocals. There were shades of Augie March and Art of Fighting about them minus the dark themes and emotional connectivity those bands nailed so well. Singer Josh Tuck is the centrepiece of the band, his voice soaring in a Laurel Canyon meets Jeff Buckley fashion. The band needs a few hearts broken before they find their best songs but the base elements of a talented and marketable band are there.

She-Rex were the real misfits of the night, in a complimentary sense. Their big fun, big sound and big confident performance seemed to win over many in the audience. With a sound that combines funk, super-sized rock riffs and hip hop, all with a strange left of centre vibe to it, they set about doing everything they could to make an impression. Singer/rapper Nikkita Rast, shimmied and gyrated her way through the set, spitting out MIA styled rhymes which were superbly delivered but often lacked lyrical substance.

Sons of The East upped the indie folk quota with their banjo/guitar/keys sound, throwing in some didgeridoo, harmonica and a Lana del Rey (Summertime Sadness) cover that instigated an audience singalong. Jack Rollins’ voice is a special one, a mixture of raspy growl and sweet croon – the deal-breaker amid the fairly narrow stomp and strum modern folk sound they have.

The night of up and coming talent was rounded out by Sydney band Castlecomer. The tightest band of the night and owners of the most comprehensive sound that took in smooth pop and MOR rock, they delivered it in a fun and unpretentious manner. They were a reminder that generally the ARIAs are all about commercial recognition and achievement rather than critical acclaim (Bad//Dreems were the dark horse) and this evening was a showcase of some bands that could very well be the next generation of Australian chart toppers.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music