ALBUM REVIEW: Jessica – The Space Between

JESSICA

THE SPACE BETWEEN

INDEPENDENT (via Bandcamp)

One half of folk-noir duo Jep and Dep (also featuring Darren Cross of Gerling), Jessica’s debut album takes the sound forged from that musical partnership and crafts it into her own ethereal and immersive world. Cross is still on hand as producer and engineer but it’s clear from the outset that this is Jessica’s singular and personal vision.

Devoid of drums, the eleven songs drift and creep along like mist on a moor. Heavily draped in resonant reverb that creates an ambient, cathedral-like atmosphere, the billowing vapour trails hanging heavy in the air, shrouding her songs that explore the themes of death, loss and memory – formed from her experience as a survivor of a mass shooting in Strathfield, NSW when she was seven.

There’s a half-grasped memory quality to many of the songs, buried in a hypnagogic haze, while others such as ‘Womb Tomb’ are lifted skyward and ‘Has It Come To This’ has the DNA of a classic torch song.

Vocally, Beth Gibbons (Portishead), Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins) and Aldous Harding’s early work are clear influences on the way Jessica hauntingly layers her voice. By playing electric guitar, she avoids straight folk and creates more emotionally visceral textures, bringing to mind PJ Harvey and the more elegiac playing of Mick Turner (Dirty Three). Time and the listener’s full attention are essential to fully appreciating the depth and expansive beauty of The Space Between.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Darren Cross – Keeping Up?

Darren Cross returns with a new album called Keeping Up? In recent years he’s explored folk noir with Jep and Dep, his own eclectic solo albums and a pair of instrumental acoustic folk albums under the moniker D.C Cross.

Here he orbits planet Gerling closer than he has since the band split back in in the late 00s. It’s still a totally different musical creature but the synthetic/humanistic/subtly anarchic blend that band explored at times is still rippling through Cross’ DNA.

There’s a cosmic nostalgia at play. Dreamy, fragmentary and hypnagogic in the feelings it portrays and the visage it conjures up, this is Kraftwerk disconnected from their machines and cast into an interstellar dream state. Hi-brow, lo-fi – allowing the machines to wonder and reflect. There’s a sense of suspended reality, a remove from the chaos of reality, pressing pause on the VCR, cleaning the hard drive, looking for a way to process and cope with the avalanche of data we consume and are unwittingly fed with each day.

Drum machines are treated like arhythmic heartbeats, lazily loping along with a melancholic funk in their step. Synths wash and cascade like ultra slo-mo and woozy waterfalls. There’s an overwhelmingly immersive quality to the music. Drug-like, womb-like – that intrinsic memory of holding your breath underwater as a child and feeling at peace in the aquatic cocoon.

Keeping Up? is a battle for optimism in the face of decreasing digital odds. It’s a non-smoking area for mental health and a dystopian glance back at the malaise of the industrial age.

ALBUM REVIEW: Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today

Protomartyr

Ultimate Success Today

Domino

Once more Protomartyr take the four elements of rock ’n’ roll – guitar bass drums and vocals, and twist, caress and mangle them into a new version of the band’s ever-evolving sound. On their fifth album that sound is more urgent, disillusioned and anxious amid the record’s dystopian assessment of modern America.

There’s a desperate, pleading quality to singer Joe Casey’s words and the band complement and elevate his voice perfectly. With thrilling sonic veracity they lay down high velocity, post-punk textures, with balanced amounts of nuance and noise. 

Jazz legend Jameel Moondoc guests on alto sax as well as other horn and cello players. On ‘June 21’ the female voice of Half Waif is a symbiotic foil to Casey’s wearied mantras as they work up a clanging krautrock noise. ‘Processed By The Boys’ documents the insidious creep of authoritarianism, the brilliant rush of ‘Michigan Hammers’ rails against exploitation for financial gain, while closer ‘Worm In Heaven’ is Casey looking back from the other side, contemplating one’s legacy.

There’s a lot to bum out the listener on this record yet musically it’s full of life and life-affirming creative protest. It’s a band finding new and thrilling ways to channel their music and convey their hopes and fears. It’s a full-blooded state of the nation address from the heart and soul.

Christopher Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Khruangbin – Mordechai

Khruangbin

Mordechai

Dead Oceans / Inertia

After a busy few years touring and riding the wave of attention that their last album Con Todo El Mundo brought them, Khruangbin retreated to their Texas studio to begin work on their third album. Earlier this year we got a mixed bag EP with Leon Bridges but that was a stop gap. Mordechai is the band spreading their wings wider and drawing together stronger thematic qualities.

The other noticeable change on Mordechai is that most tracks feature the vocals of bassist Laura Lee Ochoa. Previously they were predominately an instrumental trio but here they’re playing vocally-enriched songs without losing any of that wandering, free-spirited musicality that has defined them. Ochoa’s lyrics are fragmentary in nature, mantra-like and perfectly in keeping with the drift and hypnotism of the music. Thematically, many of the songs deal in the idea of memory – Time (You And I), One To Remember, So We Won’t Forget all deal in the concept of remembering. 

Musically, Ochoa, Mark Speer and drummer DJ Johnson cast their poly-sonic net even wider. From African and Asian guitar funk to Jamaican dub, cosmic jazz to tropical psychedelia, they pull from all manner of pan-global sounds. It’s still a thrilling concoction that sounds otherworldly, eternally infectious and upbeat in spite of its melancholic soul. 

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: RVG – Feral

RVG

Feral

Our Golden Friend/Fire Records

RVG’s new album finds them presenting a fuller sound with even greater depth and clarity in the guitars and the spotlight still firmly on Romy Vager’s declamatory yelp and melancholic musings.

Quality Of Mercy already had the defining ingredients of the RVG sound – The Smiths-like insistency and nimbleness of the rhythm section, those sparkling, chiming and shimmering guitars and Vager’s voice a commanding strident force out in front. What Feral does do is highlight some sharper songwriting with more space and dynamics, in a wider, more sonically detailed sound courtesy of producer Victor Van Vugt. 

You can particularly hear the sound of The Go-Betweens and Echo & The Bunnymen amid the jangly post-punk and garage rock. It’s simple, melodic indie guitar pop but those guitars sound perfect in the way the notes tumble and cascade from the speakers, all frantically free-falling and forlorn. 

I Used To Love You is a heartbreaking ballad par excellence with its ache and swoon perfectly conveyed, while Photograph sends the listener out on a high. Tentative at first, it builds into a glorious rallying cry. On Feral, Vager’s dissection of how it feels to be sidelined and disenfranchised is treated poetically and ultimately there’s a sense of hope and resilience that rises from the near perfect musical backdrop.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – Sideways To New Italy

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Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever
Sideways To New Italy
Ivy League

Since the release of their debut album, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever have traversed the globe, playing numerous headline shows and music festivals. Now those experiences and the associated dizzying dislocation have fed into their second record, a consistently superb collection of songs that matches the hit rate of their debut.

All three singer/guitarist songwriters again contribute songs, managing to stamp their own style and  personalities without bending or breaking the symbiotic jangly guitar rush and heady pop clamour that defines their sound. You get a sense of homesickness – both geographically and emotionally, a searching for place and context after the last few years of the band. 

Joe White’s She’s There and The Only One are love songs, the latter introducing a 80s indie pop sound reminiscent of Prefab Sprout while the former tumbles forth with irresistible guitar riffs. Fran Keaney’s Cars In Space is both urgent and intricate, like The Smiths at their most nimble. Sunglasses At Night imagines itself as a lost You Am I ballad, while the guitars of Not Tonight swoon and dive before the band hits one of their most divine pop choruses to date.

The heady rush of the band’s sound is still intact but there’s an additional sense of wistful reflection and a wider musical palette on Sideways To New Italy that takes their sound to even greater heights. 

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Underground Lovers – A Left Turn

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Underground Lovers
A Left Turn
Rubber Records
★★★★

Underground Lovers are back with their ninth studio album, their third since they reactivated after a hiatus through the first decade of the 21st century. That return showed they were still in fine form with their blend of psychedelic indie rock and electronica and they’ve again produced a strong album that brings those elements together in perfect hypnotic harmony.

Their last album Staring At You Staring At Me focused on the guitar sound of the band, giving it more of a rock feel. This time around they’ve ushered their electronic explorations back into the fold, placing the album close to the work they produced on Cold Feeling at the end of the ‘90s. 

Early on, Bells sets the psych controls for the heart of the mind and just as viably, the dance floor, with its droning Krautrock sprawling across more than six wonderful minutes. They have the ability – like Spiritualized and Wooden Shjips, to find the sweet spot of a groove and ride it endlessly. Hooky ups the rock ante yet still in a warm embrace with the melodies of Glenn Bennie’s guitar and Vincent Giarrusso’s vocal incantations.

Shoegaze has always been another mainstay of the band’s sound and on Dunes and Lusher, Philippa Nihill sounds like a dream sister to My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins as the music shimmers, glows and gently shudders behind her. The single Seven Day Weekend is anthemic in its drum machine-powered rhythm and distorted see-saw guitars as Giarrusso trips out in full Shaun Ryder mode on the ode to carefree socialising. 

By the time we reach the conclusion of the epic nine minute closer Rocky Endings, there’s a sense of post-rollercoaster exhilaration in the wake of the album’s propulsive peaks and floating valleys. The song winds its wistful way for four minutes before taking off into the stratosphere on an interstellar space-rock mission of chiming guitars, pulsing bass and metronomic drumming that billows and expands gorgeously. A Left Turn is another sonic gem from one of Australia’s psychedelic finest.

Chris Familton

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Refused – War Music

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Refused
War Music
Spinefarm/Search and Destroy
★★★½

With the band’s split in 1998, it took 14 years for them to spread their various music wings (including the excellent International Noise Conspiracy) and re-set their personal lives before reconvening for live shows and then delivering the strong comeback album Freedom in 2015. It showed they were still vital and able to conjure up fire-in-the-belly forward thinking heavy music. 

War Music solidifies the band’s return to active duty but it’s a more refined and compact take on the modern rock album. Trimmed of any excess, it rips and roars across ten songs in 35 minutes. There’s little diversion into synth interludes or overly prog workouts. Instead it keeps things locked tightly around the precise and knotty guitar riffs and that rhythm section that still kicks and drives with metronomic muscle.

Not everything works though. Malfire swaps intensity for more melodic commercial rock shapes and it just sounds overplayed. Likewise the punk-pop melody of the chorus in I Wanna Watch The World Burn. The second half of the album is where they really find their feet, Turn The Cross tumbles violently with tangled breakneck playing from all band members. It sounds truly thrilling, a band on knife edge, right on the lip of the wave. They follow that with Damaged II, a song that would fit on any Rage Against The Machine album. When they re-enter the maelstrom after coming to a halt momentarily it’s like the swing of a sledgehammer. The Infamous Left is an exercise in old school thrash metal before the band closes the album out with the stomp and swagger of Economy Of Death.

The themes of War Music are still the same with Dennis Lyxzén howling and screaming about protest, struggle, revolution and inequality. With Refused it’s the sound though. That hurricane of distortion. militant rhythms and the combination of primal physicality and intelligent application in the band’s intoxicating noise.

Chris Familton