A recently released single from Brisbane band Silent Feature. ‘Stiff And The Saints’ careens along on pop’ish hooks and some fine indie rock guitar. They’re a tougher take on the sound of The Shins, echoes of country rock bouncing off their walls… power pop too, particularly 90s glam sound that Redd Kross were mining.
They say that it is harder to play music slowly than it is to play it fast. Things fall apart and momentum is lost. In the case of Sydney trio Roadhouses, sedated rock music is their calling card. They deal in drifting, alt-country-imbued, slowcore torch songs where heartache is just a tear away. If you got Lucinda Williams to front Spain, at the Twin Peaks Roadhouse – you’d have a pretty accurate summation of the sound and aesthetic of this album.
Skirts as short as sin, drinks that don’t touch the side – you get the picture of where Yvonne Moxham takes her songs. Late night bars, heartbreak and yearning populate her songs of burgeoning and fracturing relationships. First you’ll be mesmerised by the band’s haunting, atmospheric sound, then drawn in by Moxham’s lyrics that hang heavy in the air. Drummer Cec Condon (Mess Hall) throws inventive rhythms and accents into the mix, like a slow motion Jim White.
‘Black Lights’ throws a subtle curveball into proceedings with its melancholic synths and trip hop drumming that brings to mind Everything But The Girl jamming with Cowboy Junkies. Elsewhere, ‘Heartless’ recalls the haunting minimalism of Low and in ‘Drinkin’’ they conjure up a wonderfully lush, swoon and swell of a sound. Sadness, pain and bruised romance never sounded as good as it does on this excellent debut album.
Protomartyr, Mere Women, Angie @ Oxford At Factory, Sydney Australia. February 16th, 2018
The best gigs are the ones where the creative quality and intensity builds evenly, seemingly at a symbiotic pace with the gathering audience. Angie set the scene with a low key and hypnotic opening set. This was another iteration of her solo incarnation, now fleshed out with drummer and acoustic guitarist. Previously she’s played on her own (Steve Gunn support) and with a full band (Chain & The Gang support). This configuration felt the most suited to her drone infused piano compositions and haunting vocal intonements.
Mere Women mixed a brand new song with tracks from last year’s Big Skies album and a glance back to their 2012 album with Amends. Intense and dramatic sum up the band, with each member locked into their own musical corner, sculpting their own personality and sound. Guitarist Flyn Mckinnirey cut physical shapes with his playing, coaxing out nagging riffs and coruscating wasteland distortion while Amy Wilson pleaded, remonstrated and chanted dark, gothic sounding lyrics over his guitar and the inventive rhythm section.
With tongue in cheek, Protomartyr had said in their interview with The Music that if they didn’t make it to Australia soon that’d be it for the band. With their future now thankfully intact they made sure the audience were well and truly satiated with a set of 18 songs, mostly taken from their last three albums.
Singer Joe Casey is an enigma on stage, looking like a dowdy small-town insurance salesman and sipping from cans of Coors beer he was the perfect irascible foil for the remarkably tight band around him. Drummer Alex Leonard studiously beat out a tapestry of inventive rhythms, Bassist Scott Davidson was in constant motion, bouncing on his toes while flurried fingers urged post-punk and dance grooves from his fretboard. Guitarist Greg Ahee, much like McKinnirey from Mere Women was masterly at shifting between catchy melancholic riffs and scorched-earth punk screes.
Back to Casey though, the star of the show in sound and vision, the perfect balance of belligerent ambivalence and intellectual dissertation. Barking out free-form wordplay one minute, nailing down repeated phrases like “Never gonna lose it” in the encore’s Why Does It Shake? He channelled the ghost of Mark E. Smith and the glorious disdain of David Yow but he’s uniquely his own poet and performer. For those that like their post-punk laced with danceability, wit and wisdom this was an impeccable example of just that.
J Walker returns with his first album in four years and it finds him in an eclectic yet economical mood. The Bright Door (2007) possessed polish and an ornate sheen while Oh replaces that with rougher edges and a subtle shift toward a lower-fi aesthetic.
The opening track Made A Friend sounds like Beck in his melancholic balladeer mode before the first single Parliament Of Spiders (and later, the title-track) veers off into skewed art-pop mode akin to Spoon. It highlights the stronger focus on rhythm and melodies that jump from the speakers with more immediacy. Sola gets even more primal with a Sonic Youth meets Sparklehorse guitar skronk and driving urgency.
Walker has a way of vocally inhabiting his songs in a range of styles, from slacker dispatches to warm songwriter crooning. It shows his magpie approach to writing but even though the styles vary the sonic palette he utilises is cleverly controlled and its elements blended in service to the song, never for the sake of obtuse musical eccentricity. The instrumental Room 17 particularly stands out with its delicate phrasings and Dirty Three-indebted European gypsy sway.
Oh is an endlessly fascinating album, still built on multi-layered creativity but presented in concise and vibrant form.
This is album number two for Darren Cross (Gerling) and Jessica Cassar and it finds them expanding their monochromatic and ethereal world into darker corners where mystery slowly reveals itself and both hope and despair are around every slow bend.
Their debut was clearly a interpretation of folk music but here they use even more swooning strings, piano and billowing reverb to add a ghostly and dreamy warmth to the songs. The pair share lead vocals and counter each other with some wonderfully arranged harmonies that add to the haunting qualities of their music.
On ‘Poor Little Rich Kids’ Cassar’s voice hovers in the aether behind Cross’ closely mic’d vocal. Cassar’s performance on the exquisite ‘Cruel Moon’ is reminiscent of Portishead at their most organic. Her voice is high and keening, pastoral even, when combined with Cross’ finger-picked guitar. It’s one of those sweet-sounding songs that has a dark undercurrent flowing just beneath the surface. Elsewhere, ’Helpless City’ has an ominous quality, like Nick Cave warning of approaching doom from the Bang Bang Bar stage in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.
From rich kids drowning to a captive’s lament, a city’s cultural decline to romance in jeopardy, there’s a gothic sheen to They’veBeenCalled that both soothes and unsettles. Throughout, melodies cascade like slow rain on a window pane and as the closer ‘This Is Not The End’ dissolves into gentle static, the overriding mood that lingers is one of beauty bruised but not vanquished.
Mike Noga has stepped things up and fleshed out his live show with a full band that at times featured a triple guitar approach. The transition from solo performer to band leader mean he’s lost a bit of that Dylan-esque raconteur vibe but one can see where he’s taking it – giving the songs from his 2016 album King a wider palette and greater dynamics. It also allowed him to focus more on singing and imbuing his performance with greater physicality. A bass amp problem threatened to derail things but the band adapted and recovered well.
Spoon had the Metro at near capacity as they sauntered onstage and went straight to songs from the new album Hot Thoughts. The title track and Do I Have To Talk You Into It welcomed a stronger focus on keyboards but also showed how well the band have brought them to the fore in their songs without any great change to the Spoon sound. Space is the key to what Britt Daniels and band do so well. The rhythm section of Jim Eno and Rob Pope are its backbone, whether that was a fractured and (dare I say) funky approach or near-Krautrock/post-punk, dark and driving grooves as the guitars chopped and tangled with retro synth sounds.
Spoon are astute rock deconstructionists, there wasn’t a guitar solo to be found all night, instead it was all about texture and accents, a sort of musical equivalent to pop-art collage if you will. They’re clearly enjoying playing together as a band, jovial and knowing smiles were exchanged regularly, fingers were pointed in recognition of each other’s playing and they found that sweet spot between locking the songs in tight and still sounding free-flowing and completely organic.
Highlights came in the form of a rousing I Saw The Light, the pulsing shimmer and grind of WhisperI’lllistentohearit and I Turn My Camera On, with the crowd fully engaged in a united front of bobbing heads and sung words. Though the second half of the set lost some of the initial rush of energy and conviviality that hung in the air for the first half, they carried it home like returning heroes of the alt-pop variety.
Belles Will Ring + Le Pie + The Wednesday Night @ Factory Floor, March 17th, 2017
Three shades of psychedelia ruled a wet and windy Sydney night as Belles Will Ring triumphantly returned after a five year absence from the stage.
The Wednesday Night recently released their debut LP and through shifting lineup changes have been refining their live show, becoming more nuanced and hypnotic in their sound. Based around Rob Young and Laura Murdoch, the five-piece know how to dig in and work a garage pop groove as expertly as they can psych-out on girl-group vocals and tranced repetition.
Le Pie took the girl-group aesthetic further with her 50s bubblegum look, bathed in pink from her dress to her Stratocaster guitar. From tentative beginnings their set got better and better and when Le Pie sang without her guitar the songs seemed to gain more focus and a stronger connectivity with the audience. Think gauzy, atmospheric psych-lite pop where Mazzy Star meets Dum Dum Girls.
Belles Will Ring seem like a band built on strong personal and musical connections. From the first song they locked in, exchanged self-knowing and happy smiles, lifting the mood of the Factory Floor into the realm of celebration and inspired uninhibited dancing. Aidan Roberts and Liam Judson sit at the core of the band and over the years they’ve honed a symbiotic musical relationship both as singers and guitarists, whether syncing their Byrdsian harmonies or playing riffs that counter and complement each other, almost as if they’re egging each other on to dig deeper and further afield on their instruments. The band are way more muscular and freewheeling on-stage. The songs revel in what sound like tangents but are cleverly composed and arranged space-rock freak-outs as they urge the songs onwards and upwards. The unabashed enthusiasm and energy of the band has been missed on the Sydney scene and their return shows that pop music can be raw, intelligent and layered while still remaining direct and uplifting. Let’s hope the Belles keep ringing.
Margaret Glaspy has had a career-high last 12 months that has seen her go from working long hours to pay New York rent to touring large venues with The Lumineers. She takes Chris Familton through the creation of her debut album and the changes it has brought her.
With so much work going into the writing, recording and producing of Emotions and Math, Glaspy had both high hopes and realistic expectations of how her album would be received by both critics and music fans. “When I was making the record the big success was that it would be finished and I’d get it to where I’d like it. Anything else was going to be the icing on the cake,’ she says humbly. “I take it with a grain of salt in terms of measuring success. I know I’ll probably make some records in my career that others will hate and hopefully they’ll like a few of them too. I can’t take it all too seriously but I’m certainly appreciative.”
Getting to this point, in her late 20s, has meant Glaspy has had plenty of time to develop and refine her songwriting and guitar playing since she first ventured into that world in her late teens.
“That’s evolved quite a bit and changed over time, slowly. I started to write songs when I was 16 or 17 and now I’m 28. I don’t know if that’s a success story or a failure story, but it’s my story,” she laughs. “My love for music has always been very consistent and I think my skill level has changed for sure but when I listen back to snippets of things I recorded back then, I can see what I was going for. I see what I was trying to accomplish. I’m glad I waited a bit longer until I was a more mature artist though.”
The album’s title refers to that conflict or healthy co-existence of emotional and reasoned responses and feelings that we all encounter daily. Glaspy found a way to draw that into her songwriting and it is an omnipresent part of her personality and one she has come to accept.
“It is in everything I do. There’s always some measure of discipline or logic or practice and then there’s the side that just happens. The skills you learn work alongside the natural flow and keep it on track. The reason why the record is called that is that I see it rise in my life a lot. I see both sides of that rage pretty hard all at the same time. I’m very analytical and very emotional and I think they complement each other but sometimes it’s difficult. I’ve always felt I wanted to be either a left or right brain person and label myself as one, but it’s not that simple. Everybody has their own chemistry that makes us special and unique and human.”
Glaspy already has one eye on plans for recording her next album, once this touring cycle concludes in September and it promises to be another stage of her journey as a songwriter. “I’ll never make this record again and I look forward to that and I’m happy about that. My DNA is to evolve and make new things. Our responsibility as artists is to take people someplace and not just leave them in the same place all the time. It’ll be an evolution all the time for me I hope. That’s the goal.”