NEW MUSIC: Wine Flies – Business

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Some wonderfully weird-pop here courtesy of Wine Flies, the solo project of Swedish musician Henrik Lennartsson. It hits that same spaced-out, fever dream vibe of John Maus and Ariel Pink with a warped, lo-fi production aesthetic that accentuates the haunted feel of the music.

“Business was the result of me, merely improvising keys over a beat. I never know what I’m gonna get, since I don’t write the songs beforehand. I’m not at all classically trained in any form, I always just play whatever chords or notes I know until I get something that sounds alright (at least to me). My biggest inspiration is all the bad/boring music I’ve ever heard, because it makes me feel absolutely no pressure what so ever. I simply aim to create something listenable, preferably a hit, but mostly just barely okay. I’m basically just trying to have fun with it, because why not? 

I’d say that my fuel/drive in all of this comes down to the concept of irony. It completely destroyed me as a person, when it first hit me as a younger man, but it is also now the thing that makes me sane and keeps me going, because life is ridiculous, and so am I.“

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Damien Jurado – The Horizon Just Laughed

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The Horizon Just Laughed comes on the back of the loosely thematic trilogy of albums he recorded with producer and musician Andrew Swift. They were psychedelic in nature though still rooted in the folk form. In contrast, this feels like a retreat from the density and experimentation, to a place of reflection and solitude.

Jurado is often lumped in with songwriters like Phosphorescent, Sam Beam of Iron and Wine and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and on Over Rainbows And Rainier he certainly shares a rustic minimalism with the latter. There’s a plaintive mood across most of these songs, a gentle grandeur and a tender sway. The lyrics are introspective, dealing in character observations (six of the eleven song titles are names) and vignettes that reference fires and ghosts, dreams and Charles Schulz – skilfully shifting from literal to impressionistic storytelling and back.

Allocate is the album’s scene-setter, a dreamy, string-enhanced soulful meander that recalls Jurado’s starker early work. It’s followed by Dear Thomas Wolfe which highlights his seemingly endless ability to effortlessly weave beautiful, understated melodies. Marvin Kaplan introduces a sweet Tropicália via Laurel Canyon shuffle that lifts the album’s heart rate and recalls some of the work of Devendra Banhart, while Florence-Jean is catchy Sixties pop and closer Random Fearless adds some of CSN’s looser moments to the mix. Another gem from this consistent and inventive songwriter. 

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Kyle Craft – Full Circle Nightmare

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This is Kyle Craft’s second album; his first set a high bar with its songs of underground heroes and misfits and now he’s taken that momentum and set one dizzying and rambunctious musical snowball in motion.

Craft is still mining the same stories he relishes and excels at, singing of junkies and angels, late night bars, existential crises and the overwhelming worlds of love and lust. He packs a plethora of words into his songs like a pop-up jack-in-the-box, rhyming couplets and lyrics tumbling out with unabashed emotion and enthusiasm as he swings from sweet crooning to bluesy howls. The deal breaker is his voice which serves as the perfect delivery method for his voluminous tales. There’s more than a touch of Dylan-esque fantastical imagery, stream of consciousness and kaleidoscopic word association that allows his rock ’n’ roll songs to embrace psych-pop and country soul – like Syd Barrett dancing with The Band.

Heartbreak Junky finds the best balance between frantic musical rush and measured poeticism while Belmont (One Trick Pony) comes off as a cross between Jack White and Jet. “Stranded down on Silver St, just throwing bottles at the Delta Queen” is one of many fine lines on Slick & Delta Queen as Craft paints his compelling vignettes. It sums up the wild streak of creativity that Craft is riding for all its worth on Full Circle Nightmare.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Mere Women – Big Skies

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Album number three for this Sydney quartet (previously a trio). The addition of bass guitar adds another layer of rhythm and movement to their sound as they tackle the experiences of women over different generations via their dark and swirling post punk.

It can be a claustrophobic listen at times, the guitar acting like mesh and gauze with its washes of distortion and clanging reverb, while Amy Wilson sings in a stentorian manner, the obvious comparison being a tougher Siouxsie Sioux shapeshifting with the fluidity of Warpaint. Drive and Numb are two highpoint on a very strong album that manages to simultaneously sound sweeping and intimate.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1

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Moon Duo return with the first of two albums they plan to release in 2017, with both volumes rooted in balanced and oppositional ideas and textures. The conceptual approach of the double album is, in their words “an intricately woven hymn to the invisible structures found in the cycle of seasons and the journey of day into night, dark into light.” That Yin Yang format won’t of course make complete sense until Vol. 2 is released later in the year but for now you can be assured that Moon Duo are still doing what they do best – laying down dense, surging and grinding psych rock rhythms.

Their music is always one of perpetual motion and since their first releases, which were dominated by a colder and more mechanical mood, they’ve slowly evolved to find a unique common ground between machine-like repetition, Sanae Yamada’s kosmiche synth washes and melodies and the free-spirited guitar explorations courtesy of Ripley Johnson.

On Occult Architecture Vol. 1, the term primitive futurism keeps coming to mind. The pair conjure up images of mysterious shadowy figures, druids, shamanistic rituals and pagan mysticism with their obfuscated lyrics and general dark tones and textures. They also invoke the spirit of astral travel and space travel, their songs often resembling a object hurtling through space and free of any earthly restraint. There’s a certain cyber quality to the shape and relentless drive of Moon Duo, albeit infused with human emotions – both good and bad.

‘Cold Fear’ induces just that – a queasy feeling of unease which makes it a less aggressive descendent of Suicide’s experiments at putting their audiences in a state of discomfort. ”Cross Town Fade’ is a curious blend of a tranced-out Sigue Sigue Sputnik stuck in a glam boogie vortex while ‘Will Of The Devil’ spins on an axis of insistent drumming with a yearning, melancholic synth melody sounding like a lost transmission from the point where Joy Division became New Order.

The album closer ‘White Rose’ emerges from the dark mist into a more optimistic world, one built on a perfect Krautrock rhythm and Johnson’s guitar sounding like a demonstrative insect buzzing and demanding to be heard. The glorious drone rolls on for ten minutes, onward and upward toward the light and presumably its spring/summer-centric sibling album.

It’s a fascinating journey, with or without the overarching concept, and reinforces the ability of Moon Duo to create music that is both sonically straightjacketed, endlessly immersive and without visible horizons.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: Ghost Wave – Radio Norfolk

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Three years on from their debut Ages, Ghost Wave sound a wholly more authentic and lived-in proposition. Ages sounded like the sum of its influences (UK indie, Krautrock, NZ 80s alt-guitar pop) and they mastered them exceedingly well, but Radio Norfolk takes those sounds further and deeper, co-mingling and cross-pollinating with more sonic grit and subtlety.

Psychedelia has permeated music strongly in recent years, much of it centring on garage rock and folk music. Ghost Wave take the elements of trippiness and narcotic haze to a rhythmic and repetitive place. There is a stoned danceability to much of the album where the bass and the drums provide the movement and drive of the music. It can be uplifting and bright (‘Honey Punch’, ‘Don’t Ask Me’), snaking and smoky (‘Blues Signal ’79’) or insistent and pulsing (‘Snow Cone Descent’). That combination of moods creates a wonderful flow to the album akin to both the predictability and variability of rolling ocean swells or a road trip through hills, valleys and plains.

Producer Sonic Boom (Spaceman 3) has tied together the band’s sound superbly, It never descends into dreary drone from a lack of ideas or noise for noise sake. The balance is there and a surprisingly rich batch of melodies rise to surface on repeat listens. The xylophone on ‘Spaceman’, the range of effects applied to the guitar lines and Matthew Paul’s incantations and vowel bending vocals are all elements used to add shape and colour to the songs.

Radio Norfolk is kaleidoscopic in nature and psychedelic by design yet never at the expense of the song at the heart of each track. That balance of vision defines what is an exemplary and timeless take on hypnotic rock music.

Chris Familton

SONIC KICKS: Show Me Where It Hurts

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Show Me Where It Hurts are a Rhodes electric piano, drums and vocals duo from Auckland, New Zealand. Both musicians have been key players on the Auckland scene for the last two decades with Josh Hetherington fronting Thorazine Shuffle and Ronny Haynes drumming with bands such as Pash and Fagan And The People.

The pair have just released their debut self-titled EP (stream/buy below) which follows their 2014 7″ single ‘Show Me Where It Hurts’/’All I Ever Need’ (included on the EP). This time around they’ve built on the one-two punch of the drums/Rhodes combination, adding harmonies, guitars, percussion and keys to the mix with players such as Salon Kingsadore’s Hayden Sinclair on bass, Tom Rodwell (‘Sheffield’s answer to Lightnin’ Hopkins’: NME) on guitar, legendary double bassist Peter Scott, Finn Scholes (Carnivorous Plant Society) on trumpet, and Cam Allen on baritone sax. The results are a richer, more textured and nuanced set of recordings that drip with sweet soul, humid grooves and Hetherington’s voice which soothes and strains in equally rewarding amounts.

Hetherington – songwriter, singer and the man on the keys in SMWIH – kindly took the time to reminisce, enthuse and wax lyrical about some of the important albums that have shaped his musical life.

The first album I bought…

Kiss – Unmasked (1980)

MI0002326466Not their greatest, but as an eight-year old turned on to Kiss by their Australasian pop smash ‘Shandi’ (and Dynasty’s ‘I Was Made for Lovin’ You’), along with an older friend’s encouragement, and, yeah, the make-up, mystique and all-out cartoonish-ness of the whole thing, then you couldn’t go wrong with a comic book cover, the original line-up – at least in name (there was a notable session player in place of Peter Criss on the drums) – and the pop accessibility of many of the harmony laden, yet still riff-heavy, tunes (many co-written by producer Vini Poncia). It all made for a perfect entry point as far as these ears were concerned, at very formative stage. Their concert at Western Springs (Auckland, NZ), in December 1980, was my first and was also highly formative.

Gene Simmons’ standouts ‘Naked City’ and ‘She’s So European’ are big-ass, pop metal tunes, Paul Stanley’s ‘What Makes the World Go ’Round’ and ‘Tomorrow’ fill the same sort of bill, but it’s the Ace Frehley tunes, ‘Talk to Me’, ‘Torpedo Girl’ and ‘Two Sides of the Coin’ – along with several of his killer solos – which hark bark to the grittier era of their early-mid ’70s oeuvre, and which always stood out to me.

An album that soundtracked a relationship…

Nick Cave – Your Funeral, My Trial (1986)

MI0003093418Your Funeral, My Trial is an album I gave to my wife early in our relationship, and it holds a special place for me. The doomed, world-weary romance and weighty carnival-esque feel of the record, with its heavy Hammond use (often played by Cave), not to mention a song called ‘The Carney’, provided a beautiful, dark and contrapuntal soundtrack to a happy and exciting time, and proved not at all prophetic for us in its foreboding atmosphere (16 years on!).

I love the title track, and the prototypical, Cave-ian ‘Sad Waters’ which features a character called Mary (no less), with hair of gold and lips like cherries (natch!), who seduces the protagonist’s soul, wading the aforementioned waters with her dress up past her knee, turning them into wine under weeping willow trees, whose vines she plaits.

It still makes me want to drink too much vodka.

An album that inspired me to form a band…

Nirvana – Nevermind (1991)

MI0001996061Nevermind showed the way for rock music post its ’80s nadir, I think, tearing back the curtain to reveal the possibilities of combining a vital and uncompromising, underground punk spirit and sound with the ’70s metal and rock ’n’ roll of this teenager guitar player’s high-school years and the high (’60s-based) art-pop and rock of his childhood (early ’80s Beatlemaniac that I was).

Teenage angst had arguably never sounded quite as raw, exciting, honest, vital, uncompromising or as inspiring as this. Inimitable as it was, it was the intent and the perfectly executed, and infectiously simple idea that provided a way forward, when one had otherwise seemed unforthcoming, much in the same way I’m sure punk in the ’70s did for so many young players and bands.

I got in touch with a drummer I knew from primary school who suggested I bring my guitar along to the rehearsal of a group he was playing with, and I joined my first proper band (Thorazine Shuffle).

Albums that reminds me of my high school years…

MI0002960634Led Zeppelin – II (1969), The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed (1969), The Beatles – White Album (1968), The Who – Quadrophenia (1972), David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust (1972), Lou Reed – Transformer (1972), Bob Dylan – Blonde on Blonde (1966), The Clash – London Calling (1980), Elvis Costello – My Aim Is True (1977).

I dug pop radio, too, but as a guitarist and nascent songwriter I was immersed in another era, educating myself (in a certain area, anyway), somewhat out of time and out of step with contemporary mores. But I also loved The Cure – and Licensed to Ill and Appetite for Destruction came along at about the right time, too!

An album I’d love to hear live and played in full…

You Am I – Hourly Daily (1996)

Album330_HDr-363x363I’d love to have caught one of these shows in 2013 with all the live horn and string arrangements, when You Am I performed the album and Hi Fi Way (1995) in their entirety.

Hourly Daily is a beautiful, evocative and poignant record, that makes me feel as sad as it makes me happy. Though I’m not Australian, there’s a spirit, sound, sense of humour and sensitivity to this band and Tim Rogers’ songs – as optimised by their mid 1990s output – which has always appealed to me and to which I really relate – making me wonder if perhaps the suburban New Zealand childhood I experienced wasn’t so different from that of many of our Australian cobbers.

The Triple J documentary on the making of Hourly Daily, which originally aired in the early 2000s, was recently posted at the station’s site, and is a compelling listen, with the multi-tracks revisited, and drum, keyboard, guitar and vocal parts re-examined, soloed, marvelled at and celebrated by the band.

Personal note: Having shared Auckland Big Day Out festival bills on a number of occasions in the 1990s, my then band (Thorazine Shuffle) finally got a chance to share a stage in support, on the night You Am I debuted their new guitarist Davey Lane at Auckland’s Powerstation in 1999.

My favourite album cover art…

The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street  (1972)

MI0000035025‘They’re gonna love it!’ Mick Jagger was quoted as saying upon seeing the design from beat photographer (and subsequent director of infamous Stone’s verité film Cocksucker Blues), Robert Franks. And by they, he meant the kids, legions of them, Stones fans all, who would understand implicitly, in the monochromatic murkiness of the sleeve and the music, this perfect representation of the marriage of art and commerce, music and money, the band and the record.

The front cover isn’t simply the collage of freaks, strongmen, dancing girls, ventriloquists, b-grade movie stars and billiard ball eaters, which it initially appears to be. Rather, it’s a single photograph of a wall covered in postcards, cigarette cards, snaps from a bygone era (covering all of the aforementioned material and a great deal more).

The distinction is important, as interest lies not only specifically in the strangeness of the images themselves, but in the strangeness of the world they represent in the photograph’s entirety, and the unease and loneliness it (and the realisation of its nature) evokes.

As with the album itself – a sprawling yet somehow highly successful, evocative, moving, inspiring and ultimately cohesive (in its whole) exploration of rock ’n’ roll, Gospel, blues, country and Americana – the photograph is greatest as the sum of its parts.

Franks was heralded by none other than King of the Beats, Jack Kerouac himself, who wrote the introduction to the photographer’s iconic collection of photographs, The Americans, first published in 1958. His employment by Mick Jagger was in part testament to the lineage (that bona-fide Beats connection) that his involvement would lend. But it was mostly due to the greatness of his work – Franks clear understanding of, and eye for, the magnitude and unknowingness of his greatest subject matter (in America and Americans), in harmony with the greatness of the singer’s and his band’s own work (and their understanding of their own often overlapping subject matter) – not to mention Jagger’s own impeccable instincts and taste.

The back cover and gatefold spread are balanced with additional Franks images from his ’50s America – a box office showing a Joan Crawford film, a small-town parade of saluting servicemen and civilians, lonely juke joints, a desert road – and augmented with Super 8 stills shot by the photographer of the Stones, surrounded by the decadence of some of the gardens, streets, studios and porno theatres of L.A – Mick, Keith and Charlie, Bobby Keys, Jim Price, Marshall Chess, Mick Taylor, Bill Wyman, a sleeping man (one eye open), an unidentified woman, bystanders, hangers on, mugging for the camera, smiling, pouting but mostly looking bored, yawning, self-conscious – the ennui of the ’70s having well and truly set-in.

‘They’re gonna love it’, and indeed they did. I do, too.

A guilty pleasure album…

Dire Straits – Making Movies (1980)

MI0003515822Another formative album from my childhood, so there’s a strong nostalgic element. That said you can’t really go past the melodrama or whirligig-ery of ‘Tunnel of Love’ for a song.

And how about ‘Romeo and Juliet’? That picked Dobro intro always grabs me, and Mark Knopfler’s film noir, street-wise patter, always impressed me as a kid, too. Come to think of it what am I apologising for? It still impresses me. Plus he plays guitar on Dylan’s Slow Train Coming (another guilty pleasure!)

The last album I bought…

Sly Stone – Listen To The Voices: Sly Stone In The Studio 1965-1970

ListenToTheVoicesSlyA killer collection of often rare, formative-era, Sly Stone produced cuts as Svengali-style producer and hit man.

Tracks include unreleased demos, nuggets and gems from the Family Stone along with songs Sly wrote and produced for artists such as (Nuggets-era) Beau Brummels, Billy Preston, 6IX, Joe Hicks, Little Sister, The French Fries and Sly himself – and many have been excavated and in some instances mixed for the first time for this release, by compilation producer Alec Paleo.

It’s a master class in pop, soul and funk production with heavy signposts along the way telegraphing Sly’s production peak (and personal nadir) in ’71’s dense, claustrophobic, and sometimes downright paranoid There’s a Riot Going On – both his biggest album to that date, and the record which saw the dissolution of the original Family Stone line-up.

Tracks by 6IX, Joe Hicks, Abaco Dream and Sly himself often point the way towards Riot’s infamous and hypnotic, narco-funk minimalism – with tracks often sparsely yet powerfully furnished with early drum machine, direct and extremely up-front bass, harmonica, effected keyboards and guitar, not to mention Sly’s own unique and unselfconscious singing and vocalisms.

Earlier tracks often reflect the more raucous, upbeat R&B and soul of The Family Stone’s earlier breakthrough hits (‘Want to Take You Higher’ and Dance to the Music’) – and the joie-de-vivre of Beau Brummels’ ‘Underdog’, The French Fries’ own ‘Danse a la Musique’ and Sly’s cover of The Kinks’ ‘You Really Got Me’ are infectious and irresistible.

The Paleo’s access to master tapes sees studio banter included on many of these cuts, adding further insight into the fertile, creative and vital period for Sly Stone at the height of his popularity and burgeoning production prowess.

Another, more recent release I’m Just Like You: Sly Stone’s Stone Flower 1969-70 is a more focused look at productions specific to his Stone Flower label, and cuts which more directly point to the iconoclastic minimalism of Riot. Many tracks appear on both compilations and each release is great, though the former offers more surprises and a broader palette, while the latter is also available on vinyl.

The next album I want to buy…

Shayne P. Carter – Offsider

a2976649321_10I can’t wait for Shayne Carter’s new piano-driven album Offsider. In fact I’ve been looking forward to it since I heard about it from Carter’s drummer Gary Sullivan (JPSE, Dimmer) some years ago. So it’s been sometime in the making and on the strength of the first two singles (available to hear at shaynepcarter.bandcamp.com) it’s going to be a cracker!

I’m a fan of Carter from across his career (Double Happys, Straitjacket Fits, Dimmer and solo), and this change of angle in his decision to learn, write and perform on piano promises intriguing new musical possibilities from a true, original and uncompromising composer and writer (and also intrigues and resonates with me in terms of my own, more recent, piano-based approach to writing and performing with Show Me Where It Hurts).

Apocalyptic first single, ‘We Will Rise Again’ is as tense as can be in its foreboding waltz-time verses, and almost overwhelming free-time, feedback- and string-drenched refrains, which it dissolves into repeatedly.

There’s no easing of the tension in second single, ‘I Know Not Where I Stand’ either, where strings, synths and Carter’s strident yet delicate piano line marches in lock step with Sullivan’s four-on-the-floor, bass-drum driven groove, which is punctuated by an ever growing crescendo of driving, swinging brush-strokes predominant on the snare, and Carter’s own anxiety ridden vocals, cushioned occasionally in chorused harmony with himself.

INTERVIEW: Bryan Estepa

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Bryan Estepa has embraced fatherhood, is approaching middle-age, and now, five albums into his solo career, he finds those life events being reflected in his songwriting and approach to the music business. 

On the day of his launch gig for his new album Every Little Thing, Estepa is surprisingly calm, even when having to be interviewed via video in his car as he momentarily escapes parental responsibilities. That lack of rush and stress marks Estepa’s current mindset, which he refers to as “mid-tempo”.

“You know, I am. I’m nearly 40 and have a family and in our mid 20s we seemed to be rushing all the time and now we’ve got it more in balance. That reference seems to reflect my life now. I’m not wanting to be a rock star or feel like I have to have a punk song or a really quick song on my albums. Once I’d recorded them I realised that there aren’t any particularly big sounding songs, there’s a natural flow to the album and I didn’t feel the need to include anything like a specific radio song.”

The big change on Every Little Thing was Estepa’s realisation, after four albums with a full band, that he needed to mix things up and create a different musical headspace to inspire new songs. “This album didn’t exist in my head twelve months ago,” remarks Estepa. “A year ago I made the drastic decision to change my band setup, stripping it back to a trio with the Tempe Two (Dave Keys – bass, Russell Crawford – drums/vocals). After coming home from a successful tour with the larger band, something was telling me to cut it down and make it smaller. I just knew I had to tell two of my best friends that I was stripping the band back. It wasn’t easy but they understood it was for the music and that it will benefit all of us in the long time. I just felt I needed a change after playing as a five piece for ten years. Then the songs rolled along as I wrote to suit the smaller band setup.”

Those songs found Estepa stepping back and also looking inward to assess his own perspectives on life. “It’s a very personal album. I wrote a song for my children on it. My relationship is very similar to a lot of my friends where we’ve been together for a long time, we’re married with kids and it’s examining where we are at this point in our lives and where we’re going. It is introspective without getting too personal, so it is still universal in many ways.”

Recording the album in the sunlit environs of Bondi Pavilion with producer Brendan Gallagher (Karma County, Jimmy Little, Bernie Hayes) “really relaxed everyone and loosened the playing,” says Estepa. “He records a very true sound and has perfect pitch and so that pushed me to get some of the best vocal recordings that I’ve done I think.”

Stylistically Estepa is something of a musical magpie. He’s been pegged as power pop, indie rock and alt-county and though he exhibits strains of all of those genres he also manages to blend a soulfulness and a classically-crafted singer/songwriter feel into his music. That cross-pollination isn’t something that Estepa feels inhibits his career. “From a record label perspective or for iTunes categorisation it might matter but as a songwriter I think it’s good,” he stresses.

“I really love the term Australiana and when I listen to someone like William Crighton it sounds very Australian to me. Not just in the way he’s singing but the atmosphere makes it like a modern day Triffids album in that alt-country sense. I heard rural Victoria when I heard his album and I’ve never been too rural Victoria. The same when I listen to the new Halfway album which was recorded in Nashville but still sounds very Australian. It shows the roots scene here is growing and getting big enough where people are starting to realise we have our own sound and not just copying Nashville,” says Estepa, proudly.

Chris Familton