ALBUM REVIEW: Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect

Rating8protomartyr_the_agent_intellect_1015It’s hard to imagine why Protomartyr aren’t more popular than they are. They’ve already captured their visceral and dystopian post punk sound across two excellent albums. The Agent Intellect continues that fine form and pushes the dynamic even further into primal rhythms with wire-brush screes of guitar and the distinctive disaffected howl and Mark E Smith-styled rant of frontman Joe Casey. The way they sonically blend beautiful and bruised sounds is what makes their music so appealing. It sparks and spits, Casey’s black humour lyrics are both catchy and provocative but above all, in 2015, Protomartyr are a breath of dissonant fresh air.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Queens of the Stone Age, Nine Inch Nails @ Qantas Credit Union Arena, Sydney (06/03/14)

qotsa

Eschewing the trend of recent years for hard rock bands to base their touring around festivals such as Soundwave and to a lesser extent Big Day Out, Josh Homme and Trent Reznor decided they could have more fun and deliver a better show for the fans by teaming up as a double-headed alt-rock tag team and playing ten arena shows across Australasia. Who would play first, would there be a strong crossover appeal for fans of each band, would they collaborate on-stage and which band would reign supreme at kicking out the proverbial jams?

Brody Dalle, (The Distillers, Spinnerette, wife of Homme) hit the stage early at 7pm and set about playing a no-frills, punk rock set featuring old songs and a preview of tracks from her forthcoming solo album. There wasn’t much stage presence happening and the songs did tend to blend into one another with the buzzsaw guitars, pounding drums and Dalle’s Courtney Love-esque raspy snarl of a voice. It was a solid but unimpressive performance that paled in comparison to what came next.

Nine Inch Nails had drawn the short straw on the coin toss to determine the playing order (presuming Reznor would prefer to play last) and after a super quick changeover the lights blacked out and Qantas Credit Union Arena was transformed into a mechanistic cyber disco with Reznor cast as a futuristic Travolta whose job was to overload senses and fuse musical genres.

NIN are of course the sonic limbs of Reznor, such is the large cast of players that have passed through its ranks and tonight he used the band members in different configurations to suit the songs.  Some songs featured live drums, others had pre-preprogrammed loops while the drummer stepped out to play bass with the other two instrumentalists. It really was a huge sound for so few on-stage musicians which was a testament to Reznor’s ability to create mood and dynamics in his music and translate that to the stage with all the tricks and tools of live performance. They opened with A Warm Place before the metallic stomp of Somewhat Damaged really ignited the arena and Reznor and co set about pulling from all corners of their discography, from Pretty Hate Machine up to the recently released Hesitation Marks, a spread of nearly 25 years of music.

The combination of the primarily white, strobing lighting, stark stage set and Reznor’s prowling, bouncing and at times messianic presence gave the performance the intensity he is renowned for, whether it was the industrial or electronic sides of NIN. The nineteen song set did a brilliant job at capturing those two aspects of their sound. From the Giorgio Moroder-ish disco thrum of Copy of A to the monstrous metallic riffing of Wish, Reznor showed what a strange and unique world he has created where dark, subterranean themes are wrapped in the sound of disparate influences such as Ministry and Depeche Mode with fans lapping up it all up with equal verocity.

The peak of the set came with the closing tracks Head Like A Hole, in all its surging, anthemic glory and Hurt, probably Reznor’s finest song and delivered with real passion and intensity. Those qualities defined NIN’s performance and left the rewarded crowd energised and buzzing as they scattered to drinks queues and toilets before Homme and gang swaggered on stage.

There was obviously discussion about each act’s stage setup in order to create contrast between the two as Queens of the Stone Age played in a tight formation in front of colour-matching amps and a giant video screen that rose from the stage to the roof. Immediately the difference between the two acts became apparent. NIN is dystopian, nihilist head music whereas QOTSA is a looser groove, from the hips with bluesy swagger and rock ‘n’ roll nonchalance. Second song in they unleashed the monolithic chopping riff of No One Knows, possibly igniting the biggest cheer of the night. It was a masterful move to play the song so early as from there on in the crowd were in the palm of their hands. The rest of the set showcased last year’s …Like Clockwork album with seven of it’s tracks with If I Had A Tail, I Sat By The Ocean and My God Is The Sun in particular already sounding like established QOTSA classics. A mid-set highlight was Make It Wit Chu, that soulful, falsetto hookworm of a song that had the arena getting their groove on and singing along in full voice as the band stripped the song bare and built it back up into a sexy ramalama rave before poisoning the sweetness with the grinding, flagellating riffs of Sick, Sick, Sick.

Homme was the consummate frontman, solid, composed and hitting the notes and when the music required it, flailing, lurching and tearing solos from his guitar strings. “How the fuck are ya Sydney?” was a favourite laconic phrase and when he introduced the band and their instruments in comic style he gave us “Hi, I’m Joshua, I’m on tequila”, raising a glass to friends and fans.

Opening the encore Homme caressed the keys for the haunting The Vampyre of Time And Memory which stood out amid all the rock bluster before they upped the frenzy with the punk blast of Feel Good Hit Of The Summer complete with Homme chastising the crowd for their sing-along sounding like Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap. A segue into the gloriously deconstructed, disorientating stop-start A Song For The Dead and the audience were left sonically battered and bruised after 3 hours of modern rock from two different acts, both firing on all cylinders. It mattered little that there were no onstage collaborations as NIN and QOTSA made the double headline bill feel like such a special event, making the format an unequivocal winning formula.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on FasterLouder

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Pond | Hobo Rocket

Rating7.5square-600Pond are and forever will be compared to Tame Impala, with whom they share a few members, and yes they both trade in retro-fitted psychedelic rock but dig below the surface and the two bands are clearly circling different planets. On Hobo Rocket they’ve pulled back on the overblown eccentricities  that were generally to their detriment and produced a concise, freewheeling and fun album.

The opening track Whatever Happened To The Million Head Collide manages to reference both Flaming Lips and Wings’ Live and Let Die before Xanman gloriously straightens things up with its glam riffing and big beat. Bolan would be proud. The rest of the record continues to conjure up similarly bold sonic colours yet balances them out with tripped-out psych folk interludes that highlight how aware Pond are of the importance of dynamics, extremes and how to musically interweave them.

Hobo Rocket at first sounds wild, flailing and untethered but on repeated listens the layers begin to peel back and the melodies, riffs and hooks come into often brilliant focus. The best thing about the record is how live and alive it sounds. They play with cacophonous abandon and that is captured in all its glory on an album that celebrates the wild creativity and joyful excesses of rock music.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz

ALBUM REVIEW: Julia Holter | Loud City Song

by Chris Familton

Rating8square-600-6Over the space of a few years Julia Holter has quickly established herself as a composer, songwriter and singer with a special talent for creating sonically exquisite music. Hers is a musical style that channels classical, jazz, folk, electronica and the avant-garde and Loud City Song stands as her most fascinating and fully realised album to date.

There is a feeling akin to stepping into a Lynchian gallery space when you encounter Holter’s music. Its ethereal qualities have seen her labelled as dream pop yet that is only one facet of her sound. Here it is a thread that runs through the songs; odes to and observations of her hometown of Los Angeles, but the real reward is how she takes that musical dreaminess and adds clarity and a real sense of purpose to the compositions. Maxim’s I is a stately percussive track that swells and skips along with both strings and synths coexisting effortlessly while Surrounding Me takes a dark swerve into ideas of fear complete with field recordings, dread-inducing horns and a stylistic nod to Bjork and CocoRosie in the drama of the vocals. Holter’s voice is always controlled, its enunciation often exaggerated with theatrical complexity and it operates as an instrument as effectively as it does as a vehicle for her lyrics. She multi-tracks herself into a playful choir on the single In The Green World and in He’s Running Through My Eyes she serenades with crystalline notes that shimmer and float over the piano beneath.

Loud City Song is a magical record in the sense of its transportive qualities yet it is also engaging, complex and playful. Musically it seamlessly blends experimental and pop forms into an enchanting balance of tradition and futurism.

this review was first published in The Music

REVIEW: Bad//Dreems | Badlands EP

by Chris Familton

Rating8.5square-600-3Mix small town pessimism, youthful optimism, suburban nihilism and a lo-fi aesthetic and you have some of the ingredients that make the essential sound of Bad//Dreems on their superb Badlands EP. The Adelaide natives have been teasing/threatening us for a while now with a string of singles (Chills, Tomorrow Mountain and Caroline) and now those songs plus another trio of equally terrific tracks comprise the EP.

Chills leads things off with its melancholic drunken sway, or perhaps it’s a booze blues hangover feel that permeates the track. The guitar is all chiming and woozy with its sing-song melody that builds up gorgeous layers of sound. It’s a warm, fuzzy and bucolic feel, a soundtrack for reminiscence that works equally well as the backdrop to a summer cruise to the beach. The vibe carries through to Hoping For, the most mature song in the set. There is a desperation and conviction in Ben Marwe’s voice as he sings “I feel like I could change”. There’s that optimism burning a hole in the song. When they hit that chorus and Miles Wilson’s drums pushes the song along with added urgency the whole song lifts into another place altogether.

The lo-fi aesthetic I mentioned earlier is certainly an important one but the band are clever to only use it as a reference, a connector to some semblance of a slacker mood. Sonically the EP is anything but lo-fi, indeed on a song like Home Life that comes across like Violent Soho and Nirvana battling for control over a mosh pit the sound is ferocious and raw but still widescreen and intense. Caroline nails a mid point between that brashness and the hook-laden jangle and riff side of their songwriting. With prominent bass and Marwe’s pleading and shredded vocals it is yet another highpoint.

Tomorrow Mountain sees Bad//Dreems delving into dark and murky territory with Alex Cameron’s heavily reverbed guitar clanging as effectively as it weaves antagonistic and pained post-punk riffs. The track reminds me of the much missed band The Scare and showcases the balance of the band in terms of writing across the emotional spectrum.

Fittingly they leave us where we first found them, back in that love-lost, forlorn, sun damaged, sepia toned state of mind. The guitars continue to casually fire off clusters of notes that bury deep in your memory. The bass sits comfortably between rhythm and melody and much like Lower Plenty’s Hard Rubbish LP (2012) they transport you to that happy/sad place where you feel inside the music rather than just a casual observer. If Bad//Dreems can keep writing songs to this standard their debut LP will be a real treat but in the meantime Badlands is another crucial addition to the canon of classic and quintessentially Australian releases.

Badlands is out now on Mirador Records 

ALBUM REVIEW: Jane’s Addiction | Live In NYC

by Chris Familton

Rating7.5square-600-8Recorded at Terminal 5 in New York in July 2011, Live In NYC marked the release of Jane’s Addiction’s most recent studio album The Great Escape Artist. As with most live albums you are left with a ‘you had to be there’ feeling but as far as aural representations of live shows go this is a dynamic, visceral and sonically engaging recording.

The band naturally lean heavily on many of their biggest songs with all being essentials in the JA canon aside from the lone track from The Great Escape Artist in Irresistible Force (Met The Immovable Object) though that more than stands it ground amid the classics. It shows the band taking their sound and expanding it to widescreen in an epic grandiose fashion, sounding far superior to the album version. Elsewhere Ocean Size is a battering ram of Stephen Perkins’ superb drumming and finds Perry Farrell at his best, pitching his voice high and far into the audience, laced with reverb and delay. He throws in a “come on motherfucker” before Dave Navarro unleashes another of his wah drenched, cosmic shredding solos. For fans Three Days is perhaps the band’s finest moment and here it is a masterclass in the building and release of tension via a glorious rock n roll climax.

The quartet round out the set with their signature song Jane Says, reminding us again of their ability to combine power and restraint, sex and religion, raw emotion and pretension in rock music. This release is really a document for the fans but if anyone asks if Jane’s Addiction are a great live band this will provide the answer.

this review was first published on themusic.com.au

ALBUM REVIEW: Daughn Gibson | Me Moan

by Chris Familton

Rating8square-600-3On his debut album Daughn Gibson painted a fascinating world soundtracked by Americana, electronica and gothic balladry. The artwork for that album was subdued black and white and fittingly, in line with the music within, the cover of Me Moan is a darker themed explosion of pink and purple sexual and religious imagery.

Gibson has taken the basic musical premise of All Hell and expanded it into darker corners with more elaborate composition and instrumentation. He also takes more risks. The most unsettling of these is the way he plays with his vocals, both his phrasing and the effects that at times bury his voice under layers of pitch changes and reverb. On the glitch-laden kraut-goth The Right Signs the words are consumed by the treatments he adds to them making it sound like Depeche Mode on half speed – a strange idea that works surprisingly well. Elsewhere he plays it straight on the excellent You Don’t Fade and instead uses other voices to build a patchwork choir that sounds half human, half synth. Aside from his voice there are a wealth of ideas across the record. The Pisgee Nest in particular possesses a catchy moaning guitar line that conveys emotion as strongly as Gibson’s words.

The general mood of Me Moan places Gibson in the same realm as Jack Ladder, Kirin J Callinan and John Maus. It is partly due to their baritone voices but also their inventive, experimental approach to the cross-pollination of musical styles and a willingness to subvert and challenge the comfort level of the listener without sacrificing the essence of a great song. In the end it is still memorable melodies and rhythms that shine through on this endlessly fascinating album.

this review was first published in Drum Media and on The Music