What Should We Call It? (Naming an Album)

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by Chris Familton

Choosing a name for the collection of songs that you’ve spent hours, days or often years sweating into existence can be a stressful and difficult exercise. There are countless tales of bands leaving it to the last minute with no inkling of what to christen their creative work. There are also many albums where the musician has a theme, concept and a title clearly defined in their mind as they write, or at the very least, record their album; Neil Young’s Greendale being a good example.

Over the years there have been some seminal albums with names that sound as perfectly formed as the music contained within. Of course it can be hard to separate the title from the music much in the same way that a child becomes their name, even if it initially sounded like a ridiculous moniker. Marquee Moon, Raw Power, Meat Is Murder, Nevermind, Loveless, Sweetheart of the Rodeo – they all convey emotion and a visceral connection to the music they are attached to.

Conversely there have been some absolute clunkers attributed to albums regardless of how good the music is. Eric Clapton’s latest Old Sock, Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, Paul McCartney’s Kisses on the Bottom, Coldplay’s Mylo Xyloto and Limp Bizkit’s Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water only scrape the surface of terrible album names that could never be redeemed by the music they grace. One wonders if those around them ever thought to pipe up and say “Excuse me Sir Paul, with all respect do you really think it is a good idea to call your album Kisses on the Bottom?” Maybe the names were all just victims of a bad sense of humour or a tragic pun like Toby Keith’s Shock’n Y’all or Blink 182’s Enema of the State but regardless there is no excuse for sabotaging all that hard work in a few syllables or words.

Often a song title will provide the name of the album. Mostly this is the case, presumably as the chosen song in some way represents the mood or theme of the record or because it is a catchy phrase that will linger in the listener’s mind. Too often acts take the cop-out route and go with their own name – the self-titled syndrome. Perhaps it was John Lydon’s PiL who found the best way to circumvent having to decide on something when they christened their 1986 release – Album.

this piece was first published as an interview sidebar in Drum Media streetpress 

ALBUM REVIEW: Beaches | She Beats

by Chris Familton

square-600-2Rating7.5Melbourne quintet Beaches produce an excellent debut album five years ago that reinforced the continued relevance of creative guitar music. Thankfully the group have again convened to collectively pen a new batch of free-ranging, sonically psych-imbued songs that highlight their ability to compose songs rich in melody across an expansive musical terrain.

In some ways Beaches are an instrumental band. Sure they have vocals on a number of tracks but really they best serve as another layer of notes and melodies to bolster the intertwining guitars and drums around them. The real delight in She Beats is the way they balance the more straightforward jangly guitar pop of songs like Dune, the irrepressible Chills-esque Send Them Way and the Pixies’ surf (alt) rock of Runaway with outstanding psych/drone workouts like ‘Distance’ and Granite Snake. Both songs feature the stellar guest guitar work of krautrock master Michael Rother (Neu!, Harmonia) and both succeed by virtue of the intensive rhythm section and the avoidance of vague noodling, a hallmark of the best space rock.

She Beats is another strong addition to Beaches discography, an album for all seasons via its masterful interpretations of dark and light textures and simply just a great hook-laden psychedelic rock record.

this review was first published on FasterLouder 

ALBUM REVIEW: Fat Freddy’s Drop | Blackbird

by Chris Familton

Rating8square-600Fat Freddy’s Drop don’t rush things with this only their third full length album in 14 years (excluding a pair of live albums). That steady approach is also one of the defining aspects of their sound and their propensity for slowly evolving electronic, soul, dub and funk workouts that equally nurture listener’s limbs and ears. Blackbird is without doubt their most cohesive and rewarding work to date.

The general mood of Blackbird is a darker one. On the surface all the elements of what makes them so unique are present and utilised but they’ve managed to economise the ebb and flow of the new songs and create a sprawling yet finely tuned record. Opener Blackbird uses its near 10 minutes to blend funk inflected soul with a swinging dub bass line and reverb drenched horn section, sounding very similar to compatriots The Black Seeds and taking them closer to the dance floor than they have for a while. They also approach a pop format in the first official single Clean the House which captures a pulsing, vaguely Motown groove allowing the other instruments, in particular the guitar, to paint some wonderful melodic stabs and phrasings. Bones lightens the album considerably with its breezy Spearhead-ish vibe and feels comparatively inconsequential before the squelchy electronica of Soldier heads back to darker dub territory. The last three tracks all exceed seven minutes with Never Moving in particular mixing up a swirling electro-funk quick-step that finds them stretching out further into EDM.

Blackbird is a defining example of rhythm-based musical cross pollination that sounds perfectly natural in the hands of Fat Freddy’s Drop; furthering their exploration of structure, nuance and sonic texture with glorious futuristic results.

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

ALBUM REVIEW: Kirin J Callinan | Embracism

by Chris Familton

square-600-4Rating9Finally the debut solo album from Sydney’s mercurial Kirin J Callinan sees the light of day. As a member of Mercy Arms and subsequent sonic game changer for Jack Ladder he has become a familiar figure on the local music scene. After the disconcerting music clips that preceded it this felt it was going to be a special album and indeed the wait has been worth it for Embracism is one confident and eccentric collection of dark pop songs.

By committing these songs to hard drive Callinan has defined his musical aesthetic and most notably he has been overwhelmingly successful at marrying violent dissonance and the traditional art of songwriting. Over 40 minutes he gives us ballads, cyberpunk, glam rock and austere art pop and it is his and producer Kim Moyes’ ear for succinct arrangements and tight editing that has enabled them to pull it off so seamlessly.

The electro-blues of opener Halo would sit comfortably on a Depeche Mode LP while the title track pushes Callinan’s Australian accent to the foreground amid screaming synth lines and brutally pulsing electronica. Victoria M is one of Embracism’s high points, tempering the intensity with gorgeous, swelling piano and bittersweet baroque pop in the vein of Suede. Elsewhere we get Callinan channeling David Sylvian on Scraps, Bowie on the schizophrenic Chardonnay Sean and Suicide on Way II War.

Callinan leaves us with the sparse and chiming melancholy of Landslide, a showcase for the range and theatricality his voice now possesses and the single Love Delay that builds in fits and starts before exploding into an astounding final act like an intoxicated and radiant LCD Soundsystem in super overdrive. This is an album that promised much and delivers so much more.

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

 

ALBUM REVIEW: The Phoenix Foundation | Fandango

by Chris Familton

Rating8.5phoenix-foundation-fandangoThis feels like the big one for the Wellington sextet, even before it was released there were ads and editorial appearing in international music magazines like Uncut and MOJO and a real sense of coming of age has been in the air. Not that they haven’t already arrived, their preceding albums all contain absolute gems of literate guitar pop (Hitchcock, 40 Years, This Charming Van) that balanced intellect and emotional sway with equal gravity. Fandango takes all that they have created to date, refines it to its key musical elements and spreads it across a gleaming technicolor canvas.

The band have allowed themselves space and time on this record. Time in the sense of tracks being allowed to slowly evolve and morph, settle into mesmerising grooves and atmospheres. Eight of the album’s eleven tracks exceed five minutes and yet only one outstays its welcome. The element of space in their music partners with its loose time parameters in that they’ve enabled themselves the room to carefully compose and arrange the songs beautifully. Notes hang in the air like the shimmering guitar on the opening track Black Mould, an ode to the damp conditions of residential homes in New Zealand. They sound more comfortable at pairing up single instruments like vocals and guitar and only introducing others when the song requires them. This technique allows a song like Modern Rock to gently swell and grow. It feels organic even though its rhythmic krautrock backbone is robotic in nature.

First single The Captain cuts through the hazier wanderings with its direct synth pop approach. It has that nostalgic mood that bands like Ducktails and Destroyer have executed so well in recent years and highlights the subtle funk component of The Phoenix Foundation’s sound that has slowly gained more and more prominence with each album. They cut a similar feel on Evolution Did, taking them further into electronica territory while losing nothing of their own established sound. That ability is always a mark of great musicians and songwriters.

One hallmark of The Phoenix Foundation has always been the lightness or breezy aspect of their music. Here they’ve allowed themselves to also venture into darker, psychedelic places as on Corale with its swirling split personality of gentle psych folk in the first half and then the swirling and ominous kosmiche wig-out in the song’s latter section. They hit a similar spot on Morning Riff but it is presented as a very precise piece of music, almost devoid of emotion but still possessing some weird undercurrent that, combined with the clever melody of the central riff, makes for a real highlight of Fandango.

Surely lined up as a single is Walls with its effervescent, wordless “doo doo doo doo” chorus and The Cure meets The Smiths snatches of guitar making it one of their finest pop moments to date. The album closes with a seventeen minute tracks that shows potential early on but after six minutes it transitions into a rather disjointed patchwork of instrumental moments that ultimately lacks substance and could have easily been omitted from the album. That being said, one can just pretend the records ends at the previous song if they find Friendly Society similarly disappointing.

Fandango is a bold album that takes some risks and makes the vast majority of them successes. It is the sign of a band reaching the apex of their abilities as songwriters and players, harnessing the key qualities of indie, pop, funk, post punk, electronica and krautrock and creating from them the signature sound of The Phoenix Foundation, with gloriously indulgent and yet wholly accessible results.

this review was first published on UnderTheRadar

INTERVIEW: The Antithesis of Escapism – Kirin J Callinan

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It’s a busy time for Sydney’s Kirin J Callinan as he prepares to release his debut album embark on an American tour supporting Ariel Pink. From the streets of New York he gives Chris Familton an insight into his emergence as a solo artist.

Not long into our conversation Kirin J Callinan pauses before painting, with an element of concern in his voice, the picture in front of him as a very drunk girl stumbles down a New York street, struggling to walk and attempts to get into a car. “I hope she doesn’t try to drive or I might have to intervene” he says. Fittingly that is exactly what Callinan has been doing for the last eight years, intervening with musical and stylistic creativity and dissonance as a member of Mercy Arms, Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders and now finally as a solo artist.

Through the various musical vehicles he has chosen to be part of Callinan has always stood out, whether it be his striking physical appearance (a young Sean Penn let loose in a costume shop) or his unique approach to the guitar where for the most part he disregards standard rock forms and deals in texture and nuance. Now on the eve of the release of his debut solo album Embracism Callinan is stepping out from beneath the skirts of other songwriters and baring his own sonic soul where all responsibility, praise and critique will fall on his shoulders.

“I’m excited. It is something that has been very close to me and not many people have been involved with. It’s mainly been Kim (Moyes of The Presets) my producer, just me and him in a room working away on it. Now I’m hearing it with a different set of ears and really looking forward to other people getting to hear it. It’s been a long time coming, at least to me it feels like an eternity. I couldn’t care less if people like it or hate it really, though of course I want them to like it. I’m just excited about being able to let go of it.”

Promotional activities for the album are already in full swing with interviews and a string of shows in Europe and America (supporting Ariel Pink). Being on Chris Taylor’s Terrible Records label no doubt helped secure a Paris support slot with Grizzly Bear (Taylor is the band’s bassist) but it was Callinan’s other French show, a performance at David Lynch’s exclusive Club Silencio nightclub that sounded more akin to his sensibilities.

“It was great to get to Paris where I’d never been. The last time I was in London was with Mercy Arms five years ago and that was a pretty miserable time so to get back there now with a new label over there it was great. I played two shows in London, one was supporting PVT so there were a bunch of Australians and some curious Poms at that one. I also played my own show at a small venue which was full. There were people requesting songs and singing along which is bizarre at the best of times. If you exist on the internet then people find you so it was great. It’s all early days for me overseas and I anticipate I’ll be touring much more for the next fifteen years so this is a good start.”

The starting point for a musicians solo career can take many forms. For some it is a brace of new songs written as an album, signposting a point in time and heralding a new start. For others it is the culmination of their creative work up to that point and though Callinan sees Embracism as a contemporary representation of himself the songs are drawn from a number of different places.

“It is definitely where I am right now but at the same time some of the songs are quite old to me. Playing in bands for a long time, especially not as the primary songwriter, meant I’d built up quite a few of my own songs over the years. Some of those made this record, some will be on the next and some probably on the one after that. Some songs only had lyrics written the day before recording them and we made some things up as we went along. More than anything it is a nice document where I’m at now and what I’ve been through to get to here.”

That stepping off point into a solo career can also be a daunting one as the safety in numbers aspect of playing in a band is stripped away, especially when the artist becomes the sole performer on stage. In Callinan’s case he isn’t beholden to any one live configuration in which his music is presented but at the same time the attraction of and enjoyment he gets from playing in a band is still a real attraction.

“The solo thing really started out as a thing to do in my spare time, writing and recording at home and then I started to do the occasional show. It has never really had a lot of pressure which has allowed it to gestate and grow in an organic way and hopefully people sense that when they hear the record or see a show. It comes from a personal place. I love playing in a band, I love playing in Jack Ladder. I’ve been trying to incorporate a band into my solo live thing, that’s something I’m still working out. All these recent solo shows I’ve been playing the newer songs from the record by myself, with drum machines and samples. I feel I haven’t lost anything by doing it solo. If I get the band right it will be a step up but there is something engaging and exciting about playing solo as well. I don’t plan to ever play exclusively with a band or solo. There are pros and cons to both.”

What will surprise those who have preconceived ideas about Callinan from his confronting videos and reports of staged interruptions at his shows is the accessibility of the music on his album. Sure it is full of visceral twists and turns but it never cuts the umbilical cord to traditional songwriting.

“It is a balancing act between the two and one without the other wouldn’t be as strong. That’s what my solo shows have really been from the beginning, more of the traditional balladry but then some have just been instrumental ideas or violent noise. I wanted to bring them up to more focused ideas and pieces. One without the other would be way less interesting. The form of the album was on my mind from the beginning, how to incorporate these different styles, influences and sentiments and still make it a cohesive record. For the most part we got there with a nice flow of peaks and troughs, some really high and some really low.”

Embracism as an album heralds the coming out of Callinan as a singer. His voice carries a strong and emotive weight inhabited by the spirit of Bowie, David Sylvian and as he readily admits – Scott Walker. Finding that voice has been a process of slow evolution, allowing Callinan to develop his own style and with that a confidence in his ability.

“That is something that has evolved over the years. I never thought of myself as a singer, I was very self-conscious about my voice and lyrics. I was hearing people like Scott Walker and David Sylvian in Japan and they validated how I heard my voice, especially when Walker’s The Drift came out when I was 20 years old or so. I didn’t think anyone would want to hear a voice like mine and maybe not many people do but that helped me feel less self-conscious. This is the first time where it is all my voice, my songs and lyrics and I’m looking forward to where I can take it from here.”

The confidence that Callinan exudes in his music and visual image comes from his desire to create art that will cause a reaction, good or bad, big or small. Some have interpreted Callinan’s performances, image and videos as courting publicity or leaning on ideas of shocking the audience and though that isn’t his intention Callinan doesn’t shy away from the notion of any publicity being good publicity.

“Asking questions is important to me. What is good, what is terrible, is this exciting or boring. I don’t set out to be abrasive or controversial but if people hate it that can be good too. You draw a line in the sand and see who crosses it.”

That of course all ties into the title of the album which among other things is defined as the non-cynical act of change. Callinan accepts that as one of a number of meanings that fit with the themes and intentions of the record.

“It came about before we had lyrics for the song of the same name. Kim and I had the instrumental and the name just happened, it presented itself and looking it up we found it isn’t technically part of the English language. The antithesis of escapism is what I think is a broader idea of both the album and my shows. It isn’t washed-out dreamy nothingness, it is hopefully engaging and asks a few questions. The opposite of escapism – embracism.”

this review was first published in Drum Media and on themusic.com.au

A Song From Every Album In My Vinyl Collection

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One of the joys of visiting someone who has a record collection is flicking through the sleeves, finding gems and long forgotten memories and getting a snapshot of that person through the music they’ve collected either over their lifetime or during a specific time in their life. I’ve been collecting vinyl since I first bought Billy Idol’s Rebel Yell in 1983 and for the most part (aside from brief infatuations with cassettes and CDs) I’ve been buying ever since. I don’t have a huge collection by any means, probably 600-700 or so LPs, EPs and singles but they all have memories attached and represent a time and place, both physically and in my musical journey of discovery.

In this day and age of the constant deluge of new music, You Tube live clips etc I thought it might be a fun and totally self-indulgent project to start posting a song from each of the albums I have in my vinyl collection. Alphabetically makes sense as that is how I store them. There will be the usual landmarks records from Velvet Underground, The Smiths, The Stooges, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, The Beatles and others but this will also throw up a ton of guilty pleasures and dalliances with short-lived genres that haven’t passed the test of time.

I’ll be progressively be posting them all over on our Facebook Page so follow us over there and smile, laugh, remember, cringe and leave comments. Bel0w are a couple of tracks from albums that we’ve already posted.

 

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