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

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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

LIVE REVIEW: Alice in Chains, Down, Walking Papers @ Enmore Theatre, Sydney (25/03/14)

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1970598_10152256489576323_1837855079_nWalking Papers had a high curiosity factor, primarily for their members including Duff McKagan (G N’R) and drummer Barrett Martin (Screaming Trees, Mad Season) but with a fine opening set they showed they were the full band deal with singer/guitarist Jeff Angell working the mic stand, doing hat tricks and venturing into the audience for their final slice of dark psych-laden rock.

Down have been going for two decades and as such they are a well-oiled, mechanical beast of a band. Totally in sync with each other and led by the gonzo intensity of Phil Anselmo. He can still bellow and scream like a banshee between bashing his forehead with the mic and repeatedly calling for the crowd to put their arms in the air. The band were just as active but Anselmo led the way through a brutal set that culminated in road crew, entourage and Walking Papers members taking over their instruments for the final melee of a song.

Alice In Chains had a pretty high standard to follow but they nailed it completely. Bigger back-line, stadium lighting and a sound that was at gloriously crunchy and crystalline. They stated their case immediately with the opening pairing of Them Bones and Dam That River, instantly showing that they are well and truly beyond the ‘new singer’ syndrome with William DuVall nailing the songs faithfully yet also with his own personality. The rest of the set balanced the ‘classic hits’ with more recent material, barely allowing the momentum of the set to drop off. Rooster whipped up an immense sing-along while songs like Again showed how important rhythm and groove are to the sound of AIC. After 80 minutes they left the sweat-drenched and deafened Enmore audience with Would, possibly their finest song and the best possible way to round out a diverse and exceptional night of hard rock music.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

NEW MUSIC: Amaya Laucirica | Prettier Than Sound

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Amaya Laucirica (VIC) has a brand new record Sway ready to be released on April 14th and it features the great first single Prettier Than Sound which you can stream below. The song includes Adalita on backing vocals and JP Shilo on guitar and they conjure up a wonderful hazy, shimmering track with billowing harmonies and cascading textural guitars. Laucirica’s upcoming tour dates are also listed below.

Sway Tour Dates:

  • THURSDAY MAY 15 | Beav’s Bar, Geelong VIC
  • SATURDAY MAY 17 | Bridge Hotel, Castlemaine VIC
  • FRIDAY MAY 23 | The Wheatsheaf, Adelaide SA
  • SATURDAY MAY 24 | The Curtin Bandroom, Melb. VIC
  • SATURDAY MAY 31 | Goodgod, Sydney NSW
  • SUNDAY JUNE 8 | Mona Foma, Hobart TAS
  • SUNDAY JUNE 8 | The Republic, Hobart TAS
  • FRIDAY JUNE 13 | Treehouse on Belongil, Byron Bay NSW
  • SATURDAY JUNE 14 | The Bearded Lady, Brisbane QLD

ALBUM REVIEW: Wild Beasts | Present Tense

Rating8square-600Wild Beasts have been on something of an evolutionary arc with each album showcasing their willingness to dig deep into creative corners and musically chance their hearts and heads. Present Tense continues that trend, taking them further into the world of lush electronica.

They’ve always been a band built on the tremendous voices of Haydn Thorpe and Tom Fleming, a strength they readily accept and thankfully exploit, and on Present Tense they’ve allowed more space and complementary sounds to support Thorpe’s sweet falsetto and Flemings earthier, emotive howl. The music now leans more heavily on synthetic and analog sounds – synths and drum machines – yet they’ve mastered the mercurial balancing act of retaining the warmth and emotional connection that is often missing in electronic and avant-garde pop. Daughters dials up drama like a subtler Depeche Mode, harnessing tension and some abrasive sonics to create an absorbing dynamic within a fairly standard song structure. Sweet Spot is just as engaging but it rides on Thorpe’s hooky chorus melody while New Life is Fleming’s strongest vocal performance to date.

Present Tense is an album that sounds and feels intimate. The band feels close to the speakers and the result is an immersive experience that relies on space and simplicity, where less is more. It’s the perfect title for the album as it’s utterly contemporary and retains the tension that always sits just below the surface of their music. This is the most measured and confident release from Wild Beasts, an absorbing hymn to modern life.

by Chris Familton

*this review was first published in The Music

 

LIVE REVIEW: Savages @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (05/02/14)

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Savages played an intense set that successfully blended theatricality with impressive musicality. All four musicians were completely in the pocket with their respective instruments. Drum sticks were raised high like axe handles, beating out tribal disco grooves that embraced primitive physicality and literate technical nuance. Bass player Ayse Hassan moved in perfect unison with her guitar and the notes she was drawing from it, whether they were droning, pulsing or cascading distortion coated flurries. Jenny Beth owned centre stage with her considered, robotic movements; intensity, concentration and attitude  fixed across her face. She gave the impression of being in full control of her voice, words and limbs until the extended final track which hit a groove and beat it into the ground repeatedly, each time gathering more nodding heads and lost-in-the-moment audience members who spent the show bathed in white and golden light. Gemma Thompson provided the sonic icing, cutting swathes of noise and discordant melodies from her guitar. She prowled between her amp and effect pedals, her instrument providing the menace and beautiful tension to the music of Savages. She Will, Husbands, Shut Up and an intoxicating cover of Suicide’s Dream Baby Dream were just some of the many highlights from an exceptionally good gig that showed post-punk and music delivered with emotion and precision can still be as vital and valid as it was thirty years ago.

Chris Familton

ALBUM REVIEW: T54 | In Brush Park

Rating7.5square-600-3Noisy psych guitar pop is in abundance in New Zealand at the moment and the cream of the crop like Popstrangers, Surf City and these fine gentlemen, T54, are improving with each new release. Flying Nun is a natural home for the band as they deal equally and unassumingly in melody and adventurous sonics, soaking up the influence of their predecessors like 3Ds, JPS Experience and Loves Ugly Children while still carving out their own sound.

In Brush Park is the band’s debut full-length release and a very assured and mature-sounding one at that. There is little impression of them still still trying to find their feet stylistically, they’ve already arrived at it with woozy, chiming guitars alternating between beauty (O Nina) and coruscating attack like the dissonant Return Of The Worm and the punky SW Chops. Joe Sampson’s vocals add texture more than meaning in the context of the album. It drifts in and out of the frame adding angst, yelps and counter-melodies to the guitars and economical drumming.

Brutally efficient, In Brush Park only just hits the 30 minute mark yet it feels like a full and often overflowing album with more than enough swerves and variation to show the full range of T54’s writing and playing abilities. Its strength also lies in its toughness, its lack of soft indie shoe-gazing best exemplified by Biscuit City Sisters epic 7 minutes of driving krautrock that closes the album, the crowning glory of a very, impressive guitar rock record.

 Chris Familton

this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz

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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

FAVOURITE ALBUMS OF 2013

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2013 was a pretty strong year for music. From the established artists hitting their late-period straps to newcomers breathing new life into old forms, it felt like a year where a whole range of styles rose to the top.

There were plenty of surprises with new albums appearing out of the blue from Bowie and MBV and also irritating marketing campaigns that felt like they were bleeding their albums dry before they were even released. I’m looking at you Daft Punk and Arcade Fire.

As usual here at DS we kept our ears closely tuned into what was going on in Australia and New Zealand with both countries producing a wealth of great albums. Records from this part of the world make up 40% of our favourite records in 2013. Let us know what seduced and moved you this year and let’s do it all again in 2014.

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1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away

A record that perfectly blends rich narrative and darkly cinematic sonic backdrops. One of Cave’s finest works and the moment where his and Warren Ellis’ musical collaboration becomes fully realised.

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2. Bill Callahan – Dream River

On his exceptional new album, Bill Callahan (formerly Smog) has recorded his most peaceful and meditative set of songs. There is a bucolic, contemplative feel to the eight songs on offer as they weave across percussive landscapes, led by flutes and hypnotic guitars. Sonically the album is rooted in pastoral folk, much of it soaked in dub-heavy reverb and delay. The focus though is firmly on Callahan’s voice, high and focused in the mix as he delivers typically brilliant lines like “All I want to do is make love to you in the fertile dirt with a careless mind”.

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3. Kurt Vile – Wakin On A Pretty Daze

Vile has gone from strength to strength with each album and this is his finest yet. Finely tuned hazily motorik songs that sit in the pocket and keep drawing you in deeper and deeper with each listen.

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4. Jason Isbell – Southeastern

Isbell’s coming of age as a songwriter, though not that he was in any way a slouch in that department prior to Southeastern. He doesn’t waste a word, he builds phrases with economy and poetic grace while encasing them in that rich southern drawl.

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5. Houndmouth – From The Hills Below The City

This was a real surprise record that came out of nowhere for me. It was recommended by a fellow Americana fan and reminded me of the best of what the Felice Brothers do when they blend irresistible melodies with sharp yet not overly polished harmonies and an instrumental mix of country and folk.

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6. Bryan Estepa – Heart vs Mind

A relatively unsung hero amongst Australian songwriters and possessing an angelic voice, Estepa embraced his inner pop and rock obsessions to craft this record that pulls influences from The Jayhawks to Hall & Oates. This is a superb album that excels in effortless, meticulous and timeless songwriting.

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7. Bad/Dreems – Badlands EP

Mix 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. Badlands is another crucial addition to the canon of classic and quintessentially Australian releases.

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8. Wooden Shjips – Back To Land

This is the Shjips doing mainly what they always do, locking into psych drone grooves and riding them into the sunset and/or sunrise. Repetition is the key. They’ve let more light into this one and it opens up their sound into some new areas, rewardingly so.

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9. Ducktails – The Flower Lane

The solo project of Real Estate’s Matt Mondanile, this is an album built on 80s dream pop with sax solos and warm glowing melodies. Easily the best in show for this kind of music.

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10. Kirin J Callinan – Embracism

The agent provocateur of Australian art rock realises his ambition with this wide-ranging album that blends dissonance and a healthy pop heart. 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. Debut album of the year.

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11. Popstrangers – Antipodes

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12. Austin Lucas – Stay Reckless

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13. Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys – Ready For Boredom

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14. Ooga Boogas – Ooga Boogas

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15. The Drones – I See Seaweed

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16. Mazzy Star – Seasons of Your Day

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17. Vista Chino – Peace

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18. Civil Civic – Rules

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19. Basko Believes- Melancholic Melodies

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20. Sharpie Crows – 12 Omeros

21. Caitlin Rose – The Stand-In 

22. Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost

23. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

24. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

25. Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record

26. Mark Kozelek & Desertshore – Mark Kozelek & Desertshore

27. Daughn Gibson – Me Moan

28. The Phoenix Foundation – Fandango

29. Courtney Barnett – The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas

30. Mark Moldre – An Ear To The Earth

31. Anna Calvi – One Breath

32 .Matthew E. White – Big Inner

33. Califone – Stitches

34. The Haxan Cloak – Extinction

35. DJ Koze – Amygdala

36. Zomby – With Love 

37. Jen Cloher – In Blood Memory

38. Savages – Silence Yourself 

39. Forest Swords – Engravings

40. The Necks – Open