ALBUM REVIEW: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders – Blue Poles

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The sense of Jack Ladder’s career to date is that he’s constantly been searching for his lost soul sound. The early bluesy rock n roll to the introspective troubadour, the gothic synth sounds of Hurtsville to the brighter colours of Playmates. Blue Poles is named after the Jackson Pollock painting and yes it does draw on all manner of styles but this time around he pulls them together into a cohesive set of nine songs. It’s also the first record he’s self-produced, another clue as to why this feels like the album that is most uniquely and naturally his own sound and vision.

‘Can’t Stay’ is the first introduction and transports the listener back to the junction where post punk met pop art, immediately reminiscent of peak-era Thompson Twins with their twinkling synths and fascinating rhythms wrapped up in pop music. ‘Dates’ takes that scene setter and turns it on its head with a repetitive glam stomp, like prime Roxy Music with Ladder shapeshifting between Eno and Ferry. It’s infectious stuff, enough to induce self-indulgent lounge room strutting. Another song, another colour added to the canvas. ‘Susan’ is all dark and shadowy hues, Cohen circa ‘Everybody Knows’, but Ladder gets pleasingly perverse with a tale of a car accident fatality and and husband calling his wife to join him in the afterlife.

Bowie is never far from Ladder’s orbit and ‘I.N.M.’ is unabashed funk of the Thin White Duke variety, complete with skewed scattershot guitar courtesy of one Mr Kirin J Callinan. ‘Tell It Like It Is’ is of the same ilk, Ladder getting louche and mysterious, dropping great lines such as “Our love is like a door with no handles, you kick it down…”

‘Blue Mirror’ is an exceptional song. The mood it conjures, the nod to ‘Moon River’, the languid swirl and solemn pulse of the music that recalls David Sylvian, the crown prince of austere pop. Ladder finds the perfect backing for his soft bellow of a baritone. Sometimes it has sounded too knowing or a touch too sardonic in other settings. Here it meshes seamlessly. First single ‘White Flag’ is another melancholic highpoint of Blue Poles. Built on little more than a breakbeat and simple tremolo-laced guitar notes Ladder sings ‘I surrender, surrender to be free, in your chains is where I’m gonna be’, conjuring a mood of giving in rather giving up.

‘Feel Brand New’ feels like a respite from the blue mood of much that precedes it. It’s a good old fashioned rock n roll tune with guitars ringing high in the mix, throwing out unabashed and catchy hooks with the kind of optimism you get on a new morning that promises possibilities instead of weariness. Ladder leaves us with ‘Merciful Reply’. An Orbison-styled, solemn yet grand gesture. It harkens back to the lachrymose ballads of yesteryear, yet in Ladder’s hands it rings true and artfully heartfelt.

Blue Poles draws on a sense of romanticism, one steeped in melancholy yet ultimately not fatalism. There is dark humour at play and some fine wordplay on display and it sounds exceptional. This is Ladder’s finest record to date, his maudlin opus par excellence.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders, Alex Cameron @ OAF, Sydney (16/05/15)

Alex Cameron | photo by Chris Familton
Alex Cameron | photo by Chris Familton

Alex Cameron’s (Seekae) saxophonist and off-sider Roy Molloy arrived first, setting up his instrument, pacing the stage with Corona in hand and chatting to the front rows. Cameron’s strikingly skeletal frame joined him, his designer suit a couple of sizes too small, hanging from his lanky bones. He has a commanding stage presence, throwing Nick Cave-styled poses and dance moves that alternate between mid-period Bowie and Elvis in Las Vegas mode. Musically the pair played and sang over backing tracks of minimal synth and electro that brought to mind Kraftwerk and Suicide laced with Scritti Politti, enhanced by Molloy’s sax solos. There’s a fair amount of schtick going on but Cameron plays the role convincingly as both a songwriter and performer and it’ll be interesting to see how he evolves his solo career.

Jack Ladder’s career has also undertaken a number of transformations with last year’s Playmates album finding him settling into his most comfortable stylistic zone. It’s hard to go wrong with a band like the Dreamlanders. They seem like a composite scene from a David Lynch cabaret scene: Kirin J Callinan’s borderline psychotic stage personae, all twitches, lunges and futuristic guitar flourishes, Donny Benét’s exceptional bass playing that saw him play a consummate solo intro at the start of the encore, keyboardist Frank Sutherland and drummer extraordinaire Laurence Pike (PVT). Out front Ladder commanded the stage during the songs but seemed, as usual, strangely distant, aloof and subtly cynical between them. Playmates provided the bulk of the material with the dark and sleazy Depeche Mode glitter stomp of Reputation Amputation and Neon Blue working particularly well. The Hurtsville album also got a look-in with the graceful airiness of the title track resplendent in its melancholic grandeur. It was an evening of absorbing and emotive post-modern art rock.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Donny Benét, You Beauty @ Brighton Up Bar, Sydney (10/10/14)

 

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IMG_9673You Beauty released their rugby league-themed album Jersey Flegg earlier this year and it slowly but surely garnered attention leading to its imminent vinyl pressing. Their opening set showed they can nail the sound of the album in a live context with chorused guitar picking out lazy hooks and the rhythm section hitting a ‘Strokes and The Cure on the dancefloor’ sweet spot. Frontman Wil Farrier spent more time off the stage, pulling moves, prowling and climbing the PA speakers. It was a superb set that hit the perfect balance between humour, energy and melancholy.

Donny Benét has stepped up his live show considerably since the days of indie friends making up his band or doing solo shows with loops and drum machines. On the back of the new album Weekend At Donny’s he’s assembled a full band of what look like professional session musicians including keyboards, guitar, bass and saxophone. It takes the live Benét experience to a new level with the songs now sounding like fully fledged 80s electro/pop/funk tracks – alive and kicking in suits and grins. Three guest vocalists also brought a shift to the live dynamic, all of them adding their own stamp of style/pastiche. Geoffrey O’Connor was an icy starlet on Charlotte’s Web, Jack Ladder brought the louche sleaze singing about the last tourist on the sex bus and the sex-machine SPOD brought the street party attitude on Fantasies. Benét looked to be having a ball gazing out across the sold-out room, slapping and popping bass strings with a look on his face that was part disbelief but mostly pleasure. Sure there is an element of tongue-in-cheek with what he does but on the back of extremely well-written songs and experienced live with a room full of bodies in motion the Benét experience makes complete sense.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

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NEW MUSIC: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders | Come On Back This Way

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It’s been three years since Jack Ladder released his acclaimed Hurtsville album. Now the followup Playmates has been announced with a release date of Nov 6th. Here’s the first single ‘Come On Back This Way’ featuring guest vocals from Sharon Van Etten and pedal steel from Jason Walker. That deep austere voice is still the central feature of Ladder’s music with more of an electronic pulse and sheen perhaps signalling a shift in sound on the new album.

 

 

SONIC KICKS: Charlie Horse

Charlie Horse released one of our favourite albums of the year with I Hope I’m Not A Monster and in a full interview that we’ll be publishing in the coming weeks they tell us they’re already halfway through the next record which should be out in the second half of 2013. With a widescreen rock n roll sound that draws influence from Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Chrissie Hynde and Lucinda Williams, Charlie Horse (centred around guitarist/songwriter Paul McDonald and singer Crystal Rose) are a band we highly recommend you check out. We put the duo through the punishing exercise that is Sonic Kicks.

The first album I bought…

PaulFrankie Goes To Hollywood | Welcome to the Pleasuredome. Maybe this is the beginning of my love for OTT bombastic music. I couldn’t believe how good this was when I was a wee kid, little did I know it was all a bit racey and somewhat sexually oo lah lah… and a Bruce cover too.
CrystalThe VerveUrban Hymns. It’s amazing what an aloof, sexy guy does for your musical growth, shame he turned into such a boring git.

The album that soundtracked a relationship…

PaulRyan Adams |Easy Tiger
CrystalRyan Adams |Easy Tiger – Cough cough, nothing to see here.

The album that inspired me to form a band…

PaulU2 | Under A Blood Red Sky. The mullets, the boots, the flags, the songs. What’s not to like. I can probably still play every note from Edge and sing every part from Saint Bono note perfect. Sleeves on your shirt, no thanks.
CrystalAretha Franklin | I Never Loved A Man the Way I Love You. Dad used to buy these old albums for me because he liked gutsy chick vocals plus they were dirt cheap, two dollar bin style but I do still love the blues.

The album that reminds me of my high school years

PaulThe Cure | Staring At The Sea (on cassette so you got the brilliant b-sides). We used to hitch rides with the older guys from school who had cars and “pull laps” up and down the main street of Tumut and blast this on tape. I remember playing this on the way to the snow fields because we could do skiing for sport, and we spun out and went off a cliff, A Forest soundtracked the terror.
CrystalMatchbox 20 | Yourself Or Someone Like You

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

PaulThe Verve | A Storm In Heaven. I left Australia for the UK to, amongst other things, see the Verve. They broke up for the first time the week I got there.
CrystalThe Rolling Stones | Exile On Main Street. Beyond amazing…. made me fall in love with rock filled blues.

My favourite album cover art…

PaulHusker Du | Zen Arcade
CrystalThe Rolling Stones | Goats Head Soup

My guilty pleasure album…

PaulFields of the Nephilim | Earth Inferno. By Christ these guys were vastly stupid and vastly good. Tied with Crystal’s choice actually and sounding much like it too.
CrystalMeat Loaf  | Bat Out of Hell. Jim Steinman crazy and sounding much like Bruce Springsteen actually.

An album I loved but now have no idea why I bought it…

PaulUnderworld – any of them, what were we thinking, well we weren’t thinking we was raven’ maaan… but that is beside the point.
CrystalMatchbox 20 – oh and Cat Stevens what was that?

The last album I bought…

Paul – Well I buy roughly an album a week, so I will put down the last GREAT album I bought. Jack Ladder  | Hurtsville. What a brilliant brilliant piece of brilliance. Perfect songs, perfect production and from the thinking mans Tim Rogers not that there is anything wrong with the drinking mans Tim Rogers.
CrystalThe National  | High Violet. A brilliant album but I wanted to punch him in the face live, what a ponce, ruined it for me. He makes red wine drinkers look bad.

I Hope I’m Not A Monster is out now via Laughing Outlaw Records.

LIVE REVIEW: The Horrors @ Metro Theatre, Sydney (03/02/12)

The Horrors | photo by Chris Familton

written by Chris Familton

Jack Ladder was in solo mode in the early opening slot and he showed that the songs from last year’s excellent Hurtsville LP can work just as well when stripped back to that rich, melodramatic voice and a fantastic effect laden guitar sound. He only managed to play a handful of songs before he was ushered stage right yet he impressed many of the arriving punters.

Perth’s Allbrook/Avery were no doubt unknown to the vast majority of the audience. Including a couple of Tame Impala members they take a different approach to retro-heavy music by dialing in 50s romantic pop and 70s glam rock with invigorating and often surprising results. It sounded like it was hanging together by a thread, delightfully so, and the interplay between the dual frontmen has a unique quirkiness that demands further exploration.

The Horrors have always been about image as much as music and from the lights to the hair, the clothes and the poses they are a complete package. So much so that they irk many people with their unabashed devotion to ‘rock n roll’ as an art concept. Opening with Endless Blue they fell victim to a still forming sound mix but that was quickly resolved and the Metro was treated to a wall of snapping drums and refreshingly loud bass guitar that underpinned the waves of guitar and synths.

Tracks from Skying and Primary Colours made up the setlist showing they have all but discarded their sub-Birthday Party, garage rock origins for brighter, more psychedelic pastures. The Horrors proudly wear their influences on their collars with Suede, Bowie, MBV, Psychedelic Furs and Bauhaus all emerging from the sonic mist, combining to best effect on the surging I Can See Through You. A majestic rendering of Still Life showed they are a band that uses synths as effectively as they do guitars while the epic krautrock pulse of Sea Within A Sea was a definitive highlight. Faris Badwan barely communicated with the crowd outside of his singing yet it mattered little. The Horrors are a band that has created themselves in the image and sounds of their heroes and they do it exceptionally well. The proof of a band’s integrity and claims of greatness are always tested on stage and The Horrors passed with flying colours.

this review was first published in The Drum Media

LIVE REVIEW: Jack Ladder @ The Dreamlanders @ Manning Bar, Sydney (01/10/11)

written by Chris Familton

Teeth & Tongue have evolved their sound over the last couple of years to the point where it now sounds effortlessly natural, devoid of pretense or hopeful indie aspirations. Singer/guitarist Jess Cornelius is the heart and soul of the band – aided and abetted by a guitarist, bassist and pre-recorded drums when she plays live and she left an impressive mark on the slowly filling Manning Bar. The songs teased with squalls of discordant guitar while Cornelius balanced sweet and sour lyrical propositions with just the right amount of tension and release. This was music that sounded concise, intoxicating and made you want to hunt down their LP.

Ghoul shifted the mood to an art pop vibe with their genre-fusing mix of soulful indie, flashes of pop, electronica and no-wave funk. The voice of head bobbing singer Ivan Vizintin is the unique factor in their sound. He ties it all together and adds the human aspect to the music. With his pleading tone he sounds like Fink and a mix of both singers from Wild Beasts. Standout tracks Dreambeat and 3 Mark from their Dunks EP sounded quite different live. Guitar featured more prominently making the sound denser, less glitchy and electronically inclined.

Jack Ladder continues to add members, seeking to both refine and expand his sound, best captured on recent release Hurtsville. With a new drummer and half of Ghoul on bass and guitar it was the biggest sound Ladder has given to his increasingly dramatic songs. For the most part his gentle croon has been retired in favour of grand gestures and Presley-like gospel blues inflections. His stage delivery has been freed up immensely with the handing of guitar duties to both the new kid and unsteadying influence Kirin J. Callinan. It was the latter who proved yet again how responsible he is for the icy and melancholic dreamy sound that pervades all of Ladder’s recent material. His playing was exceptionally precise, economically flamboyant and dramatically expressive, no doubt freeing up Ladder to explore his performance as much as his singing. Hurtsville tracks like Cold Feet, Dumb Love and the title track featured heavily as well as some dips back to earlier albums, in particular a devastating demon-exorcising encore of Forgotten. Though the crowd  noticeably thinned out through the set Ladder showed his stock is still rising alongside his increasingly impressive live show.

this review was first published in The Drum Media.