LIVE REVIEW: WOODEN SHJIPS @ OAF, SYDNEY (24/03/12)

written by Chris Familton

Newcomers DCM (Wolfmother’s Chris Ross and Daniel Stricker of the Midnight Juggernauts) set up their keyboards and effect units on the dancefloor in front of the stage and opened the evening with some glorious kraut-tinged electronica that was the perfect sonic calm before the storm to come. They showed a nice balance between pseudo ambient washes of sounds and some harder edged rhythms and synth tones that hinted at electronic/industrial influences like Cabaret Voltaire and other early 80s acts. The duo clearly know their boundaries and worked well within them, never letting a track outstay its welcome or lose its edge.

The Laurels only know one way forward and that is with volume and washes of heavenly guitars. They’ve been around a while yet they never disappoint. Tonight the mix softened their harsher edges but they still built up a head of shoegaze steam with their dual vocals weaving melodies amid the guitar carnage and Kate Wilson’s defiantly buoyant drumming. Black Cathedral was aired early, as were other tracks from last year’s EP and they yet again reminded the crowd why they are the best exponents of psych guitar rock in Sydney at the moment.

Wooden Shjips are a band that are in no rush to get anywhere in particular. From the moment they stepped on stage to their departure an hour later, they dragged the willing audience into their swirling vortex of heavy-lidded repetition, spiraling skyward guitar and that omnipresent motorik rhythm section.

Almost every song they played felt like it stretched on forever, burning a hole in your brain, deeper and deeper. Their magic lies in the simple form of that rock solid rhythm section that laid the foundation for Ripley Johnson to explore the sonic wilderness of his guitar and pedals. Between those two pillars stood keyboardist Nash Whalen, churning out endless organ chords that sound like The Clean and Spaceman 3 covering The Doors while on mushrooms. It almost seems redundant to mention the songs they played as it felt like one continuous piece of music in multiple parts. An early standout though was the frantic chug of Lazy Bones where the band changed gears from 33 to 45rpm and hit the open road. It was a momentary blip though as they settled back into their default tempo range and pulled the crowd back down with them.

As well as a hefty chunk of songs from last years West LP they also dove back further with tracks like Aquarian Time from Dos and left us at the end of their main set with a cover of Buddy by New Zealand’s Snapper, a perfect fit with the snarling, wired and droning psych rock of the original. Sounding much more muscular and defined than they do on their albums, Wooden Shjips were a brilliantly hypnotic experience that many of the audience were probably still re-living in their ears the following morning.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

LIVE REVIEW: Michael Rother @ OAF, Sydney (17/03/12)

 

written by Chris Familton

Melbourne’s Baptism of Uzi opened the night with their heavily krautrock influenced take on instrumental rock. With busy and propulsive drumming and wonderfully swirling psych synths they took the music into a decidedly human realm rather than the robotic nature of much of the music of that genre. Guitarist Bojan Stojanov kept the sound riding high and melodic with his heavily Tom Verlaine-influenced playing yet he also filtered it through a blurred combo of metal styles leading the audience away from new age post rock into a more febrile and primal place.

It was clear from the moment the OAF curtains parted that Michael Rother was going to give us a set of clinical, precise and studious music. From the clean, white backdrop showing minimal textured projections of light and shapes to the three professorial looking musicians it felt I’ve you were in the presence of musical scientists rather than a primal rock band. Rother looks much younger than his years and with the assistance of the grinning drummer Hans Lampe (Neu! La Dusseldorf) and Dieter Moebius (Cluster, Harmonia) he set about conducting a lesson on krautrock and it’s role as one of the crucial signifiers of space rock, electronica and post rock.

Rother played a range of songs from Neu! to Harmonia and onto his solo work. Hallogallo, the undeniable highlight was epic in scale, a pulsing motorik mantra of a song that Lampe anchored with his precision drumming, as he did all night long. Most songs followed the template of mood setting atmospherics before Lampe’s electronic kit entered the fray bringing it all together and leading the song into space. The audience, that was overwhelmingly made up of middle aged men, nodded heads in unison and approval as the trio shone fresh and playful light on electronic music and Rother showed how guitar solos and psychedelic rock can be played without an ounce of posturing and bravado attached.

The transportive feel that Rother and co created on stage was entirely the result of the music, not ‘rock star’ personality or stage presence. It was born of repetition, slowly evolving melodies, drones and controlled noise, all the while anchored by that essential motorik beat. It felt like a special privilege to experience firsthand the sound from such an influential period of European music and Rother executed the celebration perfectly.

this review was first published in Drum Media

LIVE REVIEW: Youth Lagoon & Oliver Tank @ OAF, Sydney (16/02/12)

written by Chris Familton

The ease with which anyone can attempt to record guitars, synths and drum machines and then send the results into the world via the internet has enabled bedroom geniuses to emerge and find niche markets that may or may not translate into wider success. Two such acts were on display at OAF.

Oliver Tank had a huge 2011 with a trip to Iceland, remixes and general love from the local music scene. On stage he showed he can translate those songs into a viable format that blurs the line between man and machine and gives the audience a sense of a performance rather than just a guy pressing buttons. Tank undeniably has a strong voice that can swing between soul, r&b and pop styles and whenever he dug deep and invested some real emotion into the delivery you sensed that there is much better stuff still to come, that he is still in the process of refining his style. There was a recurring theme of dreams that populated his lyrics and repetition of lines and phrases which showed he either favours simplicity or is also still figuring out what he wants to say in his songs.

Youth Lagoon (aka Trevor Powers) is one step ahead of Tank in that he has released his debut album Year of Hibernation and has a much stronger and self assured stage show. With an impressive guitarist fleshing out his songs Powers focused on keyboards, his vocals and some minimal electronics. He used them effectively to add accents to rhythms and melodies but ultimately they were there to support his keyboards and voice. On record Youth Lagoon has that lo-fi tinge and washes of hazy reverb that work to give it all a rather nostalgic feel. Live the songs are stripped back to their key elements and as a result the songs sound even better. Powers wouldn’t be out of place alongside Ben Kweller and Ben Lee in terms of creating excellent, melody rich and slightly askew pop music. This was a short set but it felt like the perfect length and an ideal accompaniment to and alternative view of the album. It was an introduction to the real Youth Lagoon that left many feeling like they want to get to know him better.

this review was first published in The Drum Media

LIVE REVIEW: Oh Mercy @ OAF, Sydney 14/10/11

Oh Mercy | photo by Chris Familton

written by Chris Familton

Step-Panther are on a roll at the moment with their just released debut album and upcoming support shows with Kurt Vile. You wouldn’t think it though as they displayed the same low-key and affable approach to their music that they always do. This was melodic stoner noise-pop of the highest order with some chunky riffs and a slacker vibe that sounded visceral and raw. They played a bunch of tracks off the new record including the loping hooks of Stare into the Eyes of the Wolf, a monolithic Galactic Hurricane and the closer I Feel Weird that was unfortunately derailed by a suicidal guitar lead but did nothing to lessen the impact of their set in the eyes of the enthusiastic punters who arrived early.

Brous were an entirely different proposition. Essentially the project of Victorian Sophie Brous they played a set of artful, melodramatic songs that served to highlight her impressive voice. Arrangements were dense and challenging in the sense that they felt like standard pop songs yet there were layers and details that ran deep. Influences seemed to come from all angles. There were hints of 60s acts like Scott Walker, the prog folk of Joanna Newsom and the eclectic range of  Peruvian Yma Sumac. Many of the intricacies of her sound were lost in the live sound yet her voice still stood out as an exceptional talent.

Oh Mercy are coming off a big year with the release of Great Barrier Grief and an ARIA Award nomination. They have developed into a band that exudes a sense of calm on stage and a confidence and proficiency that belies their still youngish age. The album tracks like Stay, Please Stay, the wistful Confessions and the gorgeous Blue Lagoon drew the biggest responses from the large crowd but it was the newer songs that impressed the most. Frontman Alexander Gow appears to be taking a turn into darker material, allowing some anger and rawness of emotion into his songs and allowing the guitars to get dirtier. He also showed an immense ability to carry a song solo, even throwing some a cappella parts to his rendition of Leonard Cohen’s The Future. Oh Mercy debuted a new member on keyboards which also showed a growing expansion to their indie folk/pop sound. Now they are less Belle and Sebastian and more Bob Dylan meets The Strokes. It will be fascinating to hear the recorded versions of the new songs from a band slowly developing a strong and unique identity.

this review was first published in The Drum Media

LIVE REVIEW: Moon Duo @ OAF, Sydney 30/09/11

written by Chris Familton

Melbourne’s Fabulous Diamonds set the mood of the evening with a set composed around drone and hypnotic repetition. Featuring just drums and keyboards the duo were in no rush to get anywhere in particular with songs that slowly evolved from metronomic drum patterns into gently pulsing waves of analog synths, grinding organ, sparsely decorated with vocals from drummer Nisa Venerosa. When she sang the mood lightened considerably, bridging that gap between man and machine with a voice that hinted at the doomy tones of Nico while still sounding like a breath of fresh air. They have a fine-tuned sound that reminiscent of an ambient Suicide or the Velvets if they’d discovered keyboards instead of guitars.

Moon Duo is another project of Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson and that connection no doubt drew in a few curious punters who have been taken with that band’s take on psychedelic guitar rock. As a duo Johnson and partner Sanae Yamada cut striking figures on stage, Johnson with his white streaked full beard and Yamada behind the keyboards, hair flying and body lost in the sonic waves they were creating. That name Suicide popped up again with Moon Duo more closely related than Fabulous Diamonds. The use of drum machines gave their sound that insistent, Krautrock angle that hammers the rhythm into your brain and locks on for the ride. Before you knew it you were nodding your head to Johnson’s tripped out guitars that were a mix of desert rock and Grateful Dead retro psychedelia. His playing was a hybrid of solos and repetitive chords that never settled into one or the other, constantly interchanging without deviating from the forward movement of the music. Yamada’s keyboards acted as the driving force behind the music keeping it grounded and cemented to the beat.

The combination of all these elements resulted in songs that felt like they were the ghosts of 60s garage rock, warped and infused with 70s space rock and exploratory primitive electronica. Seer soared into the stratosphere while Mazes was a summer cruise down the coast with the roof down. Visually they used video and screen projections that enhanced the music to great effect. Psychotropic kaleidoscopic mixed with strafing lines and epileptic digital effects to perfectly complement the nature of the music. This was brilliantly executed head music of the highest order that knew the importance of also connecting physically.

this review was first published in The Drum Media

LIVE REVIEW: Stonefield @ OAF, Sydney 22/09/11

written by Chris Familton

Glass Towers have been steadily emerging this year as one of the more interesting young bands to watch. Down from Byron Bay they played a set that showed that touring is allowing them to relax more into their music without exhibiting some of the self consciousness that marked earlier shows. Guitarist Sam Speck still looks sleepy, shy and blissed out in the music while the others thrash out bright indie pop songs that mix everything from britpop choruses to post-rock guitar effects. The singles Lino the Lion and in particular the new one Gloom sounded impressive and ripe for radio play without pandering to the masses.

Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire! took things in a different direction that included elements of funk, pop and again those chiming, delay heavy guitar lines that seem everywhere at the moment in indie music. What stood out was the vocals of Caitlin Duff who looks modest and humble yet possesses a fantastic, strong voice. She worked her way into the songs and had a habit of building the tension with some hypnotic interplay of melody and emotion. The richness of her voice was sometimes comparable to a Zola Jesus or Florence Welch when she really got going. Guitarist David Williams kept many entertained with his grins and facial expressions ensuring the music never felt too artful and serious.

Stonefield came heavily laden with hype – unfortunately most of it centred around the fact they are all sisters and they range in age from their early teens to early twenties. Forget the hype and believe what you hear on stage was the lesson of the night. This band can rock, albeit in a decidedly 70s retro, heavy rock style. Think Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, AC/DC and you know what you’ll get. As players they were all superb, especially guitarist Hannah Findlay who peeled off solos to perfection. Though their sound is still relatively obvious and transparent with its influences there were tons of moments where you could see where they are heading. Structurally they are trying some interesting time changes and playing with the primitive forms of heavy rock. They threw in covers of Whole Lotta Love and Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride yet it was their own songs like Through the Clover and Black Water Rising that stood out. Fantastic raw talent that can only get better.

this review was first published in The Drum Media.

LIVE REVIEW: The Adults @ OAF, Sydney (01/09/11)

The Adults | photo by Chris Familton

written by Chris Familton

The Scientists of Modern Music is a fairly pretentious name at best but once you see/hear this Tasmanian duo it kind of makes sense. They don’t do anything by halves and delivered a strong set that was high on 80s electro pop anthems, a barrel of fun and an infectious stage presence. There were seemingly no boundaries to their healthy embrace of guilty pleasures. From Linn drum breaks and vocoder vocals to energy drink synth stabs and an unabashed party vibe they know how to create music for the dancefloor, Yes it was hard to keep a straight face but they somehow pulled it off, walking (or bopping) the fine line between cheese and day-glo synth pop.

The Adults are a somewhat more serious proposition with three highly successful New Zealand songwriters/front-people in Jon Toogood (Shihad), Shayne Carter (Straitjacket Fits/Dimmer) and Julia Deans (Fur Patrol). Essentially Toogood’s solo project he was prudent to gather a large group of collaborators for the album and then narrowed it down to Carter and Deans for the live show.

Sans drums (prerecorded tracks were used) they quickly showed their versatility as players, switching between guitar, bass and keyboards as tracks required. The overwhelming and binding theme of The Adults sound is dark and often brooding pop music. Many of the songs were built on droning guitar and synth lines allowing the trio to layer the vocals on top of rather than within the music. At times Toogood hasn’t strayed far from his Shihad songwriting, especially on a song like the surging One Million Ways. The best moments of their generous hour+ set were the uber catchy A Part Of Me with its New Order rhythmic approach and the brilliant single Nothing To Lose. Deans replicated the vocals of Ladi6 exceptionally well while Toogood relished his chance to lock down a two note krautrock bass groove. Carter was given the room to create some widescreen textures over the top of it all – twisting his body into all manner of shapes to squeeze the notes out.

The trio appeared to be having a blast together on stage, even the aloof Carter allowed a smile or two while Toogood was his usual effusive and grateful self – thanking the crowd, employing dance moves to rival Thom Yorke and showing that he is still passionately living, breathing and exploring music.

this review was first published in The Drum Media.