ALBUM REVIEW: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds | Live From KCRW

Rating8.5square-600This is Cave and cohorts fourth live album, capturing them at in interesting junction in their career with Grinderman running its course, Push The Sky Away being the first album to not include founding member Mick Harvey and unlike some of its more varied predecessors it is for the most part considered and restrained in its delivery. Live from KCRW continues that mood, even when it includes seminal Bad Seeds tracks like Mercy Seat, here stripped of its bombast and imbued with creeping dread and angst. Remarkably the intensity remains just as gripping, with added ache and sorrow courtesy primarily of Warren Ellis’ violin.

All four of the Push The Sky Away songs are the real highlights of the set. Higgs Boson Blues sets the scene with nine minutes of funereal, pulsing gothic blues, laced with line after line of Cave’s finest lyrics. Wide Lovely Eyes sticks closely to the album version with its gospel feel and rhythmic industrial chug while Mermaids is a warmer and improved rendition with the addition of a magical distortion-drenched guitar solo rumbling and groaning through the latter sections.

Not everything works as well as the most recent songs with And No More Shall We Part sounding forced and not quite in the band’s grasp. The session winds up with a comical introduction to Jack The Ripper, the band hamming it up teaching pianist Cave the chords before he commands Jim Sclavunos to “hammer it Jim” and the the sonic bar brawl of a song kicks into life. As live albums go this sounds fantastic and it feels like a celebration of the rarefied air the band are currently working in.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

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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: These New Puritans | Field of Reeds

by Fiach Smyth

square-600-3Rating9Imagine: music (whose je ne sais quoi is viele Punkte (in the Stockhausen style) but laugh …) – it communicates not-clearly (blurred, obfuscated, misty, nebulous, opaque; camera obscura in depth and breadth and clarity). Imagine music.

Now imagine I wrote this whole review the way that These New Puritans wrote Field of Reeds, their third album and without a shadow of a doubt their most challenging. It plays with (or breaks) structure and pulls together a diverse range of influences, styles, sounds and levels with none remaining dominant long enough to stamp itself indelibly on the overall experience. The difference, of course, is that while I am trying to communicate a fairly clear and concise response to and analysis of an artwork, that artwork itself is communicating mood. Not thought, not feeling, not even emotion, but mood, a state of being, and that state is either confused or complex and layered depending on your take on it.

Unlike Hidden with its refrains and its unifying drum-and-orchestra, no single track on Field of Reeds can stay the same from start to finish, but internally-consistent disharmonies and almost rhythmic dips and rises in activity and energy create this sub-audible tone that carries you through the 53-minute experience.

At the risk of being vulgar we should talk about songs, and in that context I would talk about Fragment Two. Not officially a single (yet) it is certainly the flagship track from this LP, receiving a very moody video treatment from Daniel Askill, the Australian film artist of surreal art piece We Have Decided Not To Die and Sia’s less surreal Breathe Me.

Fragment Two is a really, really good song. It’s powerful and it’s deep and it’s evocative, and of all the tracks on Field of Reeds it is the best at standing on its own, having a distinct beginning, middle and end. Saying Jack Barnett’s raw, unrefined vocals add emotional depth to the song would be like saying a tsunami adds water to a beach. The signature – and possibly eponymous – reeds come in cleanly under the second half of the track like a tide pushing the song towards the coast where it crashes with a question: in between these islands, to where are we swimming, Jack?

The album never answers that question. Field of Reeds doesn’t say anything, it is a mood, and though that mood is either layered or legion depending on how strongly it’s coming on at any particular moment, if there is a one-word summary it is… contemplative. Someone’s in a complicated relationship and they are trying to think it through. You don’t get a well-ordered, well-organised sequence of cogent ideas, you get someone bouncing around from thought to thought to idea to feeling to wanting to yearning to having to silence but always returning to a question. No track captures this flitting better than V (Island Song) which asks, powers up, churns, changes direction before settling nine minutes later back where it started with a lingering question.

And the same can be said of the entire album. You may not know the answer or even recognise the question that These New Puritans are asking, but we all know what it feels like to ask that question ourselves. It feels like Field of Reeds.

ALBUM REVIEW: Milk Music | Cruise Your Illusion

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by Chris Familton

Rating7square-600-2The brilliantly titled Cruise Your Illusion is the most realised of Milk Music’s albums to date with its ramshackle and parched slacker rock vibes that finds just the right balance of buzzing drive and a laid back stoner aesthetic.

The Olympia, Washington band show a strong allegiance to the kind of damaged punk and classic rock that the likes of Dinosaur Jr and Husker Du mastered but they still have very much their own sound built on free-ranging guitars and the wounded wail of singer Alex Coxen who has one of those gloriously messy voices that wanders around the notes and conjures more mood than melody. New Lease On Love possesses the textural surge of Swervedriver, as does Cruising With God the highlight of the album and the moment where they sound the most self assured and recklessly in sync.

This is one of those albums that should appeal to a wide group of listeners because it hits so many familiar references and eras while still keeping one ear focused on the importance of a good song amid the solos and DIY rock sonics.

this review was first published on FasterLouder.com

ALBUM REVIEW: Kurt Vile | Wakin On A Pretty Daze

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by Chris Familton

Rating9square-600-3Kurt Vile’s last LP Smoke Ring For My Halo made good all the promise he had showed in flashes on his earlier albums and so, with expectation hanging heavy in the air he has gone and taken that template, tightened its sound and expanded its possibilities on the superb 69 minute Wakin On A Pretty Daze.

Ten minute opener Wakin On A Pretty Day sets the scene with a slacker vibe built on Vile’s vocals that share similarities with Lou Reed and J Mascis’ lazy-drawl tendencies. He then doffs his cap to another obvious influence when KV Crimes opens with a riff straight from Neil Young’s songbook. Vile’s music inhabits a clean and precise sonic canvas yet it also possesses jam band qualities by rote of its wandering, drifting moods. Compositional restraint is one of the key elements to why this album works so well and it is a record that requires time and attention. Get in close and there is also a deceptive complexity and creativity buried in Vile’s songs. Take Was All Talk with its robotic Krautrock drums, electronic washes and faintly psychedelic dream pop leaning guitar sound. On the surface it is a typical Vile song but its rich structure and John Agnello’s production are captivating. Pure Pain is another that hits the spot with a chopped guitar/drum pattern that is both primitive and adventurous with flashes of Metallica, Led Zeppelin and Dinosaur Jr buried in its musical DNA. Vile sings with an eye to the past while trying to figure out the shape of his future in the face of physical and emotional separation but it is really the music that does the talking.

There is an effortless quality to this album that revels in being unhurried and is unconcerned with causing a commotion. It digs deep into hypnotic grooves, exploring the delicate and subtle possibilities of rhythm and melody with mesmerising results.

this review was first published in The Drum Media and online @ themusic.com.au

 

ALBUM REVIEW: John Grant | Pale Green Ghosts

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by Chris Familton

Rating6square-600John Grant first came to prominence as the singer of The Czars around the turn of the century before returning with his highly regarded solo LP Queen of Denmark in 2010. Fans of that record will find some songs here that fit the same template as his solo debut but they may also be surprised by the heavy streak of retro electronica that characterises much of Pale Green Ghosts.

The diversity of sound covers both middle ground and extremes with the opening title track strongly reminiscent of Depeche Mode, bursting with techno rhythms and squelching synths. In its finest moments Grant and Icelandic producer Birgir Porarinsson (of Gus Gus) create some wonderful austere and eloquent synth pop but they would have been best served giving all the songs the same electronic treatment rather than switching to and fro with Grant’s more familiar 70s baroque pop personae. When they harness cold and stately synthesizers they create some great moments like the Sinead O’Connor backed It Doesn’t Matter to Him and Why Don’t You Love Me Anymore but in general the highlights are too infrequent and lack cohesiveness to improve on Grants first solo album.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Pissed Jeans | Honeys

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by Chris Familton

square-600-2Rating7.5Pissed Jeans… how can anyone go past a name like that? As a descriptor of the band that the moniker graces it is a pretty appropriate for these Pennsylvanian miscreants who ooze bodily fluids, sordid themes and many forms of self loathing and disdain. Following on from 2009’s Hope For Men, Honeys sticks to the same template of that and previous records while also succeeding in peeling back some of the scabs to expose a rawer and more bruising sound.

There are some obvious precursors to their type of sludgy post-hardcore punk rock. Jesus Lizard, Tad and Harvey Milk all laid the paving stones for Pissed Jeans while in New Zealand you can draw a strong line back to SPUD and early HLAH. The gruff, flailing, strangled wail of singer Matt Korvette is the icing on the cake. He uses grunts, monotone monologues and visceral bellows to unload his peeves and cynical observations on technology, modern life and its inhabitants like a less earnest Henry Rollins. Cafeteria Food finds him as a worker celebrating the death of his project manager whose life he finds inane and shallow and it is just this type of subject matter that sets Pissed Jeans apart from many others working in similar musical realms. Honeys is packed with lines like “There comes a time in my life to choose a health plan. You wanna know my secret? I stay away from doctors”. Lines that make you either chuckle or grimace depending on the blackness of your sense of humour.

While Korvette’s voice and demeanor quite rightly draw in the listener it wouldn’t succeed without the rest of the band delivering him wheelbarrow loads of lurching sleazy rock with which to spew forth his discontent. The drums are brutal and unrelenting with Randy Huth’s bass hitting like a pick axe, deep and tight in the rock. Bradley Fry has a great handle on when to dispense nervous twitching treble riffs and then drop gears into a grinding and distorted chordal death waltz. Either way it is his playing that keeps everything on edge and swinging between total chaos and mechanical bulldozer punk metal. On the Nirvana-leaning Health Plan he sticks to the punk rock rule book of rapid fire chord changes, no solos included while elsewhere he nails measured crunch and broken note bends on Male Gaze and Birthday Party-sounding noise on Chain Worker.

There is a certain intensity that makes Pissed Jeans a band that will be championed by its own predefined audience and even with minor changes they’ve shown on each album they’ll never break out and find a new demographic of fans. That though isn’t a problem when you are the frontrunners in your field. With Fugazi on a long term hiatus, Jesus Lizard seemingly boxed in the attic again and Rollins content to traverse the globe with his spoken word it is left to the likes of Pissed Jeans to carry the torch for this type of bold and brash gonzo rock that wallows so beautifully in society’s ugly failings.

this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz