This is the first solo project for Step-Panther main man Steve Bourke and it finds him shelving the noise and sci-fi surf rock of that band for a gentler, pastoral approach. The nervous energy and frantic flailing has dissipated into six lazily strummed and finger-picked songs that bring to mind Kurt Vile and Christopher Owens. There is still a stoned vibe to Bourke as the solo artist but the songs are more direct and keyed into a heartfelt and emotionally connected time zone; Boulder Valley is the highlight of the EP, managing to best portray those elements yet still positioned in a full band sound. Autumnal rock has never sounded finer.
For a couple of years now there’s been talk of a 90s revival in music from the slacker tones of Yuck to the many vying for the title of the new Dinosaur Jr (J is still the king). Locally here in Australia there doesn’t seem to be quite the same desire to slavishly replicate the heroics of past compatriots from that era but those doing it exceptionally well include Sydney’s Bearhug and Melbourne’s Iowa. Looking to the north one band slowly but surely cementing their place in similar fashion are Hope Springs.
Sooner Or Later is the latest EP from the Sunshine Coast trio based around the Lee brothers Tim (guitar/vox) and Joshua (drums) and it finds a solid foothold amongst the tangled lineage of post-rock and emotive indie rock that was executed so well in Australia by the likes of Bluebottle Kiss, Purplene, Two Litre Dolby and others. BBK in particular casts a long shadow over Hope Springs via the band’s quiet/loud dynamics, churning, chiming and distorted guitars and Tim’s angst-filled howl of a voice which is often a dead ringer for BBK mainman Jamie Hutchings – who even makes an appearance producing the track ‘On The Boat’.
What appeals the most about this EP is the band’s commitment to the intensity of the music, with each song they establish the tension and grip of the music, pulling it taut and drawing the listener into the turbulence. It is often a claustrophobic sound but more often than not they time their point of release just right, letting the music open up into panoramic vistas akin to blinding sunlight at the end of long tunnel. The first single and title track is built on relentless military drumming from Joshua which allows just that kind of release when it hits the chorus making it sound like a lost gem from the late 90s. ‘Broken’ dials back the bluster and allows some beautiful wordless vocal melodies to bloom in the quieter surrounds. It’s a mesmerising four and a half minutes that ebbs and flows with just the right amount of restraint.
In it’s finest moments Sooner Or Later hits lofty heights and if they can match those peaks with an album’s worth of songs further down the track they’ll quickly gain wider recognition for their music.
Head over to the band’s Bandcamp page to stream the tracks and pick up a digital, CD or vinyl copy
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 on their superb Badlands EP. The Adelaide natives have been teasing/threatening us for a while now with a string of singles (Chills, TomorrowMountain and Caroline) and now those songs plus another trio of equally terrific tracks comprise the EP.
Chills leads things off with its melancholic drunken sway, or perhaps it’s a booze blues hangover feel that permeates the track. The guitar is all chiming and woozy with its sing-song melody that builds up gorgeous layers of sound. It’s a warm, fuzzy and bucolic feel, a soundtrack for reminiscence that works equally well as the backdrop to a summer cruise to the beach. The vibe carries through to Hoping For, the most mature song in the set. There is a desperation and conviction in Ben Marwe’s voice as he sings “I feel like I could change”. There’s that optimism burning a hole in the song. When they hit that chorus and Miles Wilson’s drums pushes the song along with added urgency the whole song lifts into another place altogether.
The lo-fi aesthetic I mentioned earlier is certainly an important one but the band are clever to only use it as a reference, a connector to some semblance of a slacker mood. Sonically the EP is anything but lo-fi, indeed on a song like Home Life that comes across like Violent Soho and Nirvana battling for control over a mosh pit the sound is ferocious and raw but still widescreen and intense. Caroline nails a mid point between that brashness and the hook-laden jangle and riff side of their songwriting. With prominent bass and Marwe’s pleading and shredded vocals it is yet another highpoint.
Tomorrow Mountain sees Bad//Dreems delving into dark and murky territory with Alex Cameron’s heavily reverbed guitar clanging as effectively as it weaves antagonistic and pained post-punk riffs. The track reminds me of the much missed band The Scare and showcases the balance of the band in terms of writing across the emotional spectrum.
Fittingly they leave us where we first found them, back in that love-lost, forlorn, sun damaged, sepia toned state of mind. The guitars continue to casually fire off clusters of notes that bury deep in your memory. The bass sits comfortably between rhythm and melody and much like Lower Plenty’s Hard Rubbish LP (2012) they transport you to that happy/sad place where you feel inside the music rather than just a casual observer. If Bad//Dreems can keep writing songs to this standard their debut LP will be a real treat but in the meantime Badlands is another crucial addition to the canon of classic and quintessentially Australian releases.
The biggest thought on most punters minds as they awoke was how the weather was going to affect the Sydney leg of this years Laneway Festival. Showers and wind were forecast, a contrast to previous years of hot sunny days encased in the sandstone walls of Rozelle’s SCA. The anticipated weather did intermittently sweep through the grounds but as is usually the case it served to galvanise the crowd and create a roll-with-it mood amongst the sea of plastic-clad revellers imbibing cider and sliding down slippery grass slopes.
On arrival one of the first tasks was to orient oneself with the new layout. The site had been expanded outside the immediate college buildings and now included the large sloping field near the entrance housing the main stage and a smaller adjacent one. The Courtyard Stage had always had issues of sight-lines and acoustics for the bigger acts so these changes were an excellent development alongside further diversification of the food on offer.
Much had been said about the curious timetabling decision to have Norwegians Kings of Convenience open the day but they were given a generous hour long set and they proved to be the perfect way to ease into the festival vibe with their sublime acoustic-based folk and endearing sense of humour. They added a full band for the 2nd half of their set, showcasing a wider angle to their sound.
Henry Wagons, in contrast to the twee openers, was his usual ball of humour and country rock. Playing tracks from his Expecting Company album and a superb Wanda Jackson cover he encouraged audience participation in the form of hangman’s noose death gurgles as he danced and lurched through the first few rows.
Twerps and their jangly US pop cousins Real Estate played back to back and though their music is perfectly suited for outdoor listening Real Estate’s sound mix meant they didn’t quite gel compared to the blissed out guitar pop of Twerps whose Dreamin’ was the first song of the day to hit the audience sweet spot.
Diversity has always been a hallmark of the festival curators and this year the harder, faster and heavier end of the spectrum was filled by The Men, Cloud Nothings and Japandroids. The latter two enjoyed the larger crowds and some fervent crowd surfing and projectile throwing due to their spots later on the bill but The Men were the more revelatory of the three, locking in with a rush of punk and psych-rock intensity and dalliances with country music. Japandroids were suffered a muddy kick-drum heavy mix but the fans were oblivious, caught up in the anthemic punk maelstrom.
With the larger acts programmed on the new Park Stage it become the focal point for the crowds who draped themselves over the hillsides and it must have been a magical sight for the musicians gazing up the palm tree dotted slopes. In the wake of Hottest 100 success The Rubens, Of Monsters & Men and Alt-J drew predictably large and celebratory crowds. They sat on shoulders, swayed and screamed along but musically he first two offered little in terms of musical highlights. They sounded like generic music for a generic festival audience but that is the whole point of Laneway, it caters to many tastes from people there purely for the music to those there for the communal festival experience.
Hitting the smaller stages meant discovering artists with a smaller core fan-base. Julia Holter’s sublime voice cut a path through the drizzling rain offering respite from some of the grand gestures on the main stages while EL-P showed just why he is so respected as an underground hip hop artist with his intense rapid fire rhyming over a live band that created some futuristic and often dystopian beats. Jessie Ware was probably the oddest inclusion on the line-up in the sense that hers is a contemporary R&B sound but she proved another highlight with a voice that killed it live and a band that knew the importance of less is more and the power of bass. The crowning glory of the Future Classic curated stage came late in the night with Nicolas Jaar who drew a surprisingly large crowd seeing as he was up against local hero Flume. The sonic clarity of his futuristic electronica made for a wonderfully immersive set that impressed with its musical details rather than big beats or crescendo build-ups.
While Bat For Lashes entranced the majority of the audience with her elegant and creative pop music, Divine Fits were putting the exclamation mark on the festival playing their superb debut album and musically summing up the sounds of the day with their mix of pop melodies, inventive rhythms and an equal dose of rock. The twin vocals of Britt Daniels and Dan Boeckner rang clear into the night and their last song, a cover of Rowland S. Howard’s Shivers felt like the perfect conclusion to a day that saw the expansion and improvement of the Laneway Festival while still retaining a firm hand on the pulse of eclectic contemporary music.
Residents of Auckland New Zealand, Cool Cult are a post punk trio who released their six track self-titled EP a few months ago and though I was impressed on first listen it is only now, coming back to it again that I’m struck by how mature and sonically engaging the songs are. Comparisons with fellow NZ’ers Die Die! Die! are inevitable as they too balance dissonance and melody in a similar fashion. The difference is that Cool Cult have more rounded corners to their sound, the abrasive qualities are certainly there but they feel less confrontational than their peers.
From Kodiak is the perfect opener with its tumbling drums and twinkling and tripping guitar shapes. A line can be drawn back to other seminal kiwi acts like Bailter Space and Straitjacket Fits though Cool Cult sound much more nimble and excitable than either of those acts. From Kodiak drifts along with a self-propelled momentum before falling in on itself two thirds of the way through with the super-catchy guitar lines barely holding the song together before order is resumed. All Your Broken Bones is just as good, conjuring up a feeling of perpetual uplift. You can’t really hear what is being sung on many of the songs but it matters little, the appeal lies in the dynamics and constant compositional variation that comprises their songs.
The rest of EP expands on the style and sound established with the first two tracks with Ayurveda standing out as the best of the rest, taking a less hyperactive but still busy approach. There is plenty to like about Cool Cult, especially the maturity of their approach to their music. Their youthful indulgent tendencies are kept to a minimum and they clearly have a particular sonic aesthetic that they’re working to. Head over to their Bandcamp page to listen/buy the EP and discover why New Zealand is still throwing up distinctive and exciting guitar music from its shaky shores.
Dissonance and controlled aggression have always been hallmarks of rock n roll, it is just the context that has changed as the pop culture landscape has evolved. Over time the emergence of sub genres and sub sub genres has been an important factor in the continued relevance and progression of rock music. Post rock, noise rock, math rock, post punk – call it what you will but it has proven to have a long shelf life by virtue of its mutation and in New Zealand it has produced some seminal records from acts like Gordons, HDU, Die! Die! Die, Jakob and many more. The unassumingly named Sweater from Palmerston North are a new band who operate in the same realms as those mentioned and with their debut self-titled EP they show enormous potential as yet another jagged cog in the local music scene.
Across the EP’s seven tracks there is an unrelenting mood of claustrophobia and dread that manifests itself in clanging guitar chords, barked vocals and a rhythm section that knows the importance of their role in anchoring the music with precision and creativity. Cake is a particular highlight on the EP with its dark dancefloor-friendly beat providing the hook to the song in the same way that Gang of Four used the drum kit in the late 70s.
Though the band cite Die! Die! Die!, My Disco and Slint as influences there is also a clear line that can be drawn back to other New Zealand bands like Second Child and Love’s Ugly Children who, like Sweater, found a way to brilliantly combine noise and melody. In Sweater’s case most of those melodies come from the guitars rather than the vocals which are used judiciously and only when the songs require another angle or layer. That attention to composition and structure is one of the reasons Sweater are so successful with the songs on the EP. They haven’t crammed all their ideas into every song, each one has space and dimension to it even though most are under the three minute mark.
As an introduction to a band’s music Sweater is an impressive debut in a genre that is often accused of po-faced earnestness. There is a controlled energy, maturity and vitality that makes you want to see them live and curious as to how future releases will sound. That is the key to a debut release and Sweater have nailed it.
Sweater is out now and available as a free download on Bandcamp