REVIEW: S M Jenkins – Out There In The Zone EP

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Rating8This 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.

Chris Familton

Out There In The Zone is out now via Jerko

 

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Step-Panther – Strange But Nice

Rating7step-panther_strange_but_nice_0914Step-Panther’s debut self-titled album was a mixed bag that pegged them as a band still finding their feet and throwing paint to see what might stick. Three years on, they’ve evolved from a short attention span garage-rock band with too many ideas to a ‘90s alternative rock-flavoured trio with plenty of good ideas and the ability to shape and execute them.

Frontman Stephen Bourke has honed his songwriting and learnt what to leave out of a song. His lyrics, singing and guitar playing all benefit here from an economical approach. From the Weller-esque ringing chords in ‘Candy In The Sky’ to the Tony Iommi metallic riffing on ‘User Friendly’, there’s a central figure to nearly every song that gives it a definable sound. That’s not to say they’ve lost their sense of fun and musical adventure. Songs still take sharp turns without indicating but the changes feel right and fit perfectly.

Taken as a whole Strange But Nice is Step-Panther taking you on a guided tour of their (or at least Bourke’s) world of music where a sci-fi Weezer collides with The Bats and Sonic Youth remixes The Clean (‘Something Must Be Done’). At its best the album contains absolute gems like ‘Parallel’, possibly the finest song they’ve written with its cascading guitar riff and bittersweet melancholic chorus or ‘Zombie Summer’s’ back half that circles repeatedly on itself. A couple of songs pull the album’s batting average down but overall Step-Panther have taken a great leap forward on their second full-length.

Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music (Sept ’14)

 

NEW MUSIC: Step-Panther | Nowhere

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They’ve been quiet on the live front for the last while but Step-Panther have been busy recording their new album with Big Scary’s Tom Iansek. The album Strange But Nice is due out in August via HUB/Inertia and here’s the video for its first single, ‘Nowhere’. Shades of Sonic Youth and 3Ds permeate the song before a hypnotic wave of tumbling guitar notes wash over the song and chugging distorted chords bring it all home. It’s a more refined sound for Step-Panther, definitely a very cool ‘next step’ kind of change for the trio that bodes well for the new record.

LIVE REVIEW: Nuggets: Antipodean Interpolations @ Paradiso at Town Hall (25/01/13)

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by Chris Familton

In a rare use of the Sydney Town Hall for rock n roll, Sydney Festival honoured both the original and seminal 1972 Nuggets 60s garage rock compilation and its recent Australian tribute Antipodean Interpolations of the First Psychedelic Era. The night was a chance for six of those bands to play short sets that gave a snapshot of their own Nuggets-spirited sound. It would have been amazing to see the hall packed to capacity, heaving to paint-peeling psych garage rock but though the crowd wasn’t disappointing it was still far from capacity.

The trio Bloods christened the stage with an endearing mix of enthusiastic and pop-leaning primitive rock. Though their cover of Farmer John wasn’t a touch on the original their other songs showed they can write catchy hooks. A band was needed to embody the spirit of ‘kicking against the pricks’ rock n roll attitude and The Gooch Palms were the ones to do it. The drums/guitar pair have their Cramps /Iggy schtick perfected and were only one song in when singer Leroy dropped his gold hotpants to reveal all before turning and proudly spreading his cheeks to the crowd. For all the aping and shock value they backed it up with some excellent primal theremin swamp rock that also drew from 50s rock n roll and doo-wop. Step-Panther took a few songs to get into their groove but they showed their are continuing to evolve, dropping some of their ADD song structures and making use of Steve Bourke’s great guitar playing. Melbourne representatives The Murlocs and King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard felt like a double act – sharing members, sounding like authentic 60s garage rock outcasts and providing the peak of the events offerings. The Murlocs have a blues streak, complete with harmonica while King Gizzard threw in rnb basslines amid a ramshackle punk dive vibe. The sound of the venue best suited these acts with their white-hot treble sonics and while it was decidedly average overall, if any type of music was going to make the most of the acoustics it was this bunch. The Laurels always deliver but here they sounded out of place, their songs felt like lumbering, epic space rock, lacking the knife edge sound of the other acts. It was left to hometown heroes Straight Arrows to put the exclamation mark on the night and they staggered and lurched through a set of new and old tunes that concluded with a volley of toilet rolls into the audience.

The venue was oversized for this type of music but Nuggets was still fun, primarily due to the spirit of the audience and the bands. Hopefully the organisers take note and build on this foray into underground local music for future arts festivals.

this review was first published in Drum Media / The Music

INTERVIEW: Step-Panther

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“We get talked about as a lo-fi band but it isn’t what we are trying to do,” says Step-Panther’s Stevesie as he takes Chris Familton through the recording of their debut album.

For any new band the biggest step after writing a batch of songs and establishing your live show must be the recording of the debut album. Many have built a career from that first release that can often capture the essence, innocence and creative blossoming of a group. On the flip-side it can also be a document of a band struggling to find their feet, their sound still in its germinal phase. Sydney’s Step-Panther have started off on the right foot with their self-titled debut, a record that harnesses the slacker vibe and caustic guitar noise of their live shows and added a polish and sheen that highlights some concise songwriting.

Singer/guitarist/songwriter Stevesie (the trio go by their first names) didn’t want to mess with the simplicity of the band’s approach to their music so when they entered the studio with producer Simon Berkfinger (of Philadelphia Grand Jury) they worked fast and stuck to the basics.

“He was keen to do it and it was kind of a time thing, we only had three days so we decided to just hammer it and make the best of what we could. We did it over three days [at Berkfinger’s Enmore studio] and then did we did some overdubs at my house. The reason it was so rushed was that he had to move to Berlin in a week so we just had to do it. We went back and forth with mixes and I did take a trip over there to visit him while he was doing the mixes which was cool. We finalised things there because it was hard to explain what you want from a distance and I was traveling at the time so I only had an iPhone and speakers on my laptop to judge it.  The way we recorded the album was tracking it live, tracking it live and using a lot of the guitar, bass and drum tracks of us just playing through the song with minimal overdubs, that’s always been our style.  We tried to record it in a lo-fi way and then mix it in a way that would bring it out and make things sound as nice as possible when we mixed it. We get talked about as a lo-fi band but it isn’t what we are trying to do.”

The necessary evil of releasing a record is its promotion and marketing. Step-Panther take the approach of letting the music doing the talking with only minimal interest in social networking hype game and looking for additional revenue streams via merchandising.

“We have a twitter but I don’t really feel like I have much to say. We have a manager who tweets about shows and things. Any more than that would be overkill for us. We just don’t have enough money to print any t-shirts. We did some last year but I did them myself and they turned out funny, the skull was kind of askew. A few people bought them out of pity I think.”

As he heads off to prepare for the evening’s gig, Stevesie reflects on the the journey his songs have taken from the bedroom to stage to the recorded versions and how he is aiming even higher for Step-Panther’s new songs.

“In my mind I dream up the most ridiculous and over the top things like real Springsteen style stadium rock and then because of the limited instruments at our disposal it gets reduced down but still with some of that attitude. You have to imagine the sax solo and strings. The newer ones have a more dramatic feel with more in them. We thought “oh it would be nice to do a bridge,” he laughs.

this interview was first published in The Drum Media.

Step-Panther is out now via Speak n Spell

ALBUM REVIEW: Step-Panther | Step-Panther

written by Chris Familton

Noisy guitar pop seems to be everywhere at the moment, whether it is stained with garage rock, shoegaze or 90s indie there is a strong melodic vein running through it – more pop and less rock in the traditional posturing sense. Locals Step-Panther have been impressing on the live circuit and now they’ve successfully translated their songs to the recorded form on their self-titled debut.

There is a sense of freedom in the band’s music as they hop nervously between styles. The album opens with Never Again, a classic punk dispatch that sounds like skinny kids playing Jesus Lizard without the psychological disturbance. Rock and Roll Alone is a 60s drenched take on rock n roll of the type that preceded The Ramones and they play it fairly straight down the line. The way Step-Panther sound like they’re not trying hard belies the strongly edited craft they bring to their songs. There is very little diversion into noise for noise sake (other than the bratty petulance of Scorpions and the throwaway closing track) as they keep their eyes on the pop prize at all times.

At a glance some may accuse the band of aping an American sound yet there are some strong homegrown references like the Bluebottle Kiss indie angles of Ferrari and the Galactic Hurricane that could easily have a place on a Further album. The album is over in half an hour, something of a trend alongside other brief recent releases and as they approach the end they give us one of the album’s gems in Sentimental Town, a classic sounding track that conjures up images of Springsteen jamming with Television at the feet of Phil Spector. It’s a shame the trio didn’t include the song Jimmy on the album as it would have sat perfectly on it and strengthened the record even more. Regardless this is a catchy and impressive debut from Step-Panther.

this review first appeared 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