ALBUM REVIEW: Straight Arrows | It’s Happening

written by Chris Familton

Straight Arrows have been fine tuning their ramshackle sound for a couple of years now and finally have an album to show for it. Their other releases have been 7 inches that have all been snapped up, something that has enhanced their reputation as the next great garage band to slouch forth from the Sydney suburbs.

Owen Penglis and the rest of the Arrows haven’t let the studio lead them into extraneous tracks and instrumentation, in fact they cram 11 songs into 24 minutes on It’s Happening – nothing even scrapes the 3 minute mark. This is one of the things that makes this album so damn appealing. You feel like you are getting fast ideas, simple no fuss fuzz pop that shakes and rattles and then leaves you hanging wanting more. Opener Bad Temper is the perfect example of a song that could quite easily have been stretched longer than its 2:12, the trebly surf guitar is like a day-glo sugar hit and the gang chant of the chorus throws up images of sweaty punters hanging over the front of a stage yelping along in gonzo unison.

Though Straight Arrows operate in a fairly tight style space there are some subtle nods to other bands. Mind Control could be an outtake from Circle Pit’s Bruise Constellation – in fact both bands share Angela Bermuda in their ranks. Gone is a psych pop Pink Floyd (Syd era) nugget and Magic Sceptre sounds like The Rolling Stones when they were still naive and fumbling to figure out who they were. Black Lips are an obvious comparison, both in sound and substance, with the main differences being the thin and brash reverb soaking that all of the songs get on It’s Happening – via the 1950s recording equipment they got to use – and it’s strong garage/beat aesthetic that doesn’t veer far from it’s template.

When I’ve seen the band live they sound like they are late for something, rushing to get through the set. The energy works on one level but thankfully they seem to have pulled things back and allowed more groove and skinny hip swagger to be woven into the songs. They sound hazier and more narcotically inclined compared to the beer and brio rush of their live set.

Haunted Out is a standout track with its gothic swamp punk sound, creeping along and getting all voodoo on your ass. The more I listen to it the more I hear things like the post punk guitar riff and the song’s malevolent intent. The flip-side to Haunted Out is the Flying Nun sweet pop sound of Golden Torch, showing that they can pen a pretty tune as readily as the frantic beat strum that they are best known for.

Straight Arrows have stuck to their guns and created a pretty unique album in today’s age of digital recordings, airbrushed sound and slick marketing. This sounds like organic music made without pretension and possessing an energetic shimmy and strut that gives their psych rama-lama sound its fresh appeal.

this review first appeared on Fasterlouder

REVIEW: DEERHUNTER @ The Annandale Hotel (20/06/09)

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Reviewed for FasterLouder – visit them, they’re great !!!

Tonight was a special evening for the Sydney indie crowd who had missed Deerhunter at the Manning Bar a week earlier, such was the hype and anticipation that has been built up around this tour. Tweets and bloggers have been foaming at the mouth over the the band’s visit and so for someone who hadn’t yet been wholly convinced by the band’s recorded material it was a good chance to see if Deerhunter measured up live.

Straight Arrows graced the stage first with their gleefully ramshackle garage punk n roll. With Circle Pit’s Angie on bass the boys played a typical breakneck set of lo-fi songs, mostly counted off with a 1,2,3,4 before they all collapsed into the music and proceeded to deconstruct themselves with fantastically sloppy solos and disheveled snotty vocals. It works wonderfully, mainly due to the obvious fun they have playing. Grins and adrenalin seem to be key ingredients to their sound and fans of Black Lips should make sure they catch Straight Arrows next time they are playing.

Traps were an interesting choice of support act in that they represent the cleaner guitar pop side of indie. Their songs are carefully written and arranged and there is a distinct British sound to them. Arctic Monkeys, Radiohead and Editors all raise their influential heads at different times and though they absorb and filter their idols extremely well there was a nagging sense that it was all too planned out. They perhaps suffered from following the rawness of Straight Arrows and not sounding too straight against the experimentalism of Deerhunter.

There is no denying Traps have some catchy and marketable melodic rock songs like The Calling Cure but the missing ingredient of an enigmatic personality and stage presence may hold them back from building a solid fanbase.

Atlanta’s Deerhunter have cleverly built up a reputation around themselves for intense live shows and devoted fans. This has stemmed from their diverse music and the outspoken, ‘heart on sleeve’ frontman Bradford Cox.

The Annandale was packed to the gills for their second Sydney show and Deerhunter were in a playful and chatty mood for the last night of their tour. They played a wide selection of songs from last years Microcastle and the earlier Cryptograms. Hearing the songs in the live setting was an ‘I’ve got it!’ moment for this writer. The full spectrum of their sound was played out across their set. The overt Pavement and Strokes influences were strong but there was also the long and winding krautrock sections where they stretched out, added loud, quiet and louder dynamics and built a swirling intensity that at some points could have gleefully carried on forever.

Never Stops bounced out of the speakers like a quieter cousin of Spoon, subdued but utterly infectious. Agoraphobia wooed the audience with its seductive mumbled vocals and lullaby guitar melody while Little Kids stepped out of this dimension with its trippy shoegaze folk. The song Microcastle was one of the tender highlights toward the end of the night with Cox lulling the audience into silence just in time for the rest of the band to kick back in with the euphoric and uplifting second half of the song.

Cox is undoubtedly the star of the show with quite an amazing varied vocal style. It could be soft and cooing one minute and the next it is a delay-laden scream, infinitely more assertive than you would expect from someone of his physicality. Cox was also in a chatty mood with the crowd. His conversations ranged from his affinity for the herb lavender to the stoush between Atlanta rappers Gucci and Young Jeezy. Witty and sharp as a tack, Cox proved that though their music can often be hazy and dreamy, they don’t fall into the stoner, shoegaze stereotype in any shape or form.

Deerhunter showed that indie music can be tough and challenging and still be full of soul and emotion. They seemed to love performing and the crowd reciprocated. Listening to Microcastle again today I’m hearing things that I wonder why I didn’t hear before, a sure sign of how seeing a great band in person can erase previous misconceptions. I’d go so far as saying Deerhunter was one of the more satisfying gigs so far in 2009.

REVIEW: LIME SPIDERS @ The Annandale Hotel 20/12/08

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The Lime Spiders are a legendary Sydney band so it was time for this expat New Zealander to venture down to the Annandale and continue his education in the history of Australian music.  The path of discovery has travelled through the towns of The Saints, Scientists and Radio Birdman and we have now arrived at the door of The Lime Spiders.

Tripping onto the stage to entertain the early birds was the Straight Arrows.  The lack of a crowd did nothing to deter them from launching into a batch of short sharp and fast garage punk tunes that were impressive in their delivery and attitude.  A nice wire thin trebly guitar sound and surf inspired lead breaks were highlights of a set that sounded like a cross between the Black Lips and and Dead Moon on speed.  These guys (and girl) would kick the arse of bands like Little Red in a switchblade street fight any day of the week.

Next up was the Happy Hate Me Nots who are another band with a history reaching back a couple of decades.  Their sound ranged from the Jam influenced ‘Salt Sour & Brighton’ through to harder edged melodic punk songs where their tightness came to the fore.  Their enthusiasm rubbed off on the growing crowd who responded well to their brand of positive power pop.

The Lime Spiders have been kicking against mainstream pop music for nearly 30 years now and they still know how to kick out the jams.  With a new drummer (guitarist Ged Corben’s 17 year old son Tom) they delivered a powerful muscular performance, hardly stopping for breath between songs.  Their sound probably hasn’t evolved much over their career and they played the hits such as “Slave Girl’ and ‘Out Of Control’ alongside other album tracks and a couple of covers (I’m Bored and Don’t Fear The Reaper).  These two choices neatly summed up where the Lime Spiders are coming from with their mix of 60’s/70’s US punk and more classic psychedelic rock stylings.

Singer Mick Blood still possesses a gravel soaked growl of a voice that packs more power than you would expect from a man of his size.  His delivery is understated and he keeps his ‘rock’ moves to a minimum which is refreshing in this day and age of posing and posturing.  The only slight criticism of their sound was the over eager enthusiasm of drummer Tom who seemed to fill every spare piece of silence with drum fills and cymbal crashes.  It would have been nice to hear a wider palette of drumming with a simpler, more solid beat in places.  Not that this was a slight on the show as the Annandale crowd lapped up some of the best loved songs of the Australian underground by a band still intent on delivering their motor city ramalama grooves with fire and sweat.