ALBUM REVIEW: The Tall Grass – Down The Unmarked Road

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Jamie Hutchings (Bluebottle Kiss, Infinity Broke) and Peter Fenton (Crow) have come together as The Tall Grass, which began as a live acoustic duo project before being expanded upon and sonically coloured in the studio with a wide-ranging band sound.

It’s still on the laid-back vibe though – wistful, poetic, and melancholic. The sound of their other bands is still evident, particularly Hutchings with his more distinct vocal stylings but it’s wholly a collaborative effort with the pair playing off each other with a melodic ebb and flow, tension and release.

Songs are expertly built on close harmonies and traded lines, guitars that weave in and out and springboard off each other amid melodic bass lines, field recordings and jazz-leaning drums and percussion. It all comes back to the songs though, and Moller, The Buyer Beware, The Two O’Clock and Little City in particular, match the best either has written in the past.

I keep mentioning the strength of songwriting and the interplay between the two musicians but it is the hallmark of a collaborative project when the creative lines between the artists are blurred, carry equal weight and ultimately the art is the sum of its parts. There’s a delicate tenderness to the music here, built on mutual respect and the willingness by both Hutchings and Fenton to explore the shadows and sunlit corners of emotion and experience.

Chris Familton

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ALBUM REVIEW: Mere Women – Big Skies

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Album number three for this Sydney quartet (previously a trio). The addition of bass guitar adds another layer of rhythm and movement to their sound as they tackle the experiences of women over different generations via their dark and swirling post punk.

It can be a claustrophobic listen at times, the guitar acting like mesh and gauze with its washes of distortion and clanging reverb, while Amy Wilson sings in a stentorian manner, the obvious comparison being a tougher Siouxsie Sioux shapeshifting with the fluidity of Warpaint. Drive and Numb are two highpoint on a very strong album that manages to simultaneously sound sweeping and intimate.

Chris Familton

SONIC KICKS: The Singing Skies

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On the eve of the Vivid launch show for the new LP from The Singing Skies, the main creative figure behind the band, Kell Derrig-Hall, takes us on a tour of his record collection and a few of the albums that shaped his musical life.

Head In The Trees, Heart On The Ground (via Preservation Records) is Derrig-Hall’s second album and it’s quite the immersive, mesmerising and atmospheric listening experience – of which we’ve said:

“Evocative moods via a lush and swooning sonic palette afford Derrig-Hall the ability to paint stately and ornate folk songs of the English variety. Everything is considered and most of it is gently presented with strings, guitar, shuffling drums, soft bass and a warm dose of ambient reverb giving the songs a dreamy, pastoral quality.”

You can catch The Singing Skies launching their album live at Golden Age Cinema & Bar in Surry Hills, Sydney on Saturday June 3rd, in collaboration with Vivid Sydney.

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The first album you bought.

I bought Metallica’s Ride The Lightning and Guns N’ Roses’ The Spaghetti Incident on cassette from a mall near my house. The Guns N’ Roses tape was all covers which I didn’t realise at the time. I think there was a Cosmic Psychos cover on there which is pretty cool. I’m still a pretty big fan of Ride The Lightning when I’m in the right mood.

An album that soundtracked a relationship.

My partner Lia and I listened to a lot of Red Apple Falls by Smog early in our relationship. It’s a lovely record to sleep in and create your own world around.

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An album that inspired you to form a band.

Leonard Cohen’s Songs From A Room was a big influence on my songwriting and convinced me that writing songs that centred around lyrics and sincere sounding singing could be exciting. Lia and I formed an ambient noisey drone band called Moonmilk after spending a lot of time with Fripp and Eno’s No Pussyfooting.

An album that reminds you of your high school years.

The Clash – London Calling

I loved this album so much and I made tapes of the double album which gave it a lot of mileage on the bus to school. It really opened me up to a lot different ideas in music.

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An album you’d love to hear live and played in full.

John Cale – Paris 1919. 

This album is just so incredible. Imagine seeing those strings and oboes and wild arrangements. John Cale taking on a character that speaks to ghosts and travels around Europe being mystified by everything and poking fun at the aristocracy. Apparently he was very high and loose during the writing and recording but I think he could pull it off.

Your favourite album cover art.

King Crimson – The Court of the Crimson King

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A guilty pleasure album.

Bob Dylan – Empire Burlesque. 

This is not a celebrated Dylan album, but I think it’s pretty great. The arrangements are creating some sort of new wave/harmonica rock. There are some really great songs on it and he’s really belting it out with the backing singers. It doesn’t always go down well at a party though.

The last album I bought.

Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat To Earth

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The next album I want to buy.

Richard and Linda Thompson – Pour Down Like Silver

Alice Coltrane – The Ecstatic Music Of Alice Coltrane

Heat Wave – Heat Wave

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LIVE REVIEW: Underground Lovers

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Underground Lovers, Simon Holmes @ Leadbelly, Newtown, May 18th, 2017

With an excellent new album in tow, Underground Lovers finally made it back up the highway to Sydney after a few years absence. They’ve clearly retained and widened their audience too, with two sold out shows to celebrate the release of the new record.

Simon Holmes of The Hummingbirds had to battle the restless and chatty punters but he did so by virtue of some fine vocal melodies and the late-set addition of Adam (vocals) and Simon Gibson (drums) of the Ark-Ark Birds for a trio of their songs. A nice inclusion was a stripped back but still effortless and catchy version of the 1989 Hummingbirds single Blush.

Complete with a cache of psychedelic video projections, Underground Lovers put on a consummate, almost celebratory set. There was a false start with a miscued drum machine on the new song Unbearable but they laughed it off, with frontman Vincent Giarusso blaming nerves. From then on they never put a foot wrong, playing a big chunk of the new album Staring At You Staring At Me, intermingled with highlights from their back catalogue.

They’re a more muscular and propulsive band on stage than on record, the rhythm section locking into fluid and repetitive grooves that strayed into motorik Krautrock territory and down psych rock sonic rabbit holes. Melancholy permeates their music but the shared lead vocals between Giarusso and Philippa Nihill, the blend of Glenn Bennie’s guitar and the electronic elements ensured an all-encompassing sound that filled the room and was much dance-inducing as it was forlorn. Every Sign and The Rerun were two highlights from the new record – dark dance music akin to Primal Scream at their most rewarding junction of electronic and rock music. The biggest crowd response came with Dream It Down’s Las Vegas. A chanted sing-along ensued and when Giarusso hit the line “Lots of feathers, fluffy and pink, and cigarettes” an audience member responded with one. It was a weird sight seeing a cigarette inside a venue in 2017 but it was a fine moment at a gig where the mood of re-lived youth and fresh musical discovery was in the air.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: The Tall Grass, Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds, Christine Jane

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The Tall Grass, Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds, Christine Jane Leadbelly, Newtown (May 6th, 2017)

This was a double album launch for The Tall Grass and Adam Gibson and they chose well to celebrate their new albums together. The songs and music of both bands deal in rich poetics and tangled and exultant musicality. Mood and emotion are strong components of their respective works.

Christine Jane and acoustic guitar accompaniment opened the evening with a set that got better as it progressed. Her voice proved to be a versatile instrument and her performance was assured, culminating in a wonderful and bluesy, jazz serenade.

Adam Gibson & The Ark-Ark Birds sound like a quintessentially Australian band, one that straddles communal indie pub rock sounds, evocative wide open desert plains storytelling and heady suburban poetry. The six-piece were augmented by the vocals of Alannah Russack and a fine guest piano turn from Jadey O’Regan. Gibson is the real focal point of the band though, his spoken word delivery, slightly awkward to fresh ears, quickly became a hypnotic tool, drawing in the audience with tales of sisters and stranded sharks, missing persons, torn apart towns and stilt walkers. Belanglo, Byron And The Road Between was completely captivating, the band sounding like the Bad Seeds soundtracking an ominous tale that was never going to have a happy ending.

Witnessing the two year gestation of The Tall Grass, the collaboration between Peter Fenton (Crow) and Jamie Hutchings (Bluebottle Kiss, Infinity Broke), has been a fascinating one. Beginning as an acoustic duo they seemed to be woodshedding skeletal songs on stage, finding their feet and the right blend of style and song. The release of Down The Unmarked Road was their first full-band show and the effect was akin to transforming a black and white photo into a full-sized colour print. Texture and depth was added and both artists were freed up to stretch out vocally and with their guitar playing. Little City was a highlight, its gently propulsive and coaxing rhythm and the pair’s melodic interplay sounding sublime. The Road Is Long contrasted with its rougher edges, and Tom Waits-ish clatter, Fenton and Hutchings opening their lungs, gritting their teeth and leaning into the song with real intent. An impressive realisation of a musical collaboration and clear mutual respect.

Chris Familton

LIVE REVIEW: Spoon

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Spoon + Mike Noga @ Metro Theatre

Sydney, Australia, March 23rd, 2017

Mike Noga has stepped things up and fleshed out his live show with a full band that at times featured a triple guitar approach. The transition from solo performer to band leader mean he’s lost a bit of that Dylan-esque raconteur vibe but one can see where he’s taking it – giving the songs from his 2016 album King a wider palette and greater dynamics. It also allowed him to focus more on singing and imbuing his performance with greater physicality. A bass amp problem threatened to derail things but the band adapted and recovered well.

Spoon had the Metro at near capacity as they sauntered onstage and went straight to songs from the new album Hot Thoughts. The title track and Do I Have To Talk You Into It welcomed a stronger focus on keyboards but also showed how well the band have brought them to the fore in their songs without any great change to the Spoon sound. Space is the key to what Britt Daniels and band do so well. The rhythm section of Jim Eno and Rob Pope are its backbone, whether that was a fractured and (dare I say) funky approach or near-Krautrock/post-punk, dark and driving grooves as the guitars chopped and tangled with retro synth sounds.

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Spoon are astute rock deconstructionists, there wasn’t a guitar solo to be found all night, instead it was all about texture and accents, a sort of musical equivalent to pop-art collage if you will. They’re clearly enjoying playing together as a band, jovial and knowing smiles were exchanged regularly, fingers were pointed in recognition of each other’s playing and they found that sweet spot between locking the songs in tight and still sounding free-flowing and completely organic.

Highlights came in the form of a rousing I Saw The Light, the pulsing shimmer and grind of WhisperI’lllistentohearit and I Turn My Camera On, with the crowd fully engaged in a united front of bobbing heads and sung words. Though the second half of the set lost some of the initial rush of energy and conviviality that hung in the air for the first half, they carried it home like returning heroes of the alt-pop variety.

Chris Familton