NEW MUSIC: Zola Jesus – Exhumed

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Zola Jesus returns with the first single from Okovi, her new album on Sacred Bones Records, due out Sept 8th.

It finds Nicole Hummel in fine form, juxtaposing dramatic flurries of strings, industrial electronic rhythms and low frequency bass thrums as she backgrounds her lead vocal with the deathly howl of her self-voiced choir. There’s a turbulent, anxious and haunting feel to the song that seems to be addressing death, rebirth and the shadowy netherworld that lies between both.

NEW MUSIC: Zola Jesus announces new album Taiga

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After three excellent albums in Conatus, Stridulum II and The Spoils, Zola Jesus has announced her new album Taiga will be out on October 7th via Mute. Below you can stream the first single ‘Dangerous Days’.

In regards to the album title, Nika explains, “Taiga is the Russian name for the boreal forest. For me it feels very alive… very expansive. It represents a feral, untapped world that could happily exist without us. There are taiga forests in Northern Wisconsin where I was raised, and also in Russia where my ancestors are from, so it also feels very native.”

 

 

EIGHT DAYS A WEEK: August 30th, 2013

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by Chris Familton

Welcome to the inaugural Eight Days A Week column where every Friday morning I’ll round up what caught my ears and eyes over the week, what is coming up in the near future in terms of gigs, new releases, news etc. plus any other goings on in my music dominated life.

This week much of the internet chatter surrounded the flatulence of the MTV VMA Awards where Miley Cyrus got down and dirty in her performance. For my mind it was just a poorly executed attempt at poking fun at the current state of commercial pop and r&b that relies for the most part on sexual imagery and a blatant disregard for intellect and the art of music. Yeah she didn’t pull it off but it was the logical (though unfortunately not the end-point) culmination of what the industry (artists, record companies, PR) has created, plus it probably got more people talking VMAs round the water cooler than recent years.

There have been a couple of new and recent releases that I’ve been hitting repeat on this week and really digging. Austin Lucas, who was in Australia earlier this year doing a solo tour, has released his excellent new LP Stay Reckless and it finds him really coming of age as an Americana songwriter and highlights his superb voice and guitar playing.

Zola Jesus is someone I’ve been a big fan of for a few years now and her new album Versions continues her evolution as an artist, constantly exploring new angles and possibilities in her music. Versions is a collaboration with JG Thirlwell (aka Foetus) who has scored strings beneath a collection of her previously released songs and it works magnificently, amplifying the drama that is always inherent to her work.

The summer festivals are only a season away now and the announcements are coming thick and fast. Big Day Out snared some big names but last week Soundwave Festival trumped it with its mega metal lineup that includes Green Day, Megadeth, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice In Chains, Rob Zombie, Placebo, Clutch, Baroness. Soundwave isn’t generally my cup of tea – I’ve only been once when Jane’s Addiction, Faith No More, Sunny Day Real Estate, Anthrax etc played – but it looks like they’ve got a pretty good balance this year between all the different strands of metal. Bluesfest also announced their first batch of acts this week and though it was great to see the likes of Iron & Wine, Devendra Banhardt there, it was outweighed by the beige blandness of John Mayer and Dave Matthews Band sitting on top as two (of what will be many) headliners. Personally I’m hanging to see what Laneway Festival can deliver in 2014…

Speaking of metal/rock I pondered the current state of it on the DS Facebook Page this week saying…

Where are all the great new rock bands?
Looking back at some Lollapalooza lineups (Jane’s Addiction, NIN, Rollins Band, Ministry, Soundgarden, Tool, Alice In Chains, QOTSA) got me thinking about the current state of rock, particularly that sweet spot where brutal riffs, swagger, melody and intelligent ideas all converge. For me the new(ish) bands nailing it are the likes of Baroness, Mastodon, METZ, Pissed Jeans, Protomartyr, Red Fang but it sure doesn’t feel like a deep playing field. Are there any bands of that ilk hitting the mark for you?

On a more personal note, some of you may know that I play bass in the band Charlie Horse. We’ve got a new album out in October with release shows lined up in Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Brisbane as well as a trip across the Tasman to play a few dates in New Zealand so things are going to get busy with all things band and blogging. Last week we played two support slots for Irish band Ash who were playing their great album 1977 in full. Sydney and Brisbane were a blast and we rounded out the week by playing PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love LP in full at the Brisbane Powerhouse. Seeing as this column is intended to cover everything I encounter musically I figured there may be some interest in the occasional insight into recording, touring etc. so I’ll include some highlights every now and then in the Eight Days A Week dispatches.

If you are a fan of Americana music, whether it be alt-country, folk, rockabilly, blues (or like me, all of the above) you should check out my other blog Post To Wire which looks specifically at those musical forms with reviews, news, videos etc. There tends to be a focus on the Australian and New Zealand scenes but I try to cover everything good that I come across from mid century hillbilly boogie to the latest Texas troubadour.

Finally it was exciting to find out Doubtful Sounds (and also Post To Wire) have been included in the 20 finalists of the music blog category of the 2013 Pedestrian.TV Ultrabook Blogster Awards. This the second year running DS has been a finalist so we’re pretty happy just to be one of the blogs in the running for the award. Congrats to all the other finalists too. We’ll be reminding (hassling) you to throw a vote our way over the next 4 weeks and I’ll keep you informed about how we go.

PTW 2013

LIVE REVIEW: Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, Forces @ Sydney Opera House Studio (31/05/12)

by C. Familton

Forces were up first in this evening that showcased the darker side of contemporary electronic music. The Melbourne duo made great use of the Opera House’s exceptional sound quality and seemed to win over a large portion of the audience with their industrial post punk electro set. They combine a bunch of sounds from the past, particularly the early 80s, yet it conjured up a dystopian futuristic mood of the kind that Cabaret Voltaire excelled at.

Light Asylum have a reputation for bringing intensity to their live shows, something that is often lacking with live electronic music. They did just that with Shannon Funchess proving to be a formidable front-person both in voice and presence. Unfortunately she wasn’t helped by her vocals being buried too low in the mix, a crime when her voice is their main weapon. She made up for it though, with a magnetic performance that saw her stalking the stage, wildly flailing limbs and drumsticks, getting in the faces of those in the front row and generally bringing an intensity that drew the audience into her music. Bruno Coviello was Funchess’ silent synth partner, happy to let her command the limelight while he maintained the intensity on highlights like Dark Allies and tracks from their new album like A Certain Person and IPC.

The impression that Light Asylum made was soon eclipsed by the brilliance of Zola Jesus and her trio of musicians. She was nothing short of a revelation both in terms of her visual presentation and the power and passion she conjured up with that voice. It was quite astonishing how someone so small in stature could project such a powerful sound. She traversed the scales from low brooding notes all the way up to exultant screams and near operatic wailing. At the same time she skipped around the stage and through the audience, threw her body into musically triggered convulsions and showed a real devotion and skill at performing her songs rather than just standing and singing them. Mainly playing tracks from her last two albums she gave us the percussive Vessel, the uplifting pop feel of Sea Talk and a magical take on Night that encapsulated her exceptional ability to create and sustain tension in her music. The serene visuals of slow moving white smoke and droplets of water completed what was a mesmerising performance from Zola Jesus.

 this review was first published in Drum Media

FEATURE: Why So Glum?

by Chris Familton

In both popular and fringe culture the dark has been rising steadily over the last decade and it is showing no signs of retreating into the shadows. Fascination with death, ghosts, the dark arts and melancholy have always been important signifiers of all art forms yet this current trend in Hollywood movies and in many musical genres is tantamount to a gothic renaissance.

At the mass consumption end of the scale much credit must go to films like the Harry Potter and Twilight series for kicking off the current trend. They set the scene for the current popularity of TV shows like True Blood, The Walking Dead and American Horror Story with networks embracing death, blood, evil spirits and serial killers. If the theory of art reflecting society is anything to go by then the financial turbulence of recent years is surely a factor in the current popularity of these shows.

Musically the heyday, if not the origins of goth can be traced to the early 80s and bands like The Cure, Bauhaus, The Sisters of Mercy and Joy Division. Many of the groups dismissed the goth tag, much preferring to be called post punk as most emerged from the late 70s UK punk scene yet their music shared tendencies of claustrophobia, rumination on the dark and morbid side of the human psyche and with visual images that embraced very little colour there was generally a look to go with it. The sound those bands created has filtered through to acts of today, some thirty years later, whether it be the darkwave electronica of Light Asylum, Zola Jesus and Austra or guitar bands like Ceremony, The Horrors and Interpol. Most interestingly the cross pollination with synth pop, shoegaze and and dream pop has allowed new versions of the goth/post punk to emerge.

Every music scene is based on action and reaction so in this age of pop music where everything is increasingly saturated in synthetic gloss it is only natural that those with a disdain for manufactured happiness and more inclined to embrace melancholy will find music like this to suit their tastes.  Of course how we label any type of music and how we group its fans is just a symptom of how we like to categorise things but the fascinating thing about the current taste for the dark side is the extent to which it has permeated the mainstream and doesn’t look like giving up the ghost anytime soon.

this piece was first published in Drum Media

NEWS: 2012 Vivid LIVE Festival Program Announced…

This year the Sydney Opera House based festival Vivid LIVE has done away with a guest curator, in the past using Lou Reed & Laurie Anderson, Brian Eno and others. From 2012 onward the festival will be overseen by the Sydney Opera House’s programming team, led by Head of Contemporary Music, Fergus Linehan as Festival Director.

The full line-up for this year has been announced today and it feels like there is a decidedly contemporary if not futuristic angle to much of the music.

  • Karen O and KK Barrett’s Stop the Virgens
  • Florence+the Machine
  • The Temper Trap
  • Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner
  • Janelle Monae and the Anchandroid Orchestra
  • Amon Tobin’s ISAM
  • Efterklang and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
  • PVT
  • LCD Soundsystem’s Shut Up & Play The Hits (Australian Film Premiere)
  • My Brightest Diamond
  • Seekae
  • Nights Like This w/ Danny Brown and MED
  • Modular Night w/ Tom Vek, Jonathan Boulet, and Kindness
  • FBI/Penny Drop Party w/ Zola Jesus, Light Asylum, and Forces
  • Imogen Heap
  • Good God Danceteria!
  • Future Classic Party – line-up TBA

Vivid LIVE takes place at the Sydney Opera House 25th May – 3rd June 2012.

FEATURE: Girls Aloud

In the last five years an increasing number of female artists have been making themselves heard above the generic indie clatter. Many of them have stepped away from the softer folk leanings of artists like Feist and Cat Power and established a stronger, more assertive aural template.

In the electronic realm the likes of Austra, Fever Ray and Zola Jesus are creating dark electronic pop music with great critical success. Their music takes influence from post punk, goth, industrial and synth pop but they meld and advance those forms with an added coat of modern digital sheen and futuristic glamour. Across the hallway in the indie room there is Anna Calvi conjuring up swooning guitar-led songs full of passion and drama while next door Florence Welch is taking the baroque sounds of Kate Bush and others and magnifying the music to maximum grandeur.

What links all of these artists is a bold and commanding vocal presence that is of a maximalist nature, projecting outwards. That strength of delivery isn’t something new – Bjork, Patti Smith, Nico, PJ Harvey and Siouxsie Sioux were all there first –  yet this new generation of songwriters are embracing both their natural voices and a desire to invest passion and drama in their music while creating new and interesting work from established musical forms. Simon Reynolds recently wrote of the current trend for overblown sonics and production styles in his Maximal Nation article for Pitchfork. There his focus was on the electronic world yet the themes and trends he discussed are also fertile developments in the pop and indie worlds.

As these artists continue to gather an audience the trickle down effect will increasingly become apparent in other like-minded singers. Locally, acts like Brous, Melodie Nelson and to some extent Washington are embracing big bold artful pop shapes with differing levels of intensity while internationally Feist was one artist who noticeably moved away from some of the sweetness of her earlier work on last year’s Metals LP. Musically it felt like both a retreat and an advance but most of all it was an example of her desire to expand and evolve her craft. It all makes for interesting times as both nostalgia and now increasingly futurism become permanently embedded in the evolution of popular music. The number of female artists among those creating forward thinking and ambitious sounding music is an encouraging and important sign of the times.

this was first published in The Drum Media