All posts by Paul McBride

I am a writer and editor based in Brisbane, Australia.

Record review: Redcoats – Redcoats (2012, LP)

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Having made their mark on the Australian music scene in 2011 with a debut EP of explosive psychedelic-tinged rock ‘n’ roll, Melbourne’s Redcoats now have an album that loudly and proudly announces their arrival as a potent rock force. Their sound could be called thunderous classic rock, and harks back to a time when guitar solos were never under five minutes in length, bell bottoms were de rigueur stage wear, and pairs of socks were more likely to be stuffed down the front of the singer’s jeans than worn on his feet. Gimmicks however, do not a rock band make, and thankfully Redcoats also possess the chops to carry off their chosen genre with aplomb. Frontman Emilio Mercuri has a voice that could bring down buildings, and the epic rock riffage doesn’t let up from opener ‘Raven’ to the sprawling nine minute closer ‘Mean Money’, with reference points ranging from rock heavyweights like The Who and Led Zeppelin, to latter day purveyors of the form, like The Answer. ‘House of Luna’ is a mid-album highlight as Mercuri flaunts his impressive range, before ‘Evergreen’ rolls out the guitar fuzz and an uncharacteristically funky bass line. No self-respecting rock album is complete without a token snake reference, and it comes in the form of seventh track ‘Serpent Charmer’, which starts as a creeping crawler of a number before the guitars kick in to make a singularly crushing wall of noise. There is a rawness and conviction throughout that let you know these guys mean business, and when combined with the group’s immaculate instrumentation, make for an epic rock album. (Island)

Record review: San Cisco – San Cisco (2012, LP)

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Fremantle indie-pop quartet San Cisco have seemingly been kicking around local music circles since they were in nappies. Having already released two EPs, landed seventh spot in the Hottest 100 with smash single ‘Awkward’, and completed a multitude of tours while still being barely out of their teens, the three guys and a gal have finally dropped their debut album, and it’s a bit of a patchy affair. The slow-rolling pace of ‘Hunter’, boy-girl vocals on ‘Wild Things’, and the jauntiness of ‘Toast’ work nicely, but attempts to harness their bouncy, hipster quirkiness too often don’t work, making it a frustrating listen. At several points the band seem stuck for ideas and come off sounding, ironically, quite awkward. The mid-album brace of ‘No Friends’ and ‘Lyall’ are lyrically immature to the point of being annoying; “You’ve got no friends to call your own, no one ever calls you on the telephone” offers singer Jordie Davieson in his trademark yelp, as you wish he could’ve spent more time coming up with something a bit less obvious. Single ‘Fred Astaire’ does the same; “He probably knows how to dance, and he could fly you to France,” being the most offensive use of a rhyming couplet since every love song that involved you and I, flying high, up in the sky. Of course, they’re still practically kids and don’t take themselves very seriously so a lot can be forgiven, but the hype surrounding their debut album promised so much and San Cisco haven’t delivered. (Island City/MGM)

Record review: Green Day – Dos! (2012, LP)

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Think about the headlines you’ve read involving Green Day recently, and you won’t be picturing an all-conquering musical comeback, but rather a once-great band seemingly flailing in a whirlwind of dysfunction with a desire to shoot themselves in the foot. Billie Joe Armstrong’s recent drug-fuelled antics at first smelled like a publicity stunt seeking to regain them the punk status lost after the heady days of 2010’s American Idiot, before it was revealed he did indeed have a problem and was packed off to rehab. It’s in this climate that the second of three new albums is released, and it’s one that shows the Californians as being certainly older, but not necessarily wiser. More Warning, less Dookie, ¡Dos! plods and drags its feet way too much to be considered a classic Green Day album, and while it’s still a pretty cohesive affair, it’s ultimately the sound of a band desperately struggling to be relevant. Probably the worst example of this is ‘F**k Time’; imagine a cross between a punk band and the Grease soundtrack and you’ll be close. It’s not all bad; closer ‘Amy’ is a surprisingly poignant tribute to Ms. Winehouse, and ‘Ashley’ sees the band display a punk urgency that would fit well amongst the best songs on 1997’s Nimrod. Three albums in three months might feel like a godsend to many Green Day fans, but that old rule about quality over quantity should perhaps have been employed at some stage here. (Warner)

Record review: Flume – Flume (2012, LP)

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Flume is Sydney producer Harley Streten, a 21 year-old new kid on the block who has been turning heads and raising eyebrows with what has been hailed by many critics and fans as a ground-breaking electronic album, and with good cause. Full of radiant synth sounds, smooth soul, choppy beats and deliciously off-kilter techno, it’s a slick, entertaining album from start to finish, and one surely set to win awards for electronic album of the year. What is most impressive is the scope of the ideas on show; the young artist clearly has no lack of ambition. Every track is different and introduces a new set of sounds to pleasure your ears, from the clean, warm sounds of opener ‘Sintra’, to the gentle hum of techno daybreak on ‘Stay Close’, and intergalactic beeps of ‘Space Cadet’. Collaborations with several vocalists give the album an interesting and varied feel, the most impressive examples being Melbourne producer Chet Faker’s showing on ‘Left Alone’, as the vocal effects are left alone, and Jezzabell Doran’s playful pleading on ‘Sleepless’. There is something for every mood as Streten goes from upbeat to melancholy depending on the track, and at fifty minutes and fifteen tracks it’s a generous package that tails off slightly towards the end, but ultimately electronic music has found a brand new shining star. (Future Classic/Warner)

Record review: Villagers – Awayland (2013, LP)

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Being Irish, world-weary, and more than a little handy with a folk melody will inevitably see comparisons being drawn between Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien and the likes of Damien Rice or Glen Hansard, but the Dublin quintet throw enough curve balls on this second album to keep things sounding fresh and interesting. If having their debut album nominated for a host of major industry awards brought added pressure when putting together Awayland, it certainly doesn’t show, as this is an album laced with intimacy and imagination in spades. Sounding more like a band project than a solo job this time around, proceedings start strongly with ‘My Lighthouse’; a gentle folk ballad that allows O’Brien to flaunt his tenderly poised vocals. ‘Earthly Pleasure’ follows in a similar vein before ‘The Waves’ goes off on an unexpected Kraut-rock tangent; all billowing synths and guitar fuzz, and Judgement Call sees the drums and intergalactic space noises come to the fore. ‘Nothing Arrived’ is undoubtedly the main attraction here, with its instantly-catchy Jackson Browne-esque piano melody and sunny, laid-back disposition being enough to warm even the most frigid of hearts. O’Brien and Co. have clearly drawn their influences from a wider range of places this time around, as the second half of the album has hints of electronica and even a dash of funk on ‘Passing A Message’. The glue that holds it all together is O’Brien’s voice; but the variety of sounds on show is what makes Awayland more than your average folk album. (Domino)

Record review – Green Day – Tré (2012, LP)

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Everything Green Day have done recently has been overshadowed by singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s descent into drug hell, but Tre! – the third instalment of their punk album trilogy – sees the Californians return to business as usual of sorts. With its release date brought forward to the other side of Christmas due to Armstrong’s problems, it’s a mixed bag of an album that partly reflects the best of the band’s musical abilities (making it probably the best of the trilogy), yet at times reeks of the musical flatulence that has blighted their recent output. There are elements of the stadium rock bombast of American Idiot, the straight-up punk of Insomniac (a vastly underrated album in the band’s discography), but no sign of a sure-fire classic Green Day track. Opener ‘Brutal Love’ is all strings and grandeur, before ‘Missing You’ recalls Nimrod and ‘Drama Queen’ is the token acoustic number. ‘Sex, Drugs & Violence’ hints at a return to form in three-chord punk style, yet still manages to sound limp and light compared to previous material. Perhaps it’s harsh to compare these new albums to such bonafide classics as Dookie and American Idiot, but knowing what this band are capable of makes Tre! all the more infuriating; it’s like they feel the need to out-do themselves with every new release. Being prolific is all well and good, but surely these three albums could have been rolled into one great one? Disappointing. (Warner)

Record review: Everything Everything – Arc (2013 LP)

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The story of Everything Everything’s formation sounds like a familiar one: four scruffy Manchester university students decide to form an indie band influenced heavily by the best of the classic British groups that went before them. But that’s probably where the familiarity ends, as this bunch of tune-makers draw influences from a more eclectic range of sources; from The Beatles, Nirvana, and even Destiny’s Child, according to frontman Jonathan Higgs. Arc – the band’s second album after their 2010 debut Man Alive – is a vibrant and colourful affair from the off, mixing elements of pop, rock, and electronica in a casually haphazard fashion. Single ‘Cough Cough’ blends an R&B vocal melody with military-style drumming and and zig-zagging synths with quite stylish results, and the punchy ‘Kemosabe’ makes you want to scream “hey!” to the vocals in its catchy chorus. Unfortunately, it soon becomes clear that for every good track there’s also a not so good one; particularly the cringeworthy ‘Torso Of The Week’ and ballad-lite ‘Armourland’. Parts of this album sound like a band on a creative winning streak, but overall Arc is too polished and contrived to be considered a vital release, and it tails off noticeably in the second half. However, Everything Everything are probably one of the few bands who have enough genres covered to be a success as both a live act and on the DJ’s turntable, and that’s no mean feat. (Sony RCA)

Record review: Local Natives – Hummingbird (2013 LP)

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The release of 2009 debut Gorilla Manor saw Local Natives being compared to the likes of Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes, and Hummingbird will reinforce such parallels, although the Los Angeles quartet now use their influences to forge a more mature sound that’s all their own. This second album showcases a collection of exquisitely crafted tracks filled with shimmering soundscapes, perfectly refined drama, and lyrical themes exploring the darker side of the fame game and life on the road. The recent departure of bassist Andy Hamm has seemingly unaffected the band’s ability to create songs of layered beauty and warm intrigue of such high quality to make Hummingbird an early contender for album of 2013 – it’s that good. Taylor Rice and Kelsey Acer provide vocal harmonies in a fashion not dissimilar to how Grizzly Bear might approach their work, and the layers of barely-controlled guitars and drums are spread liberally over the top, most notably on the excellent ‘Heavy Feet’ and ‘Ceilings’. ‘Wooly Mammoth’ is another highlight, as a monumental wall of sound is built from a repetitive bass line and epic levels of percussion, before a perfectly toned guitar riff breaks it back down and then unleashes the force once again. The more delicate tracks are just as alluring; including the hazy ‘Mt. Washington’ and lilting ‘Colombia’, which sees Acer asking “Am I giving enough?” With Hummingbird, the answer is most definitely yes – this is an outstanding and essential album. (Infectious Music)

Record review: Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – We The Common (2013 LP)

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San Francisco songstress Thao Nguyen allegedly began learning to sing and play guitar while working at her mother’s laundromat as a twelve year old. Sixteen years of gigging experience and three albums later, and the multi-talented singer/guitarist is a confident and accomplished frontwoman in a band that not only has one of the best monikers around, but has put together an appealing and eclectic set of songs on We The Common. Straight-up ’60s-style pop mashes with ’70s soul, ’80s hip-hop, and ’90s dance to make a fresh and fun album with a socially-conscious heart, with Nguyen’s engaging voice and witty and cutting lyrics at the centre of everything. Equal parts St. Vincent, Kim Deal, and Beck Hanson, Nguyen explores themes from penal incarceration, feminism, and social equality with a boundless energy and inventiveness. Sprightly opener ‘We The Common (For Valerie Bolden)’ recalls Nguyen’s time doing volunteer work with women prisoners, while the funky ‘City’ sounds like a female-fronted Red Hot Chili Peppers circa 1994, and folkie Joanna Newsom pops up on the deft duet ‘Kindness Be Conceived’. New single ‘Holy Roller’ is a catchy, finger-pickin’ pop song that benefits from John Congleton’s (The Walkmen, Black Angels, Modest Mouse) production, which is crisp and clean throughout. Unconventional and charming, We The Common is an experimental approach to pop music that will see Thao Nguyen getting under your skin and staying there. (Ribbon Music)

Record review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II (2013 LP)

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Former Mint Chicks singer-guitarist Ruban Nielsen formed Unknown Mortal Orchestra in 2010 under a shroud of anonymity, choosing to release his first tracks online with no promotion or fanfare whatsoever. Since 2011’s self-titled debut, UMO have been the psychedelic cult band of choice for those attuned to that type of thing, but II will surely see the Portland three-piece broaden their fan-base significantly. It’s an intriguing album, as Nielson recently admitted to fearing for his sanity on tour, and lyrically he lays himself bare with stark candour, channelling the likes of Syd Barrett and John Lennon. Opener From The Sun couldn’t be more like a Lennon-penned Beatles song if it tried, combining a sunny guitar riff with the foreboding lyric “Isolation can put a gun in your hand, if you need to you can get away from the sun.” Single ‘Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)’ sees him detailing his need to “sink to the bottom” and let all his dreams “float away”, in a deceptively catchy track, ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ is a casually fuzzy affair, and proceedings get even more eclectic with the funky ‘One At A Time’. The bizarrely brilliant pop gem Faded In The Morning ensures the second half of the album doesn’t run out of steam after Nielsen indulges his more experimental side with the sprawling and slightly tedious ‘Monki’, and closer ‘Secret Xtians’ brings the sound back to where it began in a satisfying close. The album’s best feature is that it reveals a little more with every listen, making it one you’ll want to spin over and over. (Jagjaguwar)

Record review: Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen (2013 LP)

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Have you ever been a fan of one element of a band’s sound but been less fond of another? Say, loved the band, but were unable to stand another second of the ear-grippingly awful caterwauling coming from the dude at the front? Well that’s not quite the case with London quartet Veronica Falls’ second album, as it’s a group of songs stuffed with some of the most perfectly pieced-together jangle pop of recent months, but there’s something just a little too twee about singer Roxanne Clifford’s voice to prevent it being a deadset hit. The ‘twee’ label has followed the band around like a bad smell since their 2009 formation, and it’s probably unfair to pigeon hole them as solely that, as there’s so much more to be found under the pop-lite veneer of the tunes on Waiting For Something To Happen. The most impressive element is the guitar interplay between Clifford and James Hoare, recalling the sounds of Johnny Marr, The Feelies, or cult ’80s college rockers Pylon with energetic aplomb. Opener ‘Tell Me’ and single ‘Teenage’ are perfect examples of this – as the guitars, bass, and drums kick in you sense yourself being in the presence of top drawer pop, before the vocals enter the frame and urge fingers towards the “skip” button. However, what’s great about Veronica Falls is that they don’t seem to care about labels, genres, current trends, or any of that nonsense whatsoever, instead choosing to plough ahead with their catchy brand of simple, harmless pop. (Slumberland/Bella Union)

Record review: Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic (2013 LP)

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There’s an argument that psychedelic flower-power rock belongs in another age; an antiquated, bygone form of music that has no frame of reference in today’s dog-eat-dog world. It never totally went away of course, but it was pushed so far underground that it came close to pushing up daisies instead of wearing them in its hair, as the sixties died off and bled into the dark rock of the early seventies and anarchic punk stylings of the second half of the decade. So, given time to lick its wounds and pick itself up again, flower-power is back in fine form, refitted and retuned to cope with the rigours of the 21st century, and young New York group Foxygen are leading the revival. Despite the influences being glaringly obvious (The Beatles, The Byrds, Lou Reed, The Stones’ more upbeat moments) this ain’t no acid flashback folks – this is flower-power revamped for a new generation. Setting out their stall with a ridiculously lengthy and apt title, Foxygen duo Sam France and Jonathan Rado are clearly wired to another era, and sing with total conviction about missing their West Coast love on San Francisco, and being some kind of new-age troubadours on the title track. There isn’t a dud to be heard on this album of sixties vinyl distortion, catchy melodies, sunny harmonies, and perfectly fuzzy guitar; ‘No Destruction’ being probably the finest example of all the above. Based on this evidence, 2013 could well be the year of peace, love, and Foxygen. (Breakfast Horse)

Record review: Palma Violets – 180 (2013 LP)

Every so often a new group of young cool cats is heralded as the saviours of rock ‘n’ roll, and the mission to bring guitar music to the masses and reinstall indie rock back to its position at the top of the musical hierarchy is forced upon them by various magazines and blogs. London likely lads Palma Violets have been touted as the new Messiahs for the past few months, just like Rough Trade label mates The Libertines and The Strokes before them. Being particularly adept purveyors of the form, they will certainly add a lot to indie-rock music, rather than changing the whole scene altogether. Like The Libertines, they are a brilliant mix of ramshackle melodies, gutter heartbreak, and charming scrappiness, and the quartet back up their new-indie-kids-on-the-block style with plenty of song-writing substance. ‘Step Up For The Cool Cats’ is a good place to start checking them out; it brings together scratchy guitar lines, lo-fi organs, and a hint at aggression desperate to be unleashed. Elsewhere, ‘Tom the Drum’ channels the guitar work of Eddie Cochran and drumkits are given a relentless pounding, and ‘Chicken Dippers’ sounds like a junk food-addicted Julian Casablancas crooning on a spaghetti western track. Media hype has crippled and crushed many a young band before they had a chance to really get going, so it will be interesting to see how Palma Violets cope with the expectations placed upon them. (Rough Trade)