All posts by Paul McBride

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

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)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
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)

Veronica-Falls
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)