It’s been four long years since Jen Cloher’s last solo album, and while she’s been far from idle or out of our collective eyeline in that time, it’s bloody good to have her back putting out new material of her own. That’s because 2017, and everybody involved with it, needs a healthy dose of Jen Cloher’s fire, and if you don’t feel like you’ve had a savage, if eloquently-delivered, kick to the pants after a run-through of these excellent 11 songs, then you’re probably not wearing any pants and you should do something about that immediately. When she’s not using Rolling Stones lyrics to weave tales of missing her partner while she’s on tour on lead single ‘Forget Myself’ or meandering in perfectly off-kilter fashion while questioning the Australian dream on ‘Regional Echo’, she’s raining blows on the “feral right” on ‘Analysis Paralysis’, and the over-privileged and (gasp!) music critics on ‘Shoegazers’. It’s all well and truly called-for, and Cloher delivers on every track, while her other half is pretty damn handy on lead gee-tar, too. We should be happy Jen Cloher is on our side. What an outstanding album.
The world’s a very different place to what it was when HAIM made an eager and innocent music world swoon with their debut album in 2013, so what can the Californian trio add to 2017? The answer, to put it plainly, is pretty much more of the same, so that’ll be welcome news if you loved Days are Gone, and not if, well… you didn’t. “With nowhere to live when they came off the road, they returned to familiar territory – setting up shop at their parents’ house,” reads the bumph accompanying the album, and it mostly shows. There’s plenty to like about the title track, the soaring ‘Nothing’s Wrong’, and lead single ‘Want You Back’, while value could be added by thrusting a foot instead of merely dipping a toe into points of difference on the funky and soulful ‘You Never Knew’ or the almost sludgy glam of ‘Kept Me Crying’. Andrew Innes of Primal Scream once told this reviewer of the sisters’ ability to harmonize and read each others’ movements as something that can only come from playing music together their entire lives, and he’s probably right. Knack with a melody: check. Respecting the lineage of ’70s and ’80s pop and soft-rock: check. Keeping it all relatively safe: check. The formula is clear and apparent, but there’s magic in HAIM’s particular formula, so, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
*Knock, knock*. Who’s there? It’s 2017 and it’s time to wake up, you lazy cretins. Hammering on the door of chez Green Buzzard with such platitudes would likely bring about at least two reactions. One: scrambling to hit the OFF switch on The Charlatans’ Greatest Hits playing on the CD player, and two: fear on such an unprecedented level that their already-significant desire to die and be reincarnated in the pop landscape of 1995 would be multiplied many times. You see, they are a band so scared of NOW that their brand of indie-pop, although masquerading under the guise of being faithful/respectful/reverent to the lineage, could be tossed into any or all of the piles of irredeemable turgidity floating aimlessly in the cesspools of the mainstream. Ten tracks pass by in a blur of guitar-pop lightness: ‘Tear My Heart Away’, ‘Space Control’ and ‘Hypnotized’ are perhaps the most tedious. While ‘Never Let Me Go’ and ‘IDWK’ have some redeemable moments, the jaw-aching yawns begin with lead single ‘Do You Ever Glow’ and the Buzzard quickly loses it buzz. If postponing the future by suckling at the festering teat of Britpop is your thing, get your sickly, bleeding gums around this.
There are at least two very distinct sides to Melbourne indie-punk trio Camp Cope. One is bruised and broken, while another is defiant and angry, and it’s this juxtaposition that makes their debut record such a captivating release. Spawned from singer-guitarist Georgia Maq’s musical outlet for social commentary and her take on relationships, misogyny, and the degradation of working life, this eight-track effort delights and demands attention in equal measure. Single ‘Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams’ is a good starting point and could read as an audacious anti-Trump-and-everything-he-stands-for statement, while ‘Lost (Season One)’ finds Maq railing against the middle-of-the-road. It’s refreshing to hear a band making statements rather than platitudes, and the singer doesn’t hold back with her often brutal lyrics. “I could look at you naked and all I’d see would be anatomy / You’re just bones and insecurity, flesh and electricity to me”, from ‘Flesh and Electricity’ is a prime example, but it’s all carried off with a vulnerability that makes you believe she’s trying to convince herself more than anyone else. It’s not all heavy-themed Debbie Downer-ing either; pop culture and television aficionados will find much to enjoy, with sneaky references to X-Files, Twin Peaks and Lost peppered among the barbs. Like a dowsing rod pointing to primo tuneage, Poison City Records have done it again. If all you anxious punks out there don’t get onto this, you’re stupider than I look.
Okay, before I begin, let me say this: our very existence is on a knife-edge and everyone dies alone. In a world of uncertainty we have to grab hold of whatever takes the edge off the grim reality on the front pages. The country’s going to hell in a Hanson-shaped handcart, so the time for plunging worried fingernails into the small certainties that make life worth living is upon us. One of those certainties is the ability of a good rock band to soothe the soul and free the mind, and the four Findlay sisters of Stonefield have been a good – hell, great – rock band on the national scene for close to six years. This release, their second full-length along with a couple of EPs, is a work of maturity and drive that expands on their instantly-riffy, ’70s-soaked psych-rock sound and pulls in other influences from the wider rock realm to make quite the gut-kicker. The sludgy, Sabbath-esque ‘Sister’ and organ-driven ‘Dream’ let you know they haven’t gone soft since their 2013 debut, while ‘Love’, ‘Eyes’, and ‘Higher’ (what’s with all the one-word titles, guys?) sound like they will be monstrous on stage. There’s a lingering feeling this is much more of a ‘band’ album than previous Stonefield records. Rather than four talented individuals ripping into their instruments, it has a cohesion most likely forged by constant touring at home and abroad, including dates with Fleetwood Mac. Country Victoria can be proud of the Findlays, and the rest of us can take heart from the knowledge that while just about everything is slipping through our fingers, some things remain steadfast.
It’s been three years coming, but Emma Louise’s second album is finally here and there are questions to be answered. What has changed in the singer-songwriter’s world since her first EP in 2011 and debut album two years later? Is the Brisbane-based artist still comfortable laying her soul bare in her songs? And what exactly is a Supercry?
Given the amount of time Australian and international audiences have been appreciating her considerable talents since she won a state-wide songwriter’s prize at just 16, Emma Louise already feels like a veteran of Australian music. Perhaps it’s the timelessness of her indie-pop tracks, again apparent on Supercry, that make her feel like an old-timer in these parts, despite being barely 25. Perhaps it’s the quality and depth of her lyrics, which yet again sound like they’ve been written by someone with decades behind them in the singer-songwriter business.
What’s changed between releases is simultaneously not much and just about everything: her voice is as delicate and engrossing as ever, but the drama is ratcheted up several notches from past releases; no doubt a result of a few more years of life experience.
‘West End Kids’, with a tip of the hat to Brisbane’s left-leaning community south of the river, is sparse and nostalgic, ‘Talk Baby Talk’ is an emotion-charged last roll of the relationship dice, ‘Everything Will Be Fine’ sees the singer in self-assurance mode, as does ‘Illuminate’, which sees her declare “I know I’m braver than this”. The mood is grand and graceful throughout, even if it walks a fine line between triumphant and troubled along the way.
Now, Supercry isn’t Saturday night listening; it won’t get you pumped up for a big night. It will, however, soothe your tortured soul and ease you into a state of transcendence within no time at all. By the end of a first listen it’s still not clear exactly what a Supercry is, but with this collection of songs, Emma Louise has cemented her place as one of Australia’s finest young songwriters.
Former Bamboos buddies Graham Pogson (G) and Ella Thompson (L) are a band on a mission. The sound of their debut album lies somewhere in the realm of electro/funk/soul/r&B/pop, and while caring about fitting into an easily-defined category is nowhere near the agenda, the duo’s obvious goal appears to be getting people dancing. This generous 14-song collection will most certainly do that and more, as killer track after killer track is revealed and at no point does the quality take a dip. A constant throughout is the ghost of ’80s electronica, albeit strained through a filter of contemporary Australian pop. ‘Number One’ is perhaps the silkiest track here, while single ‘Hallucinate’ brings the funk and ‘Grip’ the bass. Elsewhere, ‘Scully’ introduces a little menace and ‘Cheap Shot’ is Thriller-era pop with better vocals. Thompson must be a contender for busiest musician of the year, having released a record with Dorsal Fins and a solo album in the past few months, and as with anything she is involved in, her voice which steals the show; she could probably sing pages of the dictionary and her soulful delivery would still melt the hardest of hearts. Touch doesn’t sound like much else being released right now and debut albums shouldn’t be this assured. What the GL have these guys been drinking?
What a pleasure it is to give an album a spin after enjoying a single, and finding out the whole lot is as good as the individual reason you arrived at this place in the first instance. Such is the case with Hello Friends, the excellent second album from Melbourne-via-Adelaide musician Stephanie Crase (formerly of Batrider). The instantly-familiar ’90s guitar-pop sound of single ‘Shoot and Score’ provides a good indication of what’s to be discovered across ten tracks. At first it all sounds so sunny and warm, but there’s darkness just out of shot at many points, and Crase is often in a scathing mood. Opener ‘Son of a Gun’ finds her in such a headspace, but it’s more contemplative than combative, while ‘Make Your Way Back to Me’ is part Sonic Youth, part dream-pop transcendence. The distortion-driven ‘Wine Won’t Wash Away’ is a highlight, while the slow, gentle guitar lines and reflective lyrics of ‘Tumbling Down’ and ‘So Long’ are no less engaging. Crase’s skill is in making it all seem so effortlessly easy, whether it’s witheringly dissecting those around her, switching from loud to quiet à la the Pixies, or peeling off an epic solo, and there’s a lingering feeling she’s not really taking it all seriously, which only adds to the appeal. The musical reference points are clear, but its Crase’s contradictions which make this such an appealing collection of tracks, and there’s much more here than meets the eye.
There’s a reason it took until just recently for someone to have the gonads to call their band Australia: it’s a moniker that will invite all manner of cliché and lame comment. It’s a good job then that the Sydney group, formed by core members Guy Fenech, Oliver Marlan and Nick Franklin, have the musical chops to give anyone who hears them something else to consider; mainly that they are an indie-pop band with imagination and talent coming out of their ears. The lead single from their debut album, ‘Wake in Fright’, provides one of the best examples of this. A foreboding bass line, Fenech’s crooning, and distorted guitars make for a track that ticks boxes on many levels. There’s big production to match all the big synth numbers, while things get softer on the more sentimental ‘In My Dreams’ and ‘Not the Place I Know’, on which Fenech does a decent melancholy Bowie for an impressive five minutes. The jewel in the stereotypically-antipodean synth-pop crown is the danceable ‘Love is Better’, which brings the ’80s kicking and screaming into the present with unstoppable momentum and a shout-along chorus. Overall, it’s a lot of fun and it’s clear the band doesn’t take itself too seriously despite the lofty name (their T-shirts read “Australia – the band. Not the country, not a country band”). Tip: for best results, type ‘Australia – the band’ when Googling.
Possible reactions to the news Violent Soho have called their new album after a Texan town famous for a religious cult siege include (a) Oh FFS, they’re going for the American market, it’s going to be too polished, (b) Please don’t let them be turning into U2, or simply (c) Hell fuck yeah, a new Violent Soho album. Thankfully a first listen reveals the band to be the same Mansfield scruffs they have always been, and most certainly not prepared to switch from XXXX to Budweiser just yet. After the all-conquering success of 2013’s Hungry Ghost, the quartet must have wondered whether sticking with the tried-and-trusted alt-rock formula or trying something different was the right move, and it’s the former policy that has won out here. Shout-along anthems (‘Viceroy’, ‘Like Soda’, ‘Holy Cave’), drug references (‘How to Taste’) and huge grunge-y riffs (just about everything else) are the ingredients long-term fans know and love, while there are changes of pace in slow-burning closer ‘Low’ and Foos-esque ‘Evergreen’. It took eight months for singer-guitarist Luke Boerdam to write the 11 tracks here, and he has kept his subject matter as close-to-home as always: boredom, drinking and smoking with friends, and the expectations of modern life are tackled with honesty and heart. It’s been a long, hard road for Violent Soho to get where they are today, but if Hungry Ghost was their breakthrough, Waco will be the album that cements their place as one of Australia’s best rock bands.
Convention, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, if the excellent seven-track debut EP from Brisbane-via-Rockhampton quintet Big Bad Echo is anything to go by. It’s for this reason it’s such a refreshingly-eclectic release: fuzz-rock, cacophonous drones, spoken-word monologues, off-kilter psychedelia, and a catchy lead single combine to make a record that throws up one high-quality surprise after another. ‘Cannon Fire’ and ‘Half Polyester Sheets’ provide an opening 11 minutes of pounding layers of noise fit for any late-night road trip, while vocalist Mick Reddy recalls Jim Morrison at his most shamanistic. ‘Ice Breaker’ is the obvious single, although its repetitive rumblings and ruminations are far from radio-friendly and all the better for it. “All I ever wanted is to fall at your feet” Reddy sings, amid an outpouring of angst, urgency and reverb. ‘Two Crows Flying’ takes a turn for the weird, as a dismal vocal fights for space with searing guitars and a sinister synth, and closer ‘Blink Your Eyes’ mashes all the aforementioned elements into the type of six-minute, Herculean beast of a track that leaves instruments and musicians alike bruised and broken. Witnessing a band marching triumphantly to the sound of their own – somewhat peculiar – drum makes you hope they can make an album, as all the evidence Big Bad Echo have offered thus far points to something big, and certainly not bad.
DIIV’s second album marks Zachary Cole-Smith’s return from the brink of career suicide, having been widely labelled a heroin-addled waster since his September 2013 arrest for narcotics possession with his girlfriend, singer/model Sky Ferreira. The project’s debut album Oshin was a somewhat overlooked masterpiece, and it took the frontman and songwriter to kick his drug problems and re-launch himself into writing for this album to even see the light of day. The result is an ambitious double LP that recalls much of the glory of Oshin while expanding deeper into the realms of indie-rock, dream-pop and prog. Droning, relentless riffs, jangling chord progressions, and the whiff of New York hobo chic are again the order of the day, which provide many moments of majesty, most especially on the title track, first single ‘Dopamine’ and second track ‘Under The Sun’. Ferreira makes an appearance on lead vocals on ‘Blue Boredom (Sky’s Song)’, which never really gets going, while the feeling of ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’ is, as the name suggests, of a singer wallowing in misery, and ‘Take Your Time’ follows the same formula, albeit with much more sombre tones. Overall, the record’s no Oshin on the whole, mostly due to the feeling that fewer tracks could have made it a more attractive package (point in case: the unnecessary, 17-second ‘(Fuck)’) and too much of the latter half of the album sounds like a single, coagulated mass. Nevertheless, Cole-Smith remains both an intriguing figure and indie-rock creative worth keeping an eye on.
“From this day forward, you will call me by my real name,” Kele Okereke repeats during the ambling ‘My True Name’; a hint that he would like to wipe the slate clean with Bloc Party’s first album since 2012’s Four. It’s a statement that fits with the 34 year-old frontman’s changing musical output, as he flits between pulsating dance, indie guitars and overwrought balladry on album five. But there lies the problem: it’s a record that feels more like a ragtag collection of off-cuts and B-sides than a cohesive whole, and it could perhaps be argued that it shouldn’t be labelled a Bloc Party album at all. The initial impression is that Okereke wants to unleash a string of dance anthems, as on lead single ‘The Love Within’, but is held back by the necessity of including those pesky guitars Bloc Party fans have come to expect over the last 15-odd years. Of course, much has changed personnel-wise since Four. Gone are long-term bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong, but how much of an effect that has had on song-writing is unclear. The over-cooked balladry of ‘Fortress’, ‘Different Drugs’ and ‘Exes’ contributes the least, and while there are some deft licks throughout ‘So Real’ and ‘The Good News’, the result of listening to Hymns is a lingering question: Will the real Kele Okereke please stand up?
Bloc Party’s Hymns is out on January 29th via Create/Control
Cool your boots, 2016; I’m still working through the impossible amount of tuneage your predecessor tried compressing into my earholes. Is there a way we can start the year around, say, March? Just kick back a bit and write January and February off as a hangover? No, I thought not, you heartless swine. Things Madrid quartet Hinds gives zero fucks about, not including releasing their debut album in the first week of January, are (a) wearing their hearts on their sleeves, (b) displaying their goofy demeanour, and (c) learning to play their instruments properly. In other words: they have exactly the right ingredients for an album which is infectious, fun and fresh. Lo-fi garage pop is the order of the day, centred on the alternating vocals of founding members Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote, who tend towards singing about the joys and pitfalls of trying to maintain relationships amid a sea of insecurity, misguided declarations of love, and heavy partying. ‘Warts’ is an early highlight; it’s perhaps the best example of the group’s ability to mix scrappy guitar melodies and loose, dual vocals, whereas the breezy jangle-twang of ‘San Diego’ takes it up all a notch. With an approach to playing that’s as much about writing great pop tunes as it is having a good time, Hinds are not only clapping their hands and enjoying the wild abandon of the moment; they’re digging their heels in for the future. Here’s to you, 2016. Let’s do this.
Most of us, at one time or another, have wanted to take off across some dusty plain with nothing but a faithful old heeler on the passenger seat, one sunburned arm hanging out the driver’s window and maybe a couple of cartons of brews in the back. Melbourne quintet Rolling Blackouts might have made just the EP for such a trip: Talk Tight is a five-track effort of guitar pop with so many links to the McLennan-Forster songbook of 1988 that it could almost be mistaken for a period piece. A compliment so heady shouldn’t be handed out willy-nilly, of course, but in this case it’s deserved; the young band’s jangly guitar sound is some seriously top-drawer Australiana. It’s pretty laidback going in the most part, though, so it’s a ride we’re all welcome to come along on. Opener ‘Wither With You’ gets the motor started and wheels rolling with a plenty of guitar hooks, before lead single ‘Wide Eyes’ cleans out the cobwebs of its fuzzy opening with an all-guns-blazing alt-country climax. ‘Heard You’re Moving’ is a straightforward and charming guitar-pop number that cleverly takes a minute before the vocals kick in, while ‘Clean Slate’ gets all garage-jam massive before breaking back down to where it started, before ‘Tender is the Neck’ closes the deal with a tenderness that is both unexpected and welcome. If you like your indie-rock freewheeling and chock full of charm, these boys have you covered.