Category Archives: Record Reviews

Record review: Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin Down (2015, LP)

kurt vile b'lieve im goin down

Just like certain actors being cast in a film almost guarantees it’ll a good one, there are a small number of musicians whose albums you won’t ever have to worry about being sub-par. Kurt Vile is one: he has released five solo albums of the most tip-top indie-rock and folk since co-founding, and subsequently leaving, the War on Drugs in 2008. The 35 year-old Philadelphian’s problem, then, is maintaining the almost impossibly high standards he has set for himself, but it’s a task he sets about with typically laidback ease on this solid 12-track effort. While no wheels are reinvented or new ground broken, the warm and hazy embrace of Vile’s gently-rolling indie-Americana is as welcoming as ever, and it’s a very good thing that he hasn’t done a Kevin Parker and gone electro-pop. First single ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is just that, while ‘I’m an Outlaw’ is banjo-pickin’ good. Vile’s melancholia is never far off, and it raises its heavy eyelids first in ‘That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate to Say)’; in which he sings of “taking pills to take the edge off”, while the equally downbeat ‘All in a Daze Work’ features the obligatory day/daze pun long-time fans will recognise. A perennially underrated guitar player, Vile is more often praised for the high standard of craftsmanship of his songs and indie-stoner vibe, but there’s magic in these licks that demands respect. Six albums in and Kurt Vile is still somewhat of a cult figure; can we keep him that way, please?

For Beat

Record review: Going Swimming – Deadtime Stories (2015, LP)

Going Swimming Deadtime Stories

Calling your band Going Swimming and putting a song called ‘Shark Attack’ on your debut record can only mean one thing: you see piss-taking as a duty rather than an option. A quick glimpse at the track list provides confirmation: song titles include ‘Yoko, Oh No!’, ‘Cosmonauts and Crosses’ and the supremely satisfying ‘I Think I’ve Been Had, Lads’. Ramshackle garage-punk is the vehicle which takes the Melbourne quartet’s howling horror stories and tales of debauchery on a gutter-bound journey, but while the whole deal threatens to fall apart at any second, the band just about hold it together until the final chords ring out. Single and opener ‘Them Shakes’ wastes no time getting among the surf-punk licks, with lyrics which could pass for both a bedtime story about friendly monsters or a transcript from your latest therapy session; whichever suits the mood. ‘Your Sister’ follows in a similar vein; its commanding and raucous riffs hint at the scrappy punk aesthetic being a construct rather than a necessity, although ‘Whatever Happened to the Plan?’ suggests the contrary. The aforementioned instrumental ‘Yoko, Oh No!’ could have been lifted from an alternative-dimension Rocky Horror, and ‘Careers Counsellor’ finds the gang railing against convention. Nick Leggatt’s tireless bawling and Aswin Lakshman’s red-hot riffs are at the centre of Going Swimming’s piss-taking punk, and make for an album which is frantic, frayed and damn good fun.

For The Brag

Record review: Bison Machine – Hoarfrost (2015, LP)

bison machine

Hamtramck, Michigan (population 22,000) might be just a tad off the beaten rock ‘n’ roll track, but stoner/heavy rock quartet Bison Machine don’t seem the types to let that bother them. Mitch Ryder (of the Detroit Wheels fame) is perhaps the most-well known musician to come from the area, but with their full-length debut Hoarfrost, Bison Machine are marking their territory in no uncertain fashion.

Fans of Sabbath, Thin Lizzy and early Queens of the Stone Age will find lots to like here; the riffs are bruising, the vocals big and the rhythm section relentless. Opener ‘Cosmic Ark’ wastes no time getting among the Iommi-esque riffs in crushing hard-rock fashion, as singer Tom Stec flaunts an impressive range as he attacks the mic. On ‘Old Moon’, the band take more of a psych approach, before punctuating the haze with riffs that could have been lifted from Zeppelin IV, while the space-y ‘Gamekeeper’s Thumb’ wanders and drones. Elsewhere, ‘Speed of Darkness’ continues the brutal riffage and closer ‘Giant’s Coffin’ finishes the album just as it began.

Bison Machine wear their influences on their sleeves, but it’s their ability to keep things varied and introduce a range of elements from the best parts of classic rock that makes them an exciting band. Besides that, these songs sound like they would shake the walls and raise the roof in a live setting.

The recent loss of talented founding guitarist John deVries, who has qualified to work as an orthopaedic surgeon, might throw a spanner in the works of the band’s future, but for now, set the dial to 1972 and crank up the volume on Hoarfrost. Bison Machine mean business.

For Heavy

Record review: Dead Letter Circus – Aesthesis (2015, LP)

dead letter circus aesthesis

It’s been somewhat of a long and mysterious wait, but Dead Letter Circus’s third album is here, and the good news is it doesn’t disappoint. The Brisbane quintet have been squirreling away since announcing their new album in February, and the result is a typically epic album of heavy rock with some new twists. Many tracks feature a softer and less cluttered approach than before, but the trademark heavy riffs and colossal choruses are still present in abundance, with vocalist Kym Benzie on fine form and newbie guitarists Clint Vincent and Luke Palmer fitting in seamlessly. Reinvention is welcome, but DLC are smart enough to evolve while staying true to their roots. Whether quiet or loud, these songs showcase a band who have the knack of making everything sound as big as everything else; which makes for an album that will not only make your eardrums bleed, but do it over repeated listens.

For Heavy

Record review: Buried in Verona – Vultures Above, Lions Below (2015, LP)

buried in verona

It’s been just over a year since the release of their fourth album, but Sydney metalcore mainstays Buried In Verona aren’t wasting time with a follow-up. With a new guitarist, drummer and bassist on board, a settling-in period could be expected, but reinvigorated singer and founding member Brett Anderson is keen to grab the bull by the horns, with largely positive results. Much is softer than what has gone before, including unmistakable pop-rock elements in ‘Hurricane’, but the harder tracks are still there in ‘Pathways’, ‘Dig Me Out’ and the brutal pairing of ‘Vultures Above’ and ‘Lions Below’. Elsewhere, soaring single ‘Can’t Be Unsaid’ is a highlight, as Anderson works through his demons and displays an increasingly impressive range. A band that stays still is a band that gets left behind, but, with Vultures Above, Lions Below, Buried in Verona are making sure that doesn’t happen to them.

For Heavy

Record review: The Libertines – Anthems for Doomed Youth (2015, LP)

libertines anthems for doomed youth

Back in 2004, you would’ve got long odds on Pete Doherty living to the following Christmas, never mind making a third album with the Libertines. Adrift on a sea of mistrust, petty crime and intravenous drugs, the singer-guitarist seemed doomed. How pleasantly surprising is it that eleven years later, the Libertines’ full line-up is back with a new album, but is there still a place for a band who once were the doomed youth, but now only write songs for them? The answer is yes, if only to allow the dual songwriting skills of Doherty and Carl Barât to flourish once more. The duo are equally adept at referencing Wilfred Owen and Rudyard Kipling as they are telling tales of crawling the streets of Camden Town or trying to “find a vein”. Much of the edge present on their earlier records is inevitably blunted, but danger’s loss is songcraft’s gain, and a less frantic approach to their work makes sense for a bunch of guys approaching forty. Opener ‘Barbarian’ is misleading as it could fit perfectly into either of the first two albums, while slower tracks ‘You’re My Waterloo’ and ‘The Milkmans Horse’ provide introspective moments, and the garage reggae of single ‘Gunga Din’ shows the band still owes much of its sound to the Clash. Anyone looking for an anthem as glorious as ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’ will be disappointed, but maybe it’s unfair to compare the Libertines of 2015 to the 2004 version. Perhaps we should be grateful this album exists at all. Or should that be astonished?

For The Brag

Record review: Bad//Dreems – Dogs at Bay (2015, LP)

bad dreems dogs at bay album cover

Ahh; take a deep breath and suck in the smell of stale beer, man sweat and fetid urinals: pub rock is back and it’s as welcome as an icy stubby to a parched throat in the summertime. Adelaide’s Bad//Dreems are perfectly placed to provide Aussie rock with a shot in the arm with this debut album, having put in the hard yards touring at home and overseas and recently soaked the Splendour stage in much of the contents of their rider. The result is their music is no longer left of the dial, as their songwriting hero Paul Westerberg would say, but easily accessible to anyone with a penchant for heart-on-sleeve rock and wonderfully raw live shows. An early highlight is ‘Bogan Pride’, on which frontman Ben Marwe announces “Friday night and I’m five pills deep, I can’t think straight,” before questioning the motives of those overly-muscular boneheads every festival-goer loves to hate. Gutsy singles ‘Cuffed and Collared’ and ‘Dumb Ideas’ provide the rockier moments, but the real magic is to be found among the nostalgic ‘Hume’ and ‘Ghost Gums’; moments of sunburnt Australiana which mark this album as a guitar-rock classic. In true Westerberg style, though, the quartet know a record isn’t complete without at least three minutes of devastating loneliness; provided in the form of ‘My Only Friend’. Top-drawer production by the legendary Mark Opitz helps their honest and often bleak Australian world view come to the fore, on an album that will sound just as good at home as it will down the pub. Tip: best served with a refreshing pint of West End.

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Record review: The Babe Rainbow – The Babe Rainbow EP (2015, EP)

babe rainbow ep

As sure as smoke means fire, where there are psychedelics, the sitar is certain to follow. George Harrison and Brian Jones were largely responsible for introducing it to Western audiences in the sixties, and it’s satisfying to see its mystical qualities still enhancing the mood of music lovers half a century later. Byron Bay’s The Babe Rainbow have risen to the challenge of being modern-day champions of the ancient Indian instrument, and carry the weight of expectation with aplomb on this debut self-titled EP. Describing their style as ‘punk mushroom’ on social media is somewhat of an evasive move by the trio; in truth this EP owes as much to the Kinks and the Beatles as it does to Syd Barrett and Kevin Ayers. At only four tracks and 12 minutes it’s a brief but absorbing affair, opening with the infectiously jangly ‘Love Forever’. Galloping single ‘Secret Enchanted Broccoli Forest’ flips the calendar back to the summer of love with the aforementioned Eastern flavours, while ‘Planet Junior’ finds a much more mellow level and ‘Ash May and Dr. Lovewisdom’ is deceptively dark. The best bit about this EP is that it’s not a wig-out record that gets lost in a droning fog, but a comfortably hazy, psychedelic twangfest reined in by a three-minute pop structure. Incorporating pop sensibilities is an ace move by a group of guys who don’t allow the ability to play tightly get in the way of a being a band who look like they just got off the bus to San Francisco circa 1967. These tracks are fun, catchy and just a little silly, making this a promising release from a band worth keeping an eye on.

For Beat

Record review: Holy Holy – When the Storms Would Come (2015, LP)

holy holy

Ambition has its pitfalls. A young band with big ideas and vague lyrics referencing “burning hearts” and “faces changing” risks being compared to U2, or worse; Mumford. To counter, you’ve got to bring something of your own to the table; bait to drag the listener’s mind from the horizon to the foreground. A handsome helping of compositional clout is what sees Holy Holy’s Tim Carroll and Oscar Dawson stand head and shoulders above many bands of a similar ilk, and a debut album of class, artistry and scope is the general result of their efforts. The Brisbane/Melbourne duo are fresh from the Splendour mud and recent European shows, where these songs have been going down a storm, including meandering first single ‘History’ and the pleasantly lilting ‘Outside of the Heart of It’. Just as you’re getting used to the folky melodies, though, they hit you with the atypical ‘You Cannot Call for Love Like a Dog’. An all-dominating dual-guitar T-Rex of a track, its soaring lead lines and solos are easily the highlight of the album, and make you wish the band would take a trip down to Shredtown more often. ‘Pretty Strays For Hopeless Lovers’ gets close to the same level of prodigious picking, but, having peaked at track six, the second half of the album feels like a trip back down the mountain depicted on the cover. The ambition of ‘… Like A Dog’ is the major wow factor here, and while some of the slower tracks are somewhat same-y, this is a debut album of some promise.

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Record review: Tame Impala – Currents (2015, LP)

tame impala currents

“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but the ones most responsive to change” is a misquote often attributed to Charles Darwin, and it’s an idea vocalist and songwriter Kevin Parker seems acutely attuned to on Tame Impala’s contender-for-album-of-the-year third LP. Psych-rock has been the name of the game up to now, but would you expect such an accomplished band to trundle out the same smack as before? “They say people never change, but that’s bullshit,” Parker sings defiantly on ‘Yes, I’m Changing’, as guitars make way to more electronic (read: dance and pop) elements than on any TI release thus far, with notable exceptions ‘Eventually’ and the goofy disco-funk of ‘The Less I Know the Better’. His love of ‘90s Michael Jackson shows in ‘Love Paranoia’, while ‘Gossip’ recalls 1998-era Air and ‘Past Life’ gets deep into dreampop territory. There’s no big rock number in the vein of ‘Desire Be Desire Go’ or ‘Elephant’, but the addition of one doesn’t feel like it would be a good idea. In fact, this is the most coherent Tame Impala release yet. These are the times, people: some of the best Australian music is being made right here, right now. Well, in Fremantle, to be precise. Currents is the sound of Parker dropping his guard and embracing everything he loves about great pop music.

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Record review: Bully – Feels Like (2015, LP)

bully feels like

“Invisible handcuffs locked on me, been praying for my period all week,” sings Bully songwriter Alicia Bognanno a few bars into single ‘Trying’. It’s an appropriate glimpse into the mind of the Nashville band’s frontwoman; her lyrics are as honest as they are defiant. With so much to get off her chest, it might be expected that her band’s debut album be overly self-indulgent, but there’s a charming and vulnerable side to Bognanno that, when coupled with the quartet’s grunge-y riffs, makes for an album that rocks in all the right ways. When she’s not gently admitting “I’m just looking for clarity to help me to get through,” she’s yelling “I remember getting too fucked up, and I remember throwing up in your car,” in opener ‘I Remember’. The 25 year-old’s stroppy contempt in ‘Picture’ will speak to anyone who has had their photo taken when they didn’t want to, while lines like “I thought that he would never hit a girl, but I guess you never know” are delivered with a world-weariness of someone who has seen it all. ‘Trash’ is nothing like the New York Dolls number of the same name, but prowls dark corners with its hackles raised, and the title track owes much to Billy Corgan. There’s a whiff of early Replacements in the likes of ‘Six’ and ‘Brainfreeze’, but it’s ultimately Bognanno’s lyrics and delivery which steal the show here. Well worth checking out.

For Beat

Record review: Wolf Alice – My Love Is Cool (2015, LP)

wolf alice my love is cool

It’s easy to tire of the endless run of identikit NME-endorsed monotone and monochrome oh-so-English toffboy quartets masquerading as the new Clash-via-Libertines for the 21st century. Palma Violets, the Vaccines, Peace et. al are bands whose style-over-substance approach and try-hard ramshackle do little to deter the feeling that each of their parents have probably never driven anything smaller than a Range Rover with a horsebox, and that Pete Doherty is somehow still revered despite having been irrelevant for over a decade.

London’s Wolf Alice skirt around the edges of being such a band, sometimes dipping their toe into the clichéd indie-rock no man’s land that has been the final stop before the knacker’s yard for many a rock-lite pretender, but thankfully their debut album has just enough guts and range to prevent it from being more than just another shade of beige in the guitar-rock rainbow. If they didn’t have singer-guitarist Ellie Rowsell – a Justine Frischmann for the selfie-stick generation – Wolf Alice would barely be worth mentioning; the 22 year-old frontwoman carries her trio of anonymous male bandmates with aplomb throughout My Love Is Cool.

The band’s earliest work was rooted in folk, and it shows as Rowsell engages her inner Sandy Denny on ‘Turn To Dust’ and ‘Swallowtail’ sees one of the lesser three do his best Nick Drake impression. The delicate noir of ‘Silk’ sets up single and belting rock banger ‘Giant Peach’ perfectly; it’s here the controlled vocal talents of the diminutive Rowsell are most impressive, and on ‘Fluffy’ she shows screamo isn’t beyond her. Filler ‘You’re A Germ’ will embarrass as the band mature, as will the forgettable ‘Freazy’, but it’s exactly how Wolf Alice find and settle on their sound on album two which will make or break the band.

MY LOVE IS COOL IS OUT JUNE 19TH ON DIRTY HIT RECORDS

Record review: Florence + the Machine – How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015, LP)

florence

I don’t wanna get all overdramatic here, but when the walls keep closing in and we can’t rely on pop music to get us out of a jam, what’ve we really got? Too many bleak hours spent peering through train windows, fixing paper jams and despairing at the ineptitude of our so-called leaders tends to induce the propensity to place one’s hope for mankind in things we know often do us more harm than good: pop records for starters. But the trouble with expectation is the higher it soars, the further and harder it falls. The prospect of Florence + the Machine’s third album being a belter is strong on paper; only a soulless drooler wouldn’t want it to be great. Hell, in these dark days of flaccid stadium-fillers, we need it to be a stone-cold killer; but the crushing reality is it’s a near-flat heartbreaker that will do little to brighten the stale pop horizons of 2015. At times it’s quieter and more introspective than what’s gone before, but that’s not the problem; too much spirit and colour has been wringed out of these songs and hung out to dry by Mumford & Sons and Coldplay producer Markus Dravs, and the line between booming and overblown is crossed too often. The heaven-sent Florence Welch is in fine voice at various points, most impressively on lead single ‘What Kind Of Man’, but overall, this album is just another reminder that the distance between how good you want something to be and how good it actually turns out is often disappointingly great.

For Beat

Record review: Best Coast – California Nights (2015, LP)

best coast

IT might sound like the most predictably-named album of 2015, but Best Coast’s third record contains much more than the sunny, bubblegum indie-rock that might be expected from the Los Angeles duo. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Bethany Cosentino has called this the first record she’s been 100% happy with, and she’s right to feel proud of a piece of work that drags her band’s sound into a sonic territory more of its own.

Early-twenties stoner naiveté has made way for late-twenties reality confrontation for Cosentino since her 2010 debut, and while some of the themes remain the same as on previous work, here the hooks are heavier and more generously dispersed throughout an album of nineties alt-rock guitar distortion and big choruses.

Opener ‘Feeling Ok’ sees her less making a statement, more trying to convince herself that she is, in fact, feeling okay, in a shoegaze-cum-pop union that is perhaps as clean and professional-sounding as the band has ever been. ‘Fine Without You’ continues the self-denial set to indie-pop hooks and single ‘Heaven Sent’ is the most obviously radio-friendly, festival-set-closing rocker on the record.

Lines like “I stay high all the time, just to get by” provide darker moments on the title track, which, at over five minutes is the longest on any Best Coast album, and introspective closer ‘Wasted Time’ is a similar counterpoint to the surf and garage-rock riffs that fizz elsewhere.

The most appealing aspect of California Nights is Cosentino’s emotive delivery and believability, and although some of the bad/sad/glad rhyming is predictable, when everything’s bigger, brasher and built to bop like the figurative blitzkrieg, a lack of lyrical prowess can be forgiven. This is Best Coast’s best work to date.

CALIFORNIA NIGHTS IS OUT NOW.