Record review: The Future of the Left – The Plot Against Common Sense (2012, LP)

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This third album from alt-rockers Future of the Left sees the Welsh band branching out in exciting new ways and expanding their sound; so much so that it could almost be called a breakthrough. Despite being comprehensively trashed by Pitchfork – a review that earned a fierce rebuttal from singer-guitarist Andy ‘Falco’ Falkous on the band’s website – this synth-infused album full of ominous post-hardcore riffs and dark subject matter seems set to earn them a heap of new fans. The addition of a fourth member in Melbourne’s Julia Ruzicka on bass sees the band fattening their sound and exploring new sonic avenues, while Falco’s lyrics are as sarcastic as ever; “I have looked into the future, everyone is slightly older” on ‘Cosmo’s Ladder’ being the best example. He can be found having a pop at Johnny Depp, Billy Corgan, Russell Brand and Chumbawamba at various points, and clearly really means it. On a side note, there are also some of the best song titles around today: ‘Sheena Is A T-shirt Salesman’, ‘Sorry Dad, I Was Late For The Riots’ and ‘Robocop 4 – Fuck Off Robocop’ being the most interesting. Closer ‘Notes On Achieving Orbit’ is the perfect way to finish, its hugely abrasive riffs and Falco’s throaty screaming making sure the album finishes on a high. At fifty minutes it’s probably a touch on the long side, and the less said about the production the better, but overall this is undoubtedly Future of the Left’s best album to date. (Remote Control Records)

Record review: Friends – Manifest! (2012, LP)

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“I wanna be your friend” sings Samantha Urbani on opener ‘Friend Crush’, but after one look at the album sleeve you know that’s something that would never happen. New York’s Friends are one of the latest ‘it’ bands who look like they belong in a Coke advert, frolicking on the beach and looking more impossibly perfect than most of us could ever realistically hope to be. But do they have the tunes to back up the style? The answer their debut albums throws up is probably more no than yes. Singles ‘I’m His Girl’ and ‘Friend Crush’ are so annoyingly catchy that you’ll have to slap yourself across the face after six hours of singing them to yourself, but they are two high points that the rest of the album doesn’t come close to matching. There are elements of disco, funk, pop, and electro thrown into the mix, giving Manifest! a somewhat disjointed feeling, and many of the songs are underdone to the point of laziness; ‘Ruins’ being the worst example. The one recurring theme is simplicity, with much of the album consisting of nothing more than a Talking Heads-esque bass line, some basic keyboard tingling or sparse percussive taps, and Urbani’s appealing voice, but the overall feeling from this album is one of style over substance. There are flashes of summer-y good-time sounds for sure, but they’re much too few and far between. (Lucky Number Music)

Record review: Crocodiles – Endless Flowers (2012, LP)

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San Diego indie rockers Crocodiles are a band whose musical output has steadily improved since their formation in 2008. Having recorded their first two albums as a duo before adding three new members and decamping to Berlin to make Endless Flowers, they could never be accused of playing things safe. More refined than the scuzzy punk and psychedelia of previous efforts, album three is chock-full of lo-fi fuzz, noise-rock, power-pop anthems, and more sunny melodies than you can shake a dirty stick at. If The Cure and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart had a baby, it would be hooky second track ‘Sunday (Psychic Conversation #9)’, the distortion on its shoe gaze-y guitars turned up to eleven as front man Brandon Welchez lays on the sentiment in his trademark slacker drawl. The lovesick groove of ‘No Black Clouds For Dee Dee’ proves they can still blend genres with aplomb, as Welchez’s wife Dee Dee Penny (of Dum Dum Girls fame) is serenaded with the brilliantly nonsensical “oh my girl, yes i’m gonna, slowly turn my insides citrus over you.” The sneering vocals and deranged guitars on ‘My Surfing Lucifer’ hark back to earlier Crocodiles releases, while the feedback on late-album highlight ‘Welcome Trouble’ will threaten to obliterate your speakers. It’s exciting to see the band take such a big step forward in terms of songwriting and musicianship, with the additional members helping to fatten out the sound. Where they will go to next is anyone’s guess, but if Crocodiles keep improving at this rate, indie-rock world domination awaits. (Shock Entertainment)

Record review: The Cast of Cheers – Family (2012, LP)

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Family is important to the Irish, which is perhaps why brothers Conor and Neil Adams formed The Cast of Cheers together, and then used their considerable skills to make one of the best indie albums of this year. Combining the best elements of math-rock and frenetic punk-pop, this ten-track debut studio album from the Dublin collective will have you grinning, then dancing, then grinning some more. Opener ‘Family’ is a great start; it’s catchy, urgent and downright cool, before ‘Pocé Mit’ and ‘Human Elevator’ continue the good times with classic simplicity – the latter using stylish synth riffs among the quirky Bloc Party-esque guitar tinkling. Single ‘Animals’ is understated yet classy and just begs to be let loose at a summer festival, and elsewhere ‘Marso Sava’ slows the pace down yet retains the infectious pop style. You might be thinking this band sounds like a one-trick pony – but that couldn‘t be more wrong. There is enough of a variety of sounds here to keep you dancing until you drop. Every note is meaningful, every vocal yelp adds something, and nothing is wasted as the four-piece roll out track after track of catchy, positive vibes. Forget U2 – with an incendiary live show and now an excellent album to match, The Cast of Cheers are one of the Emerald Isle’s best. (School Boy Error)

Record review: Velociraptor – The World Warriors (2012, EP)

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Velociraptor are well-known in the Brisbane music scene for their party-starting garage-pop and chaotic live shows. Ranging anywhere from a seven to a twelve-piece, they have even spawned another band in thrashers DZ Deathrays, who have thus far eclipsed their bandmates by releasing an internationally acclaimed debut album and touring across Europe and the States. The World Warriors – Velociraptor’s second release since 2011’s eponymous debut – gives them a chance to reclaim some of the limelight for themselves. At just twenty-three minutes it is fun-sized and fun-filled, and drips with influences ranging from the surf pop harmonies of the Beach Boys to the urgent garage rock of the Hives. Infectious to the point of making you want to dance whether you’re listening to it quietly on the train or walking down the street, it is a record bursting with good times and the joys of being willing to start a party at the drop of a hat. Opener ‘Cynthia’ sees frontman Jeremy Neale serenading his girl in his trademark croon like the best of the ‘60s boy groups, while in ‘Do The Ruby’ he’s howling like a banshee over some delightfully brutal riffs. Current single ‘Riot’ features what seems like all twelve members screaming the chorus at the top of their lungs, and closer ‘Surf City Raptors’ is their most obvious nod to their favourite groups. With The World Warriors, Velociraptor have grabbed hold of the limelight once more, and don’t look like letting go any time soon. (Create/Control)

Record review: Two Door Cinema Club – Beacon (2012, LP)

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For a small country Northern Ireland has produced some top recording artists. Van Morrison, the Undertones, and Snow Patrol all cut their teeth in the bars of Belfast before cracking the charts, but indie-pop three-piece Two Door Cinema Club have taken a less conventional route. After forming as a trio and playing live shows with a laptop in place of a drummer, they signed to boutique French label Kitsuné and released their 2010 debut to critical and commercial acclaim, while setting dance floors alight with their catchy pop-rock tunes. Much like that record, Beacon is full of romantic lyrics, jaunty drumming, and angular riffs. It’s a more mature sound for the young band, with much of the subject matter being about the loneliness of the road, and while it’s less direct than its predecessor, the band’s collective rise in confidence pushes them to try new things. Opener ‘Next Year’ is reflective without being downbeat, with singer Alex Trimble’s charming brogue shining through, while the unexpected female harmonies and orchestral backdrop on ‘The World Is Watching’ (With Valentina) have a soaring elegance that belie the bands’ tender years. ‘Wake Up’ begins with some ferociously funky bass lines before unleashing a multitude of laser-like synths, and ‘Someday’ barrels forwards with urgent guitars galore. Having a recent American concert booked out by President Obama shows how far Two Door Cinema Club have come, and in Beacon, they have an album that will only serve to cement their reputation as top-notch tunemakers. (Kitsuné Music)

Record review: The Rubens – The Rubens (2012, LP)

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Despite only existing for a little over eighteen months, The Rubens have gained a massive following; a result of being such accomplished purveyors of a new brand of bluesy, soul-drenched indie-rock, exemplified by their breakout single Lay It Down. With such instant acclaim comes a huge weight of expectation, which the Menangle four-piece have managed to sidestep effortlessly with this instantly-classy debut record. Sounding from the get-go like a mix of the best parts of the Black Keys, Rolling Stones, and the Doors, this is a collection of songs that follow the blueprint of ‘Lay It Down’ and second single ‘My Gun’; all retro rock guitars, vintage keys, and soulful vocals. Opening with a smattering of mournful piano on ‘The Best We Got’, before breaking into My Gun and the supremely bluesy ‘Lay It Down’, the group of three brothers and a childhood friend have a laidback groove that you would expect to hear from a band that has been playing together for decades, not since last year. There are dark moments too, specifically on the brooding Elvis and smouldering ‘I’ll Surely Die’, while fast-paced late-album highlight ‘Don’t Want To Be Found’ sounds like it could get audiences jumping by the first few bars. The quality of production may leave you wondering why the sound is a little muted when it should perhaps have been allowed to be let loose, but ultimately the song-writing mastery shines through on what is a fine debut effort. (Ivy League)

Record review: The Raveonettes – Observator (2012, LP)

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The news of a new Raveonettes release has never made me want to double-time it to the record store and part with a sizeable wad of my hard-earned cash. In fact, up to now, the biggest reaction you’d be likely to hear from me regarding the Danish duo’s music would be a half-arsed “meh”. They’ve always been one of those bands I’m happy to let slip under my musical radar so not to waste time that could be spent listening to the Strokes or the latest indie-rock flavour of the month. But lo and behold, eleven years after their formation, they have finally grabbed my attention with sixth album Observator. If you’re a long-time fan, you’ll recognise all the band’s trademarks: lo-fi gothic fuzz, classic pop structures, a skewed vision of modern relationships, and a thinly-veiled Velvet Underground obsession. What you’ll also find is a cohesion lacking in other Raveonettes releases, and a willingness to chuck in a few new instruments, with impressive effect. Opener ‘Young and Cold’ is a slow start, evoking images of walking home alone in the rain with the weight of the world on your shoulders. ‘The Enemy’, ‘Downtown’ and ‘She Owns The Streets’ showcase their ability to write the darkest of dark pop, while the gothic keys on the title track work nicely with Sune Rose Wagner’s gloomy guitar lines, before ‘Sinking With The Sun’ ups the tempo and proves they can still rock out. For the first time, it seems that the Raveonettes aren’t trying to sound anyone else, and are happy sounding like themselves. In this case, that can only be a good thing. (Vice)

Record review: Winter People – A Year At Sea (2012, LP)

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Describing themselves as ‘post-industrial folk-rock’, Sydney’s Winter People make quite a variety of sounds on this debut long-player. As their name suggests, it isn’t summery pop music; but a grandiose, shiver-inducing set of songs on a level of scope and imagination bordering on majestic. A Year At Sea is an apt title, the band sounding so far removed from any current musical trend or style; The National are probably the only perceivable influence at work here. Boasting two violinists, five vocalists, and led by frontman Dylan Baskind’s understated vocals, the six-piece go from galloping folk-pop on ‘Gallons’, to mournful Western-tinged themes on ‘Valley Hymn’, and then a touch of brooding theatrics on ‘Afternoon Amnesiac’. The instrumentation is of the very highest quality throughout, as the songs are built up from bare vocals and single violins to epic, sprawling soundscapes filled with powerful drumming, pent-up emotion, and an unmistakeable originality. Closer ‘The Antidote’ is the perfect example of everything Winter People are capable of, starting with a solemn choral arrangement before adding layers of soaring strings and boy-girl harmonies, as an impressive amount of sustain is wrung out of an electric guitar. The vocal harmonies and violin plucking peppered throughout have a stirring beauty and mournful intrigue that reveal a little more on each listen, making this an album that is just as adept at evoking imagery of bleak landscapes in wintertime as it is at making you want to nod your head in enjoyment. If there is any justice in the world, these guys will be massive. (Hub The Label)

Record review: Tame Impala – Lonerism (2012, LP)

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In what must be one of the most anticipated Australian releases of recent weeks, Perth’s Tame Impala have dropped their second album, and what a blissful mess of fuzzed-out prog-pop it is. Singer and main songwriter Kevin Parker recently said he felt the pressure of trying to follow up the phenomenally successful Innerspeaker was going to be too much for him, resulting in the need to pretend his new songs were destined for a side project with no consequence. His methods clearly paid off, and the proof is in the psychedelic pudding on Lonerism. Generous at fifty minutes, the sound is not unlike that of their debut, but with a few new twists and turns to keep the die-hard fan interested. Extensive use of effects pedals and the construction of expansive, immersive soundscapes are the backbone of the album, with a few synths and an added dreaminess thrown in for good measure. As the title suggests, the lyrical themes involve isolation and introspection, but are tempered with a naivety that retains a sense of a light-heartedness and more than a little hope. Single ‘Elephant’ is a highlight in a fuzzed-out T-Rex kind of way, while ‘She Just Won’t Believe Me’ rocks in ‘Helter Skelter’-like fashion before an abrupt finish at fifty-eight seconds leaves you feeling a bit robbed. If a classic pop song and a ’50s sci-fi movie had a baby, it would be third track ‘Apocalypse Dreams’; its soaring, searing synths beg to take you on a tripped-out interplanetary journey, or to some dark recess of your mind. It’s not all tip-top; the repetitive riffing on a couple of tracks – including opener ‘Be Above It’ – can be a bit much, but overall Lonerism is a fine album. (Modular)

Record review: The Preatures – Shaking Hands (2012, EP)

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Formerly known as The Preachers before a potential legal wrangle forced a name change, Sydney Goth/rock/soul quintet The Preatures have made one hell of a second release in Shaking Hands. Having recently toured with the Cairos and Bluejuice, received healthy praise for a breakout performance at the BIGSOUND industry showcase, and inked a deal with a major label, the young band now have a record that goes a long way in justifying the hype. From start to finish it’s an effortlessly cool affair, centred on the distinct vocals of Isabella Manfredi and Gideon Benson. Manfredi’s delivery is at once sultry and seductive in a Chrissie Hynde kind of way, while Benson’s brash vocal power could probably knock out a horse at ten paces. Mixing genres seems to come naturally, as they throw elements of country, soul, and classic rock ‘n’ roll into the mix, with generally good results. Opener and lead single ‘Take A Card’ is an upbeat organ-driven ode to being courted by the wrong type of band manager; “the blander the better, they’ll love you forever” sing both vocalists together before Jack Moffitt’s classy guitar sound and someone screeching like a monkey bring the song to a close. ‘Pale Rider’ is another highlight; the dark country guitar twangs and Manfredi’s smouldering vocals sounding like a female-fronted The Byrds getting introspective. The band’s ambitions are probably revealed by the distinct American flavour throughout, and based on this evidence there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be realised. (Mercury)

Record review: The Datsuns – Death Rattle Boogie (2012, LP)

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When The Datsuns first burst out of New Zealand onto a rather tired music scene at the turn of the millennium, they were hailed by all and sundry as saviours of rock ‘n’ roll, and were touted among many – along with The White Stripes and The Strokes – as the undisputed future of guitar music. Why then didn’t they become the all-conquering rock behemoth they were slated to be? The answer isn’t any clearer after listening to fifth album Death Rattle Boogie, as it’s a pretty impressive collection of straight-up classic rock songs that get stuck into the action from the start and leave nothing in the tank; just like the band’s songs have done since day one. Launched exactly ten years to the day of their debut, it is a surprisingly coherent recording considering the four members all now live in different countries, and is filled with a variety of reference points including Queens of the Stone Age (‘Shadow Looms Large’), The Doors (‘Wander The Night’), Motorhead (‘Bullseye’), and I’ll be damned if the riff in ‘Fools Gold’ doesn’t sound like something by early Funkadelic. Opener ‘Gods Are Bored’ is as immediate as they come, and doesn’t pause for breath before the distorted guitars of Gold Halo crank the pace up a notch. Managing to blend elements of hard rock, psychedelia, and blues yet retain their trademark sound is a handy knack to have, and while Death Rattle Boogie is another solid addition to the band’s catalogue, it probably won’t earn them the recognition they deserve.

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)