DIY post-punk trio Mere Women recorded their second album in a cold-storage warehouse, and if ever a record’s surroundings affected the final sound, it’s here.
All hauntingly-focussed vocals, stabbing guitars and dark disdain, Your Town is the type of brutally abrasive collection of songs that would never make sense played in daylight or with anything on your mind except thoughts of anger, helplessness and schadenfreude.
The Sydney trio of keyboardist/singer Amy Wilson, drummer Katrina Byrne and guitarist Flyn Mckinnirey have been knocking around since 2011, and their 2012 debut Old Life earned them acclaim as an underground act worth keeping an eye on. Since then they have honed in on a more cohesive sound that perfectly captures the crushing, claustrophobic feeling of small-town-anywhere in all its depressing glory.
If the title track were a person, it’d be one of those pent-up, vaguely unhinged people you meet on public transport who fill you with equal amounts of intrigue and dread. Single ‘Our Street’ is the musical manifestation of suburban solitude, as Wilson asks “will you still want me when I’m old and frail?” and “will you think of me when I’m cold and pale?” with a jagged pop melody, as Mckinnirey’s relentless riffs flail and stab.
Waiting for the gloom to ease off over ten songs is a long and exhausting process, but by the time closer ‘Moon Creeper’ tries to lull you into a false sense of security with a soft opening 30 seconds, you know it isn’t going to happen, and another Mckinnirey riff proves you right.
Overall, Your Town is a well-crafted and worthwhile album of post-punk, even if after listening to it you’ll want it to creep back into the shadows of the ill-lit warehouse it crawled out of. This is music for dank basements and crushed hopes.
They say life is a little bit more laid back in Queensland, but the length of time it has taken Brisbane’s Tape/Off to record and release their debut album is surely taking the piss. After years of putting out singles and EPs, the quartet of Nathan Pickels (vocals/guitar), Ben Green (guitar), Cameron Smith (bass) and Branko Cosic (drums) have finally gone and done it, and thankfully it has been worth the wait. While first single ‘Pedestal Fan’ is a typically brutal piece of Tape/Off alt-rock, it isn’t necessarily an all-encompassing indication of what’s to be found on this 11-song effort, as there’s more than a healthy dollop of shoegaze messily slopped all over. Opener ‘Australia’s Most Liveable City’ eases us gently into proceedings with a dazed, meandering stroll through the beauty and banality of living in Brisbane in 2014, before ‘Peggy’s Lookout’ opens up into the heavy sound we know and love Tape/Off for. There’s still a debt owed to Pavement through tracks like ‘Different Order’ and ‘Believe In You’, while fractured New York Dolls-esque highlight ‘Climates’ exemplifies their ramshackle charm. Trying to guess whether each upcoming song will be a cruncher or a softie is like trying to predict whether the school bully will focus his meaty aggression on you on a particular day, but somewhat surprisingly it’s the less brutal tracks that are most memorable, like ‘Escalator’ and downbeat closer ‘Another Year’. It’s this fantastic mix of aggression and restraint that make you want to grab the band by the lapels and – in true school bully fashion – tell them not to leave it so damn long next time. (Sonic Masala)
For Beat Magazine
California quartet Plague Vendor may come from the same town as Richard Nixon, but they’re anything but conservative. A combination of punk energy and twisted and downbeat lyrics, the band’s debut album is simultaneously arresting and exhausting. Opener and highlight ‘Black Sap Scriptures’ is a dark tale with vaguely mystical pretensions set to a mighty and crunching guitar riff, while second track ‘Breakdance On Broken Glass’ doesn’t let the frenetic pace let off. There is so much of the Dead Kennedys in what is going on here, that fans of the seminal punks will want to check these guys out, if they’re not too busy being angry at the world to do so. It’s always interesting when an album has a song with the same name as the band on it; it’s tempting to wonder whether the track contains the entire group’s musical manifesto. If that’s the case here, then Plague Vendor’s is to beat their instruments to within an inch of their lives while shouting out the letters of their name to a bass-line that’s nasty enough to burn your record collection and blame it on the cat. Elsewhere, ‘Finical Fatalist’ tells the touching tale of frantic singer Brandon Blaine driving his car off a cliff. On ‘Garden Lanterns’, Blaine proclaims he’s “God damn, done it again, found something better than a one-night stand,” revealing himself to be an angry punk with a soft centre. This is high-octane, sweaty and shouty punk that makes you want to work off some calories in an angry, pogo-ing fashion. Not for the faint-hearted. (Epitaph)
In some ways it seems that Brisbane indie-pop five-piece Ball Park Music have had a meteoric rise since their 2011 debut Happiness And Surrounding Suburbs. In reality the hard yards put in on tour up and down the country and a song-writing craft of a quality well above the average Australian pop bands plying their trade right now have put the band in the position they’re now in. This third album sees them moving increasingly away from the punchy, upbeat mood of their debut, as singer Sam Cromack’s lyrics explore darker topics, especially on ‘Everything Is Shit Except My Friendship With You’ and ‘Struggle Street’; the addition of organ and choral touches on the latter providing a particularly Gothic feel. Dark is contrasted with light at several other points, although hopefully Cromack is being sarcastic with his claim on third track ‘A Good Life Is The Best Revenge’, because we all know that’s not true. There are new sounds too; the first half of ‘Cocaine Lion’ could almost be called shoegaze, before breaking out into a resplendent pulse of ’90s alt-rock, while ‘Teenager Pie’ is a lazy, lounge-y track that ambles along at a hazy pace despite another set of dark lyrics. There’s an undeniable tail-off towards the end, with ‘Polly Screw My Head Back On’ and Girls From High School’ being a fairly dull finish, but Ball Park Music should probably dust off their formal gear and ready their acceptance speeches; this album is going to win awards. (Stop Start)
It’s been four years since The Hold Steady’s last album; a long time between drinks for a band often called one of America’s hardest working. The departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay after 2008’s excellent Stay Positive left 2010’s Heaven Is Whenever sounding like a band re-grouping and consolidating their position rather than taking on a new lease of life. The breathing space Nicolay left has since been filled by the addition of former Lucero guitarist Steve Selvidge, resulting in a fatter twin lead guitar sound, but the flair and dynamism the moustachioed keyboardist took with him is still sorely missed on this sixth album from the New York via Minneapolis rockers. That being said, all the usual stories of booze-soaked lost souls “waking up with that American sadness” – as Craig Finn sings on ‘On With The Business’ – are present and correct, and the singer-guitarist’s lyrics provide more depth and ideas in a single verse than many contemporaries do on an entire album. The reason why Teeth Dreams won’t be remembered as a classic Hold Steady album is that each song melts into the one before and the one after with no real discernible difference in sound. There’s nothing of the standard of ‘Stuck Between Stations’ or ‘Sequestered In Memphis’, and even the attempt at an attention-grabbing, riff-laden opener ‘I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You’ wouldn’t qualify as a B-side on some of the quintet’s earlier work. Indeed, many long-time Hold Steady fans will be left with the nagging feeling that perhaps Nicolay left at exactly the right time.
At first glance, the first full-length release in 23 years from alt-rock legends the Pixies is as welcome as it is peculiar. It’s welcome because, well, it’s the damn Pixies. It’s peculiar because all of this material was previously released in EP form, and iconic founding bassist Kim Deal is no longer around; and it’s the second of these points that influences the outcome most. ‘What Goes Boom’ is a heavy start that announces the band’s return in no uncertain terms, while ‘Magdalena 318’ and ‘Silver Snail’ allow Francis Black to show the light and dark sides of his song-writing. Unfortunately, for each decent track there are three or four stinkers, with the ridiculous ‘Snakes’ and flaccid ‘Andro Queen’ being the worst offenders. The lack of those beautifully simple Deal bass-lines like on ‘Gigantic’ or ‘Debaser’ is a devastating loss, although it could be argued it’s unfair to compare this release to music made in the early ’90s, and the album is being released to support Record Store Day after all. Almost everyone will want Indie Cindy to be a killer, but some bands like The Clash and The Replacements were never the same after dropping original members, and unfortunately the same rule applies here. (Pixiesmusic / [PIAS] Australia)
Listening to Steel Panther’s albums from their 2003 debut to this fourth effort gives you the distinct feeling that the Los Angeles heavy metal fraudsters started what was meant to be a short-term joke and have somehow managed to keep it going this far. All bit-part players before hitting it big with Steel Panther, the quartet clearly realise the need to outdo themselves, be even more shocking, and consequently more pathetically boneheaded with every new release. Sometimes their attempts at comedy set to rock music are compared to Spinal Tap, but the difference is that with Spinal Tap, the jokes were always on them, and funny. The entire Steel Panther comedy formula can be summed up thus: degrading women = cheap laughs. Each member displays considerable musical chops once again, with guitarist Satchel being a particularly impressive shredder, but vacant attempts at glam metal like ‘Gloryhole’ and ‘She’s On The Rag’ fall way short of even matching their previous levels of song craft. “There was so much love on your face, I couldn’t see the tears,” sings Michael Starr on ‘Bukkake Tears’; at which point you realise this is a fifty year-old man grabbing his last chance at stardom with these words, and a creeping feeling of desperation sets in for the rest of the album. Oh yeah, and all this misogynistic crap – spoof or not – stopped being amusing a very long time ago; say about 1989. (Open E/Kobalt)
The War On Drugs’ Adam Granduciel doesn’t get anywhere near the amount of recognition he deserves. The Philadelphia native’s visionary songwriting over the course of his band’s three albums is the perfect example of a musician single-mindedly ploughing his own furrow, with the finished product benefiting as a consequence.
2011’s Slave Ambient was a momentous and enthralling release which spawned over two years of touring for Granduciel and his three bandmates; out of which sprung this follow-up. Like Slave Ambient, the indie-rockers’ third album repeatedly slip in and out of focus, while maintaining the yearning for forward momentum present in all of his work, as on nine-minute opener ‘Under The Pressure’. Six minutes of unashamedly expansive guitar rock evoke images of the open road in the vein of Bob Seger or Jackson Browne, before over three minutes of shimmering, hazy instrumental psychedelia leaves the road altogether and drifts along in the breeze; making the clearest reference to the album title thus far.
Given the album took two years to record, the pace inevitably shifts; as on melancholy piano ballad ‘Suffering’, while – like a dream sequence in a sci-fi film – chilling instrumental track ‘The Haunting Idle’ divides the layers of hazy textures spread over the road-weary ‘Eyes To The Wind’ and the point at which the muscular momentum is picked up again on the excellent ‘Burning’. You get the feeling that Granduciel could probably bust out a solo with the best of them, but he’s too clever to let something as showy as that detract from the mood and rolling rhythms that make this such an absorbing release from beginning to end. (Secretly Canadian)
The English quintet of Maxïmo Park have never been the most major of players in the alternative and indie-rock scenes, but this self-produced fifth album since their 2000 formation finds them in confident form. The band’s debut A Certain Trigger was nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2005 and sold 300,000 copies, and since then some of their output has flown somewhat under the radar, but this twelve-track collection is well worth a listen. Seemingly freed from the shackles of being solely a guitar band, the Newcastle gang have broadened their sound; ‘Brain Cells’ and the excellent ‘Leave This Island’ are electronic ballads with no guitars whatsoever, and ‘Drinking Martinis’ is a lilting tale of love, loss and alcohol. Singer Paul Smith likes to make literary references in his lyrics, and here he has gone beyond just hinting at them with direct references to Audre Lorde on ‘Her Name Was Audre’ and Lydia Davis on ‘Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry’. While the album proper is a decent effort in itself, the real gold is to be found in the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition. The Fall’s sprightly ‘Edinburgh Man’ is reworked as ‘Middlesbrough Man’ in honour of Smith’s home turf, and while on paper it always seems like a bad idea to cover Nick Drake or Leonard Cohen, the band pull it off nicely with ‘Northern Sky’ and ‘Lover, Lover, Lover’ respectively. There’s nothing groundbreaking or massively memorable on show here, but this is another decent effort from a band classier than most. (Warp)
CEO – or ceo as it was previously stylised – is the solo project of former The Tough Alliance member Eric Berglund. The 32 year-old Swede released his debut album White Magic in 2010, and while four years is a long time between drinks, this forgetful collection of synth-pop staleness won’t have you requesting a refill any time soon. The addition of a child’s vocals on opener ‘Whorehouse’ is more annoying than cute, and don’t let the title allow you to believe there might be an edge to the track; it’s about as soft as electronic tracks come. ‘Harakiri’ is schmaltzy but not entirely alienating, and the swirling ‘In A Bubble On A Stream’ can at least be forgotten almost instantly. Third track ‘Mirage’ also adds children’s voices to what sounds like a bad day at the playground, as the overall feeling is one of a poor man’s Gypsy and the Cat, or label mates The Presets and Cut Copy. The title track plumbs new depths, in that it manages to sound like a mish-mash of ’90s Eurotrash techno-boneheads 2 Unlimited and the shameless karaoke barrel-scraping of The Vengaboys, before a limp attempt at a chorus seals the deal. Elsewhere, the vocal effects on ‘Ultrakaos’ are outright annoying, and closer ‘OMG’ should ideally be called ‘WTF’. While Berglund has seemingly wanted to make a record spilling over with art-pop sophistication of intercontinental scope, what he actually made is a completely bog-standard, formulaic electronic pop record of ultimately fairly dire proportions. (Modular)