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Record review: The Vernons – Volume I (2013, EP)

Vernons

The Vernons are four guys from The Gold Coast, who – having plundered their parent’s record collections and loaded up on retro-fuelled rhythms and a truckload of optimism – have set out to create music that makes you want to rock. Damn hard.

The band’s bio lists their interests as “beer and rock ‘n’ roll” and this four-track debut EP is built on solid foundations of both those things. While it’s hard to describe their music without listing the obvious influences from the best of ’60s and ’70s classic rock, the young quartet have enough of their own thing going on to avoid being labelled copycats.

Opener and highlight ‘Shake ‘n’ Roll’ borrows heavily from the likes of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ and Ten Years After’s ‘I’m Going Home’, and barrels along at a frantic pace from the start, before breaking down into a more bluesy groove as the song progresses.

‘Standing In Line’ is a more controlled affair, but loses none of the band’s trademark groove in the process, while ‘White Wine’ is even smoother still. Closer ‘Mercy’ makes a return to hard-rockin’ riff territory before we get too relaxed and before we know it, the EP is finished. With a similar sound to contemporary bands like WA’s The Love Junkies and NSW’s The Rubens, The Vernons have a good thing going on here, and the fact this EP is called Volume I would surely suggest there’s more to come from these Queenslanders.

These songs sound like they would be dynamite played live, and with a reputation for a killer live show, The Vernons are a band to keep an eye on.

VOLUME I BY THE VERNONS IS OUT NOW

Interview: Ed Kuepper

ed kuepper

Hi Ed, we’re looking forward to your upcoming run of solo shows. What can fans expect from your show?

I’m doing a series of request shows every night, pretty much playing what people ask for. Every night has been a different set and I expect that to continue – the audience decides. Because it’s a request show there have been lots of songs played that haven’t been performed for ages – so lots of surprises.

You have your own record company. How important to you is keeping control of the business side of your own musical output?

Well it is important; often times when others are in charge things may not work in one’s best interests.

To what extent have you embraced the Internet as a means to distribute your music?

Definitely more and more recently.

How did you feel when you won the Grant McLennan Lifetime Achievement Award, and in what way did it inspire you, if at all?

Well it seemed a bit strange getting it in a lot of ways, but yeah; it was nice.

What has it been like to play with Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds?

A lot of the shows were quite good I thought; the tour had its moments.

You have been incredibly prolific throughout your career. How do you find new motivation to constantly be making music?

The best way to do it is to set yourself a deadline, or make a commitment to release a new album or something.

You are considered to be one of the best and most influential musicians to ever come out of Brisbane. Are you still in touch with the music scene there?

I’ve been pretty absorbed doing my own stuff, so I don’t really go out of my way to hear things, because it tends to get in the way.

What are your plans for the rest of 2013 and beyond?

Finish this tour, complete the new album I’m starting on and start planning the follow-up tour.

ED KUEPPER PLAYS BRISBANE POWERHOUSE FRI 13 AND SAT 14 SEPTEMBER.

Record review: Crosby, Stills & Nash – CSN (2013, LP)

The music of Crosby, Stills & Nash will be forever intertwined with the era in which it was created. The coming-together of members from some of the most prominent American groups of the ’60s – The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies to be precise – saw the creation of some of the best politically-charged folk-pop seen in music up to that point, in a time when post-JFK, America was tearing itself apart. It’s impossible to listen to their music without getting images of the Vietnam War, Woodstock, the Summer of Love, the Black Panthers, and the Chicago Democratic Convention police riot in your head. Their heyday also came at a time when some of the best damn music in existence was being made.

Strangely enough, the trio only got together after the Summer of Love in 1967, but ultimately were to go down in history by being part of Woodstock in 1969, along with the likes of Canned Heat, The Who, and of course, Jimi Hendrix. The fact their music is so closely associated with a particular era makes another ‘Greatest Hits’ (which this essentially is, with added extras) hard to view objectively, but one thing is crystal clear: this is classic stuff.

Known for their often complex vocal harmonies and political activism, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash have had a monumental influence on music, in America and elsewhere, and it’s all here to see in all its glory. There’s a demo of ‘Guinnevere’; the original being from their classic 1969 debut, and an alternate version of ‘Woodstock’; originally penned by Joni Mitchell. There are also spotless live versions of ‘Black Queen’, ‘Dark Star’, and ‘Love The One You’re With’, and an embarrassment of riches plucked from the entire career of the band. Basically, this is essential stuff – every home should have one.

Live review: Major Leagues + Babaganouj + RINSE – Black Bear Lodge, Brisbane – 9/8/13

Lately, I’ve been going to gigs and finding myself more impressed and entertained by the support acts than the headliners themselves; Big Scary, Pigeon, and Jagwar Ma have all put in live performances more memorable than the groups above them in the bill. Is there an argument that support bands have more to prove, so tend to put in more effort? Possibly, although doesn’t every band with enough balls to get up on a stage have something to prove, night in, night out? I’m putting it down to coincidence.

I mention this, as tonight’s support acts at Brisbane’s Black Bear Lodge are both outstanding, as well as being closely related, musically and personnel-wise. First up is local lads RINSE, featuring members of Babaganouj and Jeremy Neale’s band, amongst others. Playing a tight set of heavy shoegaze and dream-pop, the band leave quite an impression, and climax with ‘Coin’; a Buzzcocks-esque number with added keys.

Babaganouj
Babaganouj

Next is Babaganouj, lead by Charles Sale and featuring members of Go Violets (the Brisbane music family tree is a complex and extensive one), each band member comes on-stage one song at a time, until the quartet is complete. Their sound is heavy with mid-’70s radio rock influences, with a touch of The Replacements circa 1984 in there for good measure, and their entertaining set culminates with perhaps their most pop-y track, ‘My Favourite Colour Is You’. Sale is an engaging frontman with a strong voice, and is equally adept at getting the audience out of their seats and dealing with a mid-song tuning issue.

Major Leagues
Major Leagues

The house music cuts out and Major Leagues kick into their first song so inconspicuously that some people in the small venue take a short while to notice that the head-liners have begun their set. The four-piece’s vocals are a little lost amongst the sound of their own instruments at first, inciting the desire to walk over to the sound desk and turn up the relevant dials, but the band’s strong point is their knack with a surf-rock/pop melody, and this makes them pretty special. Major Leagues have the melody gene dripping out of every pore, while drummer Jacob Knauth keeps things from ever getting too light. The single they are here to launch, ‘Endless Drain’, is a typically cheerfully melodic, summer-y pop number with a sneering lyric and plenty of vocal harmonies. While ‘Teen Mums’ is still their best track, this band have a bright future if they keep producing tunes of this calibre.

Record review: Surfer Blood – Pythons (2013, LP)

Let’s get this straight from the start: I’m a BIG fan of Surfer Blood. For me, they fill a hole that exists somewhere between when Weezer stopped being the coolest indie band around, The Strokes got lazy with their output, and the Pavement reunion died on its arse with an indifferent shrug of the shoulders. The Florida quartet have only been knocking around since 2009, but in that time they have put out an outstanding debut album in Astro Coast in 2010, and a short but solid EP in 2011’s Tarot Classics.

Frontman John-Paul Pitts claimed he unwittingly became part of the lo-fi movement by virtue of his band recording their debut album on less-than-adequate equipment in his apartment. Keen to avoid being pigeon-holed as part of a movement he felt no connection to, Pitts made sure Tarot Classics was as crisp a recording as they come. Satisfyingly, Pythons has elements of both these records; although recording was crammed into a hectic eight-week period, leaving no room for experimentation, but with plenty of guitars lathered over everything the band does.

With ten tracks of around three minutes each, this could be the most perfectly-rounded guitar pop record of recent months. Opener and single ‘Demon Dance’ is classic Surfer Blood; all dual guitars, snappy choruses, and pleading lyrics. ‘Gravity’ is more Tarot Classics than Astro Coast, and gets amongst the catchiness with a much greater sense of urgency.

‘I Was Wrong’ sees Pitts in an uncharacteristically brooding mode, channelling his inner Morissey, which is followed by ‘Squeezing Blood’; a possibly dark tale masquerading as a melodic, infectiously upbeat Beach Boys-esque track.

‘Blair Witch’ isn’t as scary as it sounds, being one of the lighter tracks on the album, with Pitts declaring “the more I see love, the more I need love.” ‘Needles and Pins’ isn’t a cover of that song, but is fairly dreary all the same, while final track ‘Prom Song’ could be a talented Wheatus for the twenty-first century, and a nice way to finish the album.

Surfer Blood have always flown a bit under the radar, but if there’s at least one big single on this album, it should be enough to see them do well, although Surfer Blood don’t seem to be the type of band who would be comfortable getting “big”.

Record review: Van Dyke Parks – Songs Cycled (2013, LP)

With a career spanning several decades and many genres of music, he defies classification. Of course he is most well-known for his work with The Beach Boys and Brian Wilson (describing himself as a victim of Wilson’s buffoonery), but the fact he has worked with artists as diverse as Rufus Wainwright and Skrillex is often overlooked. All hail, it’s the return of living legend Van Dyke Parks with his first album since 1995.

It’s been forty-five years since his debut album Song Cycle, and his work has been ineffectively described as eccentric, quirky, or quaint ever since. The fact that, at seventy, he looks like a university professor has probably encouraged such descriptions, but there’s so much more to Parks than meets the eye. Songs Cycled is a beautiful mix of classical ballads, psychedelia, piano tinkling, and fantastical child-like lyrical landscapes that paint visual pictures with grace and style.

Opener ‘Dreaming of Paris’ could be the soundtrack for a Disney film set in the French capital, although is apparently about the US bombing of Baghdad, while ‘Hold Back Time’ follows in a similar vein. The grandiose ‘Wall Street’ was written by Parks as a tribute to the people who jumped to their deaths from the Twin Towers as they burned; a dark story hidden behind a typically quirky (there’s that word again) track.

There are a couple of fine covers on which Parks pays homage to his musical favourites, including ‘Sassafras’ by Billy Edd Wheeler, and ‘Aquarium’ by Camille Saint-Saens, and while this album should be appreciated by music-lovers the world over, it probably won’t be. Van Dyke Parks doesn’t fit into any pigeon-hole, and while that makes his music inaccessible to a lot of people, it’s also what makes him great.

SONGS CYCLED IS OUT NOW VIA BELLA UNION

Record review: The Growl – What Would Christ Do? (2013, LP)

Growl_WWCD_Cover_Web

While they may not be a household name by any stretch of the imagination, Fremantle six-piece The Growl have been building quite a following and reputation for themselves with tours across Australia and the United States supporting psych-rock brothers-in-arms Tame Impala. Many Australian fans will have first come into contact with the band on that tour, and subsequently noticed connections with Pond (in which singer Cameron Avery is the drummer) and The Chemist (also featuring keys player James Ireland). With this much musical foundation, things can only go right… right?

Upon listening to What Would Christ Do?, the first things you will notice about The Growl (apart from the brilliantly ballsy album title) are Avery’s gravelly growl of a singing voice, the bizarre and epic mishmash of junkyard sci-fi rock sounds, and the unholy monster of a noise the band’s dual drummers put out. Combine these elements with the basis of an extremely strong blues-rock/garage outfit seemingly battering the life out of any piece of equipment they find lying around, wandering soulful vocals and nightmarish lyrics, and you get What Would Christ Do?

An early album highlight is second track and single ‘Cleaver Lever’. Pounding drums and bass provide a solid backbone to Avery’s wolfish howl and dark, menacing lyrics about a “bullet in the chamber of my gun.” The excellent ‘Liarbird’ is a much more soulful affair, without losing any of the power present in other tracks, while their cover of traditional gospel song ‘John The Revelator’ is a potent blast of dirty blues and heavy riffs in suitably grand fashion.

‘Niywtlwoe’ (standing for ‘not if you were the last woman on earth’) is a nightmarish squall of science-fiction noise that clatters and churns and could well be the soundtrack to some twisted robot apocalypse or dark futuristic fantasy.

It’s not a stretch to say that What Would Christ Do? is every bit as good as Tame Impala’s last record, and the brash, unique style is something to be celebrated. To top it off, The Growl are also a damn fine live band. What would Christ do? Buy a copy.

WHAT WOULD CHRIST DO? IS OUT NOW VIA MGM.

Record review: Papa Pilko and The Binrats – Howlin’ (2013, EP)

Papa Pilko

Having recently seen these guys at The Joynt in Brisbane, heard many of their new songs played live, and been blown away by their musicianship, style, and outright ridiculousness, I had a strong feeling this EP was going to be good; and I was right. There’s an exciting and fascinating group of new bands across the country ploughing the furrows of a fantastic blend of country, rock, and blues genres – Graveyard Train and Quarry Mountain Dead Rats to name but two, but Papa Pilko and the Binrats (lead by the star of the show, frontman and vocalist Cyrus Pilko) could be the best of them.

If you aren’t familiar with this banjo-twangin’, hard-drinkin’, rockin’ ‘n’ rollin’ septet from Sydney, drop whatever you’re doing and go buy a ticket to one of their shows, and I mean now – GO! Failing that, get onto iTunes and get your filthy mitts on this EP – the band’s second after last year’s eponymous debut. That release had the excellent ‘The Gambler’; a song which got considerable national radio play and helped gain the boys a bit of attention, but it’s on Howlin’ they come of age.

Opener ‘Back Home’ starts off with some brilliant comedy banjo, guitar, and harmonica to kick off a stomping, barrelling track. Pilko’s ale-soaked vocals tell a story about his woman leaving home and taking his baby, which would sound like a load of nonsense and cliché if it wasn’t so catchy and fun.

Next up is ‘Some Kind of Evil’, which introduces the bluesier side to the band, and there’s even a hint of jazz amongst the horn lines and Pilko’s vaguely ominous lyrics about being overcome with “some kind of evil that comes over me, can’t you see?”

‘East Harlem’ is another banjo, horn, and double bass-led tune that shows Pilko to be quite the storyteller, even if you don’t always know what he’s going on about. Never mind, just “put a feather in your hat, and feed a bird to the old black cat”, as the man himself says.

‘Boardwalk Blues’ swings nicely and ups the tempo before the finale and title track, which sees Pilko letting loose on some solid harmonica blowin’, in between growling about road signs, altars, and night time in a fine finish.

To get the full Papa Pilko experience you really need to see them live, but this EP is the next best thing. Don’t let it pass you by.

HOWLIN’ IS OUT NOW VIA ITUNES AND BANDCAMP

Album review: Parquet Courts – Light Up Gold (2013, LP)

parquet courts

Hype can often be fatal to new bands, but New York slacker-rock four-piece Parquet Courts are probably too stoned to care. Being labelled by some sections of the music press as the hottest unsigned property knocking around this year’s SXSW festival lead to the band being snapped up by Create/Control and their album being released in Australia. But is the hype justified, or all a bit of the usual industry shenanigans?

In the case of Parquet Courts, the attention and praise lavishly heaped on the band is more than understandable. Light Up Gold is fifteen tracks of a new brand of lyrical slacker-rock; funny, sharp, at times smart, and at times bonehead dumb. In short: it’s fantastic.

The shoddily lo-fi recording quality of Light Up Gold is somehow totally appropriate for this collection of songs – these four guys would probably spit in the face of the idea of a polished record. Opener ‘Master of My Craft’ is a great way to kick off, with singer Austin Brown proudly exclaiming “Socrates died in the fucking gutter!” over a barrage of frantic strumming and simple percussion.

There’s more than a hint of early Clash throughout – before they learned how to play, especially in the brilliant ‘Careers In Combat’, which sees Brown sharing life advice like “there are no spots left for park rangers, because there are no bears left to save you from, but there are still careers in combat my son,” and with a majority of songs under two minutes on length, this is a band that doesn’t give a damn about virtuosity or showmanship. Why would you, when you’ve got so much disaffection and contradiction barely restraining itself in your starving, college drop-out guts? And why not write a song about donuts with an intro that sounds like a Michael Jackson track circa 1985, as on ‘Donuts Only’? Fuck it.

It will be interesting to see where Parquet Courts go from here, and if they have the stomach or desire to toe the industry line, but this album is a damn exciting piece of work.

LIGHT UP GOLD IS OUT NOW VIA CREATE/CONTROL

Record review: The Black Angels – Indigo Meadow (2013, LP)

black angels indigo meadow

Austin’s – nay, North America’s – finest proponents of drone-drenched psych-rock The Black Angels are prolific, to say the least. With an album released at least every other year since 2006, the Texans can fairly churn out the jams, and are back with their fifth full-length effort, Indigo Meadow.

While their bio may describe them as “experimental”, The Black Angels’ music has always been the psych-est of shadowy psych-rock; and fans of the band can rest easy in the knowledge they haven’t tried to change the formula in 2013. Fuzz, drone, crushing riffs, and brooding lyrical themes are the backbone once more.

The subject of the title track and opener appears to be a girl who has “been a problem since the moment I met ya” and who singer Alex Maas tells “you always cause unreal friction,” reinforcing the fact that this is one bunch of cats who don’t do love songs.

Middle-eastern-tinged ‘Love Me Forever’ starts off being equal parts The Byrds, John Lennon, and Page & Plant in their Egyptian phase, before unleashing a crushing riff that devastates everything before it. ‘Always Maybe’ sounds closest to ‘Bad Vibrations’ off Phosphene Dream, while one listen to the start of ‘Don’t Play With Guns’ is enough to induce sudden outbursts of air guitar or a blast of enthusiastic fist pumping if you’re that way inclined.

While in many ways it’s more of the same for the quartet, the songs are generally shorter and sharper, and while it could be argued that Indigo Meadow won’t win the band any new fans, it’s another epic chapter in the career of one of the mightiest psych-rock bands of the last few years. (Blue Horizon Ventures)

Record review: Kurt Vile – Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze (2013, LP)

Kurt-Vile-Walkin-On-A-Pretty-Daze_sm

Since his 2008 debut Constant Hitmaker, Kurt Vile has been making the type of music that many other musicians would trade their biggest hit for. Critically acclaimed and loved by fans the world over, since Vile left The War On Drugs and went solo he has become almost a cult figure to those in the know, and has consistently improved his recorded output through 2009’s Childish Prodigy and God Is Saying This To You, and 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo.

Sometimes an album title is an oblique reference to some part of the band’s music or artistic outlook, but Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze almost perfectly describes what can be found on album number five from the 33 year-old Philadelphia native. Vile’s music in the past has had more than a hint of stoner rock; not in a fuzzed-out Dinosaur Jr. kind of way, but more like a free-spirited spiritual guru kind of way – he’s going to help you turn on and tune in rather than drop out.

Nine-minute opener ‘Wakin On A Pretty Day’ is a chilled opening track by anyone’s standards. Part Jackson Browne circa 1978, part mid-summer daze, part laid-back stoner warmth, it carries a message that features in much of Vile’s work: bad shit happens all the time, but whatcha gonna do? With excellent guitar work that is an overlooked part of Vile’s arsenal, it shows this album to be his most spacious and laid-back effort to date.

Some of Vile’s riffs on Smoke Ring For My Halo were heavily Clapton-influenced, and the same could be said for the rock-y ‘KV Crimes’, while ‘Was All Talk’ is not dissimilar to the excellent ‘Freak Train’ from Childish Prodigy. Take a quick look at the running times of the songs on the album and you’ll notice the extended jams on ‘Too Hard’ (8:04), ‘Air Bud’ (6:30), and closer ‘Goldtone’ (10:26) make this Vile’s longest album to date, and also one of his best. The only point that could be made in the negative is that there isn’t a stand-out or obvious hit here, but Vile doesn’t seem to be the sort of musician to be bothered by such trivialities. This is an excellent album. (Matador)

Record review: Daughter – If You Leave (2013, LP)

daughter

Londoners Daughter formed initially as the solo project of singer Elena Tonra before guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella jumped onboard, and in the few short years since their 2010 conception the band have been impressively prolific, to say the least. Five EPs, one set of signatures on a contract with 4AD, and a short foray into the American market via an appearance on the Letterman show later, and the band is ready to release their debut long-player, If You Leave.

At times ethereal and haunting, If You Leave will carry the candle of the wistful and heartbroken everywhere. The band’s tunes are undoubtedly well-crafted and intimate and Tonra’s breathy and fragile vocals are at times measured and beautiful, but the sometimes contrived and suffocating atmosphere conjured by much of this album may make you want to shout “lighten up you miserable sods!” in the general direction of your speakers. It’s one of those albums that you can appreciate is a well put together piece of work, but leaves you thankful when it’s over. In short, it’s pretty hard work.

In saying that, Daughter do exactly what they set out to do, and do it well. Singles ‘Smother’ and ‘Still’ are highlights, and on ‘Youth’ Tonra’s vocals are more to the fore, instead of being lost amongst a haze of guitar tinkling and shadowy background noise.

The constant sorrow and wistfulness becomes draining by sixth track ‘Tomorrow’, but the final track ‘Shadows’ is all shimmery guitar lines and pounding drums, and is well worth hearing if you can make it that far. (4AD)