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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: 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

Courtney Barnett: “I don’t feel like I’m some sort of amazing superhero or anything”

courtney barnett

MUSICIAN interviews are often challenging affairs, ranging from something like getting blood out of a stone to verbally wrestling a Herculean ego.

Chatting with Courtney Barnett, however, is a laid-back joy from start to finish, such is the singer-songwriter’s honest and down-to-earth nature. This is especially refreshing given the Melburnian has had two massive years since her debut EP was released in 2012, including a North American tour and an appearance on The Tonight Show.

“I have a little moment every now and then, and think how far from this time two years ago my life has changed,” she says. “I try to go away a lot as well, to be myself and collect my thoughts. Playing huge festivals like Glastonbury has been pretty surreal, as has doing TV shows and shit like that – it’s kind of weird and out of my normal world. Even travelling overseas is a big deal for me. I’d never travelled before, I could never afford it; not even for a holiday. But it’s fun; it doesn’t just feel like work. Obviously it is part work, part fun, but it’s pretty cool. We get to experience a bit of the local stuff – I try to go to galleries and go to parks and stuff like that.”

Being labelled a saviour of Australian indie music by certain sections of the music press isn’t something Barnett is keen to take seriously.

“I think there are plenty of great Australian musicians,” she says. “It’s nice when people say stuff like that about me, but there are so many other great bands and great songwriters. I don’t at any point think I’m some weird saviour for Australian music. I’ve got great friends and people who help me and don’t treat me any different and shit like that. I feel like that my feet are on the ground; I don’t feel like I’m some sort of amazing superhero or anything; that’s kind of ridiculous. Coming from here, where everything is smaller, I’ve realised how much I’ve loved being home since I’ve been here.”

An upcoming national tour starting at the tail end of September will mark the first headline shows for Barnett and her band in Australia, but don’t expect her to be getting complacent just because it’s home turf.

“We’ve always been supporting someone else or doing festivals or something, so it’s kind of exciting to finally be able to do that,” she says. “But I treat every show exactly the same – it’s about the music, not who you’re playing to. I feel lucky to go onto any stage and have people listen to my music. It’s actually kind of more nerve-wracking playing to a home crowd or playing to friends and people who know you – I find that way more nerve-wracking than playing to complete strangers. It’ll probably be a really stressful tour [laughs].”

A recent crowd-funding experiment in support of Barnett’s own Milk! Records label lead to the target being reached in double-quick time.

“I was so blown away by that,” she says. “I’ve never done one of those Pozible things, so wasn’t sure if it would work or what, but I was blown away by the support. I never thought that Milk! records would grow into this real community-driven project, and I’ve witnessed so many of the same people buying stuff when we release stuff and coming to the shows and supporting each band that we pick up along the way. It’s become this beautiful little community family thing, so I was pretty moved when it happened straight away, so it was very cool. We were in a position where we had already recorded our songs as we had money from a Christmas show we did last year, but then we needed the money to do the pressing. We had already created the actual thing, so there was less pressure with creation, and it was more like a pre-order – we just didn’t have enough money to print vinyl.”

A record company that existed for a long time only on paper, Milk! has become one of the hottest names in Australian indie music right now.

“I started it just for my own release,” Barnett says. “Just so my CD looked more professional, so more people would listen to it and more people would review it. Nobody took much notice at first and it took a while, then we started helping other musicians and friends and other people started joining in. When we had the Christmas party last year and sold out the Tote, I realised we’d opened up a little door for a community of people who liked the same bands – it was a very special moment.”

With two critically-acclaimed EPs under her belt, now is the time for the long-awaited debut album.

“It’s all recorded and pretty much finished,” she says. “We’re going to release it early next year. I’m just drawing a whole bunch of pictures for the artwork and stuff. I’m really proud of it; I really challenged myself, tried different things and pushed myself to step out of my comfort song-writing zone and lyric-wise. I’m really happy with it; I feel that it’s the next logical step from the last bunch of songs I wrote. We’ve been playing a bunch of the songs on tour, but we want to save a bunch for the actual release.”

COURTNEY BARNETT PLAYS THE CORNER OCT 2, 3 & 4.

For Beat

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: Ella Thompson – Janus (2015, LP)

ella thompson janus

Listen up, class: no talking at the back and spit out that gum. Today’s lesson incorporates history, music, a multi-talented Melburnian, and a debut album featuring one of the finest female voices in the country right now. Roman mythology 101 tells us Janus was the god of all beginnings, synonymous with doorways and the opportunities they present. He also had two faces to look towards both the past and present, and at times sported a hipster beard. All of these elements are relatable to the form and feel of Thompson’s excellent debut LP (besides the facial fuzz, obvs.); these songs build on her work with GL, Axolotl, the Bamboos and Dorsal Fins and allow her to flaunt her more-than considerable vocal talents in a solo setting. The two-headed depiction of a revered Roman is apt in that there are several styles and moods present throughout the ten tracks. New psychedelia, ‘80s synth-pop, sparse balladry, and layers of distorted, dreamy loveliness provide the backdrop to Thompson’s tuneful talents. Hazy opener ‘Drift’ and Spector-esque ‘Away Too Long’ seduce and spellbind, whereas first single ‘Arcade’ is a honey-drenched slice of synth-pop cherry pie that oozes contradiction, and things get weird on the six-minute ‘Taller’. However, it’s when Thompson gives her vocals some oomph that the song benefits most, as on second single ‘I Go Over’, much like Dorsal Fins’ excellent ‘Monday Tuesday’. This ain’t no sunny synth-pop record by any stretch, though; there’s misery in many of the lyrics (see closer ‘Losing You’), but despair has never sounded so good. With Janus, Thompson has kicked in the door of her solo career, and it’s open for business and for students of music to enjoy. Do your homework right and get on board.

JANUS IS OUT MAY 24 VIA HUB/CAROLINE

For Beat

Ella Hooper: “It’s been going nuts live”

Ella Hooper

WITH her stint as team captain on Spicks and Specks at an end, former Killing Heidi lead singer Ella Hooper is getting back in touch with her first love; making music.

The 31 year-old’s new single from upcoming album In Tongues is ‘The Red Shoes’; a take on the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairytale.

“I think it’s so evocative,” she says. “It’s well-covered territory; everyone’s had a go at reinterpreting this tale. I think the biggest influence on me was actually the [1948] film; the beautiful adaptation that was done around the ballet, where the ballerina dances herself to death. It’s about obsession, but remains very delicate and classy with the way it handles it. I think with this whole album, I’m looking at lots of different ways that things can take you over and push you off your natural path, and sometimes that’s a bad thing and sometimes it’s a good thing. ‘The Red Shoes’ is a little bit of both, I think.”

Fans of Killing Heidi will find much to like about the new single, but Hooper says to expect a few new ingredients throughout the record.

“[‘The Red Shoes’] is actually the rockier side of the album,” she says. “It’s not all like this. My first single ‘Low High’ is probably a better indication of the meat of the record, but I really wanted to get ‘The Red Shoes’ out there too because it is my rockier, more anthemic song, and it’s been going nuts live. There’s probably two or three other tracks in this vein, and the rest is more ethereal and a bit more kooky.”

While these are the first tentative steps into a solo career for Hooper, she was able to count on an old friend for support and musical direction.

“There’s definitely a big influence from my producer Jan Skubiszewski,” she says. “He’s Way Of The Eagle; he’s been around for years and has done lots of great stuff. He comes from a more urban background, so that was another reason I wanted to put down the guitar for a bit. I write almost all my stuff on guitar, so I wanted to put that down and get into a studio with Jan to work with some beats and do a couple of things I haven’t done before. He’s my main collaborator on this album and probably the reason why it sounds so different to everything else I’ve ever done.”

With much changing in the day to day life of the radio and TV personality, it was inevitable that her song-writing would be affected, she says.

“It’s a bit of a break-up record; it’s a tough one. It’s about Saturn returning, which is that astrological phase when you reach your late twenties in which everything you’re not meant to take into adulthood is ripped away from you or falls away, and you have to redefine yourself. I ended a long-term relationship and changed my working situation. You know, I’ve always been in bands with my brother and this is the very first time I haven’t worked with him. There has been so much change, and a lot of it has been scary and a little bit painful, even though I know it’s right. So the album is about going through those things to come out better on the other side.”

Hooper will play release shows in Sydney and Melbourne to air the new solo material, but don’t be surprised if she pops up in other projects any time soon.

“I’m focussing on the future,” she says. “There will be the two singles we’ve put out already, ‘Low High’ and ‘Häxan’, and ‘The Red Shoes’. We also like to chuck in a couple of interesting covers, because I do know it’s hard for a crowd to sit through a whole set of brand new music. We like to throw in anything from Fleetwood Mac to strange country songs. I already do miss [being in a band]. I miss hiding in the band and being part of a whole thing. I have an amazing backing band now, who I feel very close to. They’re fantastic musicians, and will be touring with me for the Sydney and Melbourne shows. I sort of feel like I have created a bit of a band around me, but I definitely look forward to other side projects where it’s not under my name; where I can just be a character amongst other characters again.”

Her stint on the rebooted Spicks and Specks came to an abrupt finish with the recent announcement that ABC wouldn’t be recommissioning the show, but Hooper remains upbeat.

“I would definitely love to do more [TV work],” she says. “It was just the most amazing opportunity, and it was really sad that it didn’t last longer, but I’m hoping to keep looking at things in that arena. At the end of the day, it was just not up to us and we’ve all had to practice letting go, and I’ve had so many nice comments about the show. I’m a big one for trying to get more music on television; I just think it’s crazy there’s so little. We have the fantastic RocKwiz, which I’ve been really involved with, and Spicks was a another really great way to get more music on TV. I’m passionate about that, and hopefully in the future I’ll be able to be involved in something that gets more music on TV.”

Although the show is a big loss to Hooper and lovers of music on television, don’t expect to catch her putting her feet up and taking things easy.

“Music isn’t how I pay the rent any more,” she says. “I do a lot of other things as well. I’ve got my radio show on Sunday nights all over the country on Austereo. I also host a program called The Telstra Road To Discovery, which is a song-writing search for the next great generation of song-writers; that kicks off in a month’s time and goes through the second half of the year. I’m also doing a few other things that I can’t talk about yet; some more mentorship and song-writing projects. I’ll also be writing some music for an event in the countryside where I come from, so I’ll be quite busy. Oh yeah, and releasing my album [laughs].”

Ella Hooper plays:
Newtown Social, Sydney – July 17
Shebeen, Melbourne – July 18

For Beat and The Brag

Remi: “I was trying to write stuff that was a bit deeper”

remi

REMI Kolawole began collaborating with Sensible J and Dutch in 2011, and the rapper’s lyrics have continued to evolve without looking back. The Melbourne trio’s new album Raw x Infinity takes a new, edgier direction, as on singles ‘Livin’ and ‘Tyson’.

“We’re just trying to show to anybody who had only heard ‘Sangria’ last year the direction we’re going in,” Remi says. “Our last album, Regular People S#%t, was quite an eclectic listen. A lot of people who have heard that album would probably be ready for our current album, but for a lot of people who hadn’t – as triple j opened us up to a much wider audience than before – this was a good way to let them know what they were in for when they were getting this album. We have beats that are heavily driven by strong drums, live musicianship and there are no samples on ‘Livin’. I guess it’s also a bit deeper than ‘Sangria’; we’re talking about how we’re all being told how to live, as opposed to getting pissed in Brunswick [laughs]. I guess that it’s more of a move to show people our range and what we’re going to do. We just really like the song as well.”

The 22 year-old is keen on embracing a wider range of subject matter, and tackles topics like racism and politics in his songs. But does he consider himself a political rapper?

“Quite the opposite [laughs]. I just write from the average person’s point of view. I can’t pretend to be anything more than I am. [Tony Abbott] doesn’t really speak to me or the people who are around me. Obviously that’s just my opinion, and that’s what rap is. If anyone agrees, that’s cool, and if anyone disagrees, that’s cool as well. It’s all quite progressive; we’re always trying to do something new. On this album, I was trying to write stuff that was a bit deeper. This was all stuff that I just kind of picked up, but by no means do I want to be considered a political or super-conscious rapper. I just write about what I see or what I experience, and I guess some of the political issues came out.”

New single ‘Tyson’ is a no-holds-barred blast of Remi flaunting his lyrical talents over a brutal beat.

“Obviously you should be sending a message,” he says. “That should be a part of what you’re trying to do. But at the same time, you can also rap just to rap and get it out of your system. You can write some shit that hopefully sounds cool, you know what I mean? That’s ultimately what ‘Tyson’ is; just straight rap braggadocio bullshit that I’ve tried to construct to be as entertaining as possible. All the stuff that I write is basically made up of my experiences, or stuff Sensible J, Dutch and I talk about. I could be anywhere; I could be on the bus and see something happen and write about that. On the flip side, with Sensible J; he’s making beats in his head while he’s at his computer at his day job, so you just got to let the music take you whenever, in the most un-corny and unclichéd way [laughs].”

The new material has earned the trio plenty of national radio play, which Remi happily embraces, albeit with a touch of caution.

“Up until about three or four months ago we didn’t actually have any management or anything like that,” he says. “So we always operate like nobody’s got our back, if that makes sense. We’re thankful for anyone who plays our shit, because the stuff we’re doing at the moment is lyrically and sonically different to what’s going at the moment. It’s strange to us if anyone picks up on that and we’re thankful for it. By no means are we banking our career on anyone, because I don’t think you should be writing your music for a station or a magazine or anyone. Those avenues should allow the artist to do what they do, then spread their music, not the other way around. I’m totally thankful for what triple j has done for us, as well as any other media coverage that we’ve received. At the same time, I’m not going to bank on the stuff we do being picked up or written about because that would stifle my creativity and the creativity of Sensible J and Dutch.”

The group’s upcoming calendar is a busy one, with plenty of chances to air the new material.

“We’ve got our national tour coming up; the Raw x Infinity tour,” Remi says. “Then after that, we go to Splendour in the Grass, which will be great. Then we’re doing a few other – perhaps two or three – nationwide tours before November. Then we’re going to Germany in November, and back in December to hopefully do a bunch of festivals. We’ll be doing a couple of showcases in Germany, and we’ll definitely be going over there just to kick it [laughs]. I’ve been told only good things about Berlin, so I’m pretty excited.”

RAW X INFINITY BY REMI IS OUT NOW.

For Beat Magazine.

Record review: The Love Junkies – Flight Test (2014, EP)

the love junkies flight test

Perth trio The Love Junkies have been busy blowing eardrums up and down the country for the past couple of years with their sweat-drenched, everything-up-to-eleven live shows. Their 2013 debut album Maybelene was an impressively pulsating mix of grunge riffs, alt-rock face-melting and bluesy jams, and this five-track home-recorded EP continues in a similar vein – to a point. You’d be forgiven for thinking the band had gone soft with a mellow space-rock 90-second intro and the poppy opening minute of single ‘Chemical Motivation’, before the point in the song long-time fans have come to expect and love; when singer-guitarist Mitch McDonald lets rip with a throaty scream that would peel wallpaper and probably knock out a donkey at ten paces. ‘Storm Troopers’, penned by bassist Robbie Rumble, is an introspective shoegaze-y affair that never fully kicks into gear and ‘Gloria To My Dysphoria’ is a somewhat solemn, slow-burning psychedelic epic. Closer ‘Blowing On The Devil’s Strumpet’ gets closest to the vein-busting screamo found on Maybelene, and just when you think McDonald’s voice can’t hold out, he goes for another couple of verses. This is another fine release from one of Australia’s best and most promising young rock bands.