Record review: Green Day – Dos! (2012, LP)

GReen day dos
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)

Record review: Flume – Flume (2012, LP)

Flume - censored (new)
Flume is Sydney producer Harley Streten, a 21 year-old new kid on the block who has been turning heads and raising eyebrows with what has been hailed by many critics and fans as a ground-breaking electronic album, and with good cause. Full of radiant synth sounds, smooth soul, choppy beats and deliciously off-kilter techno, it’s a slick, entertaining album from start to finish, and one surely set to win awards for electronic album of the year. What is most impressive is the scope of the ideas on show; the young artist clearly has no lack of ambition. Every track is different and introduces a new set of sounds to pleasure your ears, from the clean, warm sounds of opener ‘Sintra’, to the gentle hum of techno daybreak on ‘Stay Close’, and intergalactic beeps of ‘Space Cadet’. Collaborations with several vocalists give the album an interesting and varied feel, the most impressive examples being Melbourne producer Chet Faker’s showing on ‘Left Alone’, as the vocal effects are left alone, and Jezzabell Doran’s playful pleading on ‘Sleepless’. There is something for every mood as Streten goes from upbeat to melancholy depending on the track, and at fifty minutes and fifteen tracks it’s a generous package that tails off slightly towards the end, but ultimately electronic music has found a brand new shining star. (Future Classic/Warner)

Record review: Villagers – Awayland (2013, LP)

Being Irish, world-weary, and more than a little handy with a folk melody will inevitably see comparisons being drawn between Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien and the likes of Damien Rice or Glen Hansard, but the Dublin quintet throw enough curve balls on this second album to keep things sounding fresh and interesting. If having their debut album nominated for a host of major industry awards brought added pressure when putting together Awayland, it certainly doesn’t show, as this is an album laced with intimacy and imagination in spades. Sounding more like a band project than a solo job this time around, proceedings start strongly with ‘My Lighthouse’; a gentle folk ballad that allows O’Brien to flaunt his tenderly poised vocals. ‘Earthly Pleasure’ follows in a similar vein before ‘The Waves’ goes off on an unexpected Kraut-rock tangent; all billowing synths and guitar fuzz, and Judgement Call sees the drums and intergalactic space noises come to the fore. ‘Nothing Arrived’ is undoubtedly the main attraction here, with its instantly-catchy Jackson Browne-esque piano melody and sunny, laid-back disposition being enough to warm even the most frigid of hearts. O’Brien and Co. have clearly drawn their influences from a wider range of places this time around, as the second half of the album has hints of electronica and even a dash of funk on ‘Passing A Message’. The glue that holds it all together is O’Brien’s voice; but the variety of sounds on show is what makes Awayland more than your average folk album. (Domino)

Record review – Green Day – Tré (2012, LP)

Everything Green Day have done recently has been overshadowed by singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s descent into drug hell, but Tre! – the third instalment of their punk album trilogy – sees the Californians return to business as usual of sorts. With its release date brought forward to the other side of Christmas due to Armstrong’s problems, it’s a mixed bag of an album that partly reflects the best of the band’s musical abilities (making it probably the best of the trilogy), yet at times reeks of the musical flatulence that has blighted their recent output. There are elements of the stadium rock bombast of American Idiot, the straight-up punk of Insomniac (a vastly underrated album in the band’s discography), but no sign of a sure-fire classic Green Day track. Opener ‘Brutal Love’ is all strings and grandeur, before ‘Missing You’ recalls Nimrod and ‘Drama Queen’ is the token acoustic number. ‘Sex, Drugs & Violence’ hints at a return to form in three-chord punk style, yet still manages to sound limp and light compared to previous material. Perhaps it’s harsh to compare these new albums to such bonafide classics as Dookie and American Idiot, but knowing what this band are capable of makes Tre! all the more infuriating; it’s like they feel the need to out-do themselves with every new release. Being prolific is all well and good, but surely these three albums could have been rolled into one great one? Disappointing. (Warner)

Record review: Local Natives – Hummingbird (2013 LP)

local natives
The release of 2009 debut Gorilla Manor saw Local Natives being compared to the likes of Arcade Fire and Fleet Foxes, and Hummingbird will reinforce such parallels, although the Los Angeles quartet now use their influences to forge a more mature sound that’s all their own. This second album showcases a collection of exquisitely crafted tracks filled with shimmering soundscapes, perfectly refined drama, and lyrical themes exploring the darker side of the fame game and life on the road. The recent departure of bassist Andy Hamm has seemingly unaffected the band’s ability to create songs of layered beauty and warm intrigue of such high quality to make Hummingbird an early contender for album of 2013 – it’s that good. Taylor Rice and Kelsey Acer provide vocal harmonies in a fashion not dissimilar to how Grizzly Bear might approach their work, and the layers of barely-controlled guitars and drums are spread liberally over the top, most notably on the excellent ‘Heavy Feet’ and ‘Ceilings’. ‘Wooly Mammoth’ is another highlight, as a monumental wall of sound is built from a repetitive bass line and epic levels of percussion, before a perfectly toned guitar riff breaks it back down and then unleashes the force once again. The more delicate tracks are just as alluring; including the hazy ‘Mt. Washington’ and lilting ‘Colombia’, which sees Acer asking “Am I giving enough?” With Hummingbird, the answer is most definitely yes – this is an outstanding and essential album. (Infectious Music)

Record review: Thao & the Get Down Stay Down – We The Common (2013 LP)

San Francisco songstress Thao Nguyen allegedly began learning to sing and play guitar while working at her mother’s laundromat as a twelve year old. Sixteen years of gigging experience and three albums later, and the multi-talented singer/guitarist is a confident and accomplished frontwoman in a band that not only has one of the best monikers around, but has put together an appealing and eclectic set of songs on We The Common. Straight-up ’60s-style pop mashes with ’70s soul, ’80s hip-hop, and ’90s dance to make a fresh and fun album with a socially-conscious heart, with Nguyen’s engaging voice and witty and cutting lyrics at the centre of everything. Equal parts St. Vincent, Kim Deal, and Beck Hanson, Nguyen explores themes from penal incarceration, feminism, and social equality with a boundless energy and inventiveness. Sprightly opener ‘We The Common (For Valerie Bolden)’ recalls Nguyen’s time doing volunteer work with women prisoners, while the funky ‘City’ sounds like a female-fronted Red Hot Chili Peppers circa 1994, and folkie Joanna Newsom pops up on the deft duet ‘Kindness Be Conceived’. New single ‘Holy Roller’ is a catchy, finger-pickin’ pop song that benefits from John Congleton’s (The Walkmen, Black Angels, Modest Mouse) production, which is crisp and clean throughout. Unconventional and charming, We The Common is an experimental approach to pop music that will see Thao Nguyen getting under your skin and staying there. (Ribbon Music)

Record review: Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II (2013 LP)

Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Former Mint Chicks singer-guitarist Ruban Nielsen formed Unknown Mortal Orchestra in 2010 under a shroud of anonymity, choosing to release his first tracks online with no promotion or fanfare whatsoever. Since 2011’s self-titled debut, UMO have been the psychedelic cult band of choice for those attuned to that type of thing, but II will surely see the Portland three-piece broaden their fan-base significantly. It’s an intriguing album, as Nielson recently admitted to fearing for his sanity on tour, and lyrically he lays himself bare with stark candour, channelling the likes of Syd Barrett and John Lennon. Opener From The Sun couldn’t be more like a Lennon-penned Beatles song if it tried, combining a sunny guitar riff with the foreboding lyric “Isolation can put a gun in your hand, if you need to you can get away from the sun.” Single ‘Swim And Sleep (Like A Shark)’ sees him detailing his need to “sink to the bottom” and let all his dreams “float away”, in a deceptively catchy track, ‘So Good At Being In Trouble’ is a casually fuzzy affair, and proceedings get even more eclectic with the funky ‘One At A Time’. The bizarrely brilliant pop gem Faded In The Morning ensures the second half of the album doesn’t run out of steam after Nielsen indulges his more experimental side with the sprawling and slightly tedious ‘Monki’, and closer ‘Secret Xtians’ brings the sound back to where it began in a satisfying close. The album’s best feature is that it reveals a little more with every listen, making it one you’ll want to spin over and over. (Jagjaguwar)

Record review: Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen (2013 LP)

Have you ever been a fan of one element of a band’s sound but been less fond of another? Say, loved the band, but were unable to stand another second of the ear-grippingly awful caterwauling coming from the dude at the front? Well that’s not quite the case with London quartet Veronica Falls’ second album, as it’s a group of songs stuffed with some of the most perfectly pieced-together jangle pop of recent months, but there’s something just a little too twee about singer Roxanne Clifford’s voice to prevent it being a deadset hit. The ‘twee’ label has followed the band around like a bad smell since their 2009 formation, and it’s probably unfair to pigeon hole them as solely that, as there’s so much more to be found under the pop-lite veneer of the tunes on Waiting For Something To Happen. The most impressive element is the guitar interplay between Clifford and James Hoare, recalling the sounds of Johnny Marr, The Feelies, or cult ’80s college rockers Pylon with energetic aplomb. Opener ‘Tell Me’ and single ‘Teenage’ are perfect examples of this – as the guitars, bass, and drums kick in you sense yourself being in the presence of top drawer pop, before the vocals enter the frame and urge fingers towards the “skip” button. However, what’s great about Veronica Falls is that they don’t seem to care about labels, genres, current trends, or any of that nonsense whatsoever, instead choosing to plough ahead with their catchy brand of simple, harmless pop. (Slumberland/Bella Union)