What a pleasure it is to give an album a spin after enjoying a single, and finding out the whole lot is as good as the individual reason you arrived at this place in the first instance. Such is the case with Hello Friends, the excellent second album from Melbourne-via-Adelaide musician Stephanie Crase (formerly of Batrider). The instantly-familiar ’90s guitar-pop sound of single ‘Shoot and Score’ provides a good indication of what’s to be discovered across ten tracks. At first it all sounds so sunny and warm, but there’s darkness just out of shot at many points, and Crase is often in a scathing mood. Opener ‘Son of a Gun’ finds her in such a headspace, but it’s more contemplative than combative, while ‘Make Your Way Back to Me’ is part Sonic Youth, part dream-pop transcendence. The distortion-driven ‘Wine Won’t Wash Away’ is a highlight, while the slow, gentle guitar lines and reflective lyrics of ‘Tumbling Down’ and ‘So Long’ are no less engaging. Crase’s skill is in making it all seem so effortlessly easy, whether it’s witheringly dissecting those around her, switching from loud to quiet à la the Pixies, or peeling off an epic solo, and there’s a lingering feeling she’s not really taking it all seriously, which only adds to the appeal. The musical reference points are clear, but its Crase’s contradictions which make this such an appealing collection of tracks, and there’s much more here than meets the eye.
There’s a reason it took until just recently for someone to have the gonads to call their band Australia: it’s a moniker that will invite all manner of cliché and lame comment. It’s a good job then that the Sydney group, formed by core members Guy Fenech, Oliver Marlan and Nick Franklin, have the musical chops to give anyone who hears them something else to consider; mainly that they are an indie-pop band with imagination and talent coming out of their ears. The lead single from their debut album, ‘Wake in Fright’, provides one of the best examples of this. A foreboding bass line, Fenech’s crooning, and distorted guitars make for a track that ticks boxes on many levels. There’s big production to match all the big synth numbers, while things get softer on the more sentimental ‘In My Dreams’ and ‘Not the Place I Know’, on which Fenech does a decent melancholy Bowie for an impressive five minutes. The jewel in the stereotypically-antipodean synth-pop crown is the danceable ‘Love is Better’, which brings the ’80s kicking and screaming into the present with unstoppable momentum and a shout-along chorus. Overall, it’s a lot of fun and it’s clear the band doesn’t take itself too seriously despite the lofty name (their T-shirts read “Australia – the band. Not the country, not a country band”). Tip: for best results, type ‘Australia – the band’ when Googling.
MUCH like a rectangular container filled with assorted sweet confectionery, the best thing about a new Primal Scream album is you never know what you’re going to get.
Since their mid-eighties formation the Scottish band have dipped their collective toes in jangle-pop, acid house, dub, Stones-influenced rock, krautrock and electronica, all while raising enough hell to kill off many a band of weaker constitution.
As the Scream’s eleventh album Chaosmosis is released this month, guitarist Andrew Innes explains that while the band may have left their hell-raising days behind, they are still as experimental and angry as ever.
“We try to keep moving on and trying new things,” he says. “I always buy new bits of equipment, and that’s how the band evolves. We don’t just sit down and write on the guitar we’ve written songs on for ages. Some of the most mental sounds on [the new album] are things [Northern Irish DJ/composer] David Holmes e-mailed me about. He said I should get this fuzzbox because it’s insane and told me to just buy it and don’t even think about it. What people think are distorted synths are a guitar through this crazy fuzzbox. One of the pluggers of the record said ‘What’s that terrible noise at about two minutes thirty? I think it’s a god-damned synthesiser; can we edit it out?’ I e-mailed back telling him it was one of my finest guitar solos in the last ten years. The sound evolved to be quite electronic, and because we’re using electronic synths, the drums are also quite electronic.”
After a dalliance with Byrds-esque pop the band broke big with 1991’s Screamadelica, a masterpiece of acid house and neo-psychedelia. A long period of success and excess followed, and Innes admits writing songs is much easier these days with the benefit of a clear head.
“I think you get better at your craft,” he says. “ Now, the bit that’s inspiration is hard, but the bit that’s perspiration isn’t as hard. Being more together – I mean, obviously we aren’t as crazy as we were in 1993 – means you know right away what’s good or not. We don’t have that thing where you get up in the morning after working all night and don’t know whether it’s good or not; you know right away. Things are a bit less hectic than they used to be, shall we say.”
A constant in Primal Scream albums over time has been the sense the band has its finger on the political pulse. Chaosmosis is no different, says Innes.
“Songs like ‘Golden Rope’ and ‘When the Blackout Meets the Fallout’ [are political],” he says. “’Autumn in Paradise’ is about devastated towns and communities in Britain. Maybe there’s not as much in-your-face shouting about it as there has been in the past, but it’s more subtle. [The British Conservative government] made that promise about making the north a powerhouse and they don’t give a fuck; they really don’t care. As soon as the Tories got a majority they just got on with doing what they want to do, which is making the world safer for their mates, and making the world better for big business. The weird thing is, in the past the Tories would have at least thrown a bone to the middle classes, but they don’t even give a fuck about them any more. That’s how it’s changed; the doctors are on strike for God’s sake, and [the government] doesn’t care. They care about their pals; the big corporations and that’s it. And the sad thing about it is people in the south of England vote for it. People in the old industrial heartlands in the north don’t vote for it, the Scottish definitely don’t vote for it, the Welsh don’t vote for it, and the Irish don’t vote for it. My friend has a good theory that the English had their revolution too early. It was maybe 100 years too early, and then they wanted their king back. They like being subjects, but when you grow up in Scotland you’re a bit more anti-authority.”
Picking top-drawer collaborators is another skill the bad has mastered. This time around, Haim feature on opener ‘Trippin’ On Your Love’, Rachel Zeffira pops up on ‘Private Wars’, and Sky Ferreira duets on lead single ‘Where the Light Gets In’.
“We met Haim on Jools Holland’s show,” Innes explains. “They are lovely girls and we just clicked and liked them. They’ve got this thing that siblings have, because they’ve been singing together all their lives; they’re just good and know what they’re doing. They brought this sunshine to the record, and it was a great honour for us. They were on tour and only had something like four hours off, and they came round to the studio when they could have been having a rest. Then we had this song that we thought would be a good duet, and Sky’s name came up. Luckily we knew someone who knew her, but we thought she might not know who we were because we’re not that big in America, but she was more than happy. She can really sing and as I was recording I got to listen to just how good she is, just like I did with Robert Plant on the last album.”
The band have no immediate plans for an Australian visit, but that could all change with one phone call, Innes says.
“All we need is one of those Australian promoters,” he says. “I’ve been telling people that next January is free, because you can’t beat leaving [the UK] and heading south, preferably for three weeks [laughs]. If there are any promoters out there, we’re just a call away and we’re ready to work.”
Possible reactions to the news Violent Soho have called their new album after a Texan town famous for a religious cult siege include (a) Oh FFS, they’re going for the American market, it’s going to be too polished, (b) Please don’t let them be turning into U2, or simply (c) Hell fuck yeah, a new Violent Soho album. Thankfully a first listen reveals the band to be the same Mansfield scruffs they have always been, and most certainly not prepared to switch from XXXX to Budweiser just yet. After the all-conquering success of 2013’s Hungry Ghost, the quartet must have wondered whether sticking with the tried-and-trusted alt-rock formula or trying something different was the right move, and it’s the former policy that has won out here. Shout-along anthems (‘Viceroy’, ‘Like Soda’, ‘Holy Cave’), drug references (‘How to Taste’) and huge grunge-y riffs (just about everything else) are the ingredients long-term fans know and love, while there are changes of pace in slow-burning closer ‘Low’ and Foos-esque ‘Evergreen’. It took eight months for singer-guitarist Luke Boerdam to write the 11 tracks here, and he has kept his subject matter as close-to-home as always: boredom, drinking and smoking with friends, and the expectations of modern life are tackled with honesty and heart. It’s been a long, hard road for Violent Soho to get where they are today, but if Hungry Ghost was their breakthrough, Waco will be the album that cements their place as one of Australia’s best rock bands.
Convention, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing, if the excellent seven-track debut EP from Brisbane-via-Rockhampton quintet Big Bad Echo is anything to go by. It’s for this reason it’s such a refreshingly-eclectic release: fuzz-rock, cacophonous drones, spoken-word monologues, off-kilter psychedelia, and a catchy lead single combine to make a record that throws up one high-quality surprise after another. ‘Cannon Fire’ and ‘Half Polyester Sheets’ provide an opening 11 minutes of pounding layers of noise fit for any late-night road trip, while vocalist Mick Reddy recalls Jim Morrison at his most shamanistic. ‘Ice Breaker’ is the obvious single, although its repetitive rumblings and ruminations are far from radio-friendly and all the better for it. “All I ever wanted is to fall at your feet” Reddy sings, amid an outpouring of angst, urgency and reverb. ‘Two Crows Flying’ takes a turn for the weird, as a dismal vocal fights for space with searing guitars and a sinister synth, and closer ‘Blink Your Eyes’ mashes all the aforementioned elements into the type of six-minute, Herculean beast of a track that leaves instruments and musicians alike bruised and broken. Witnessing a band marching triumphantly to the sound of their own – somewhat peculiar – drum makes you hope they can make an album, as all the evidence Big Bad Echo have offered thus far points to something big, and certainly not bad.
DIIV’s second album marks Zachary Cole-Smith’s return from the brink of career suicide, having been widely labelled a heroin-addled waster since his September 2013 arrest for narcotics possession with his girlfriend, singer/model Sky Ferreira. The project’s debut album Oshin was a somewhat overlooked masterpiece, and it took the frontman and songwriter to kick his drug problems and re-launch himself into writing for this album to even see the light of day. The result is an ambitious double LP that recalls much of the glory of Oshin while expanding deeper into the realms of indie-rock, dream-pop and prog. Droning, relentless riffs, jangling chord progressions, and the whiff of New York hobo chic are again the order of the day, which provide many moments of majesty, most especially on the title track, first single ‘Dopamine’ and second track ‘Under The Sun’. Ferreira makes an appearance on lead vocals on ‘Blue Boredom (Sky’s Song)’, which never really gets going, while the feeling of ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’ is, as the name suggests, of a singer wallowing in misery, and ‘Take Your Time’ follows the same formula, albeit with much more sombre tones. Overall, the record’s no Oshin on the whole, mostly due to the feeling that fewer tracks could have made it a more attractive package (point in case: the unnecessary, 17-second ‘(Fuck)’) and too much of the latter half of the album sounds like a single, coagulated mass. Nevertheless, Cole-Smith remains both an intriguing figure and indie-rock creative worth keeping an eye on.
“From this day forward, you will call me by my real name,” Kele Okereke repeats during the ambling ‘My True Name’; a hint that he would like to wipe the slate clean with Bloc Party’s first album since 2012’s Four. It’s a statement that fits with the 34 year-old frontman’s changing musical output, as he flits between pulsating dance, indie guitars and overwrought balladry on album five. But there lies the problem: it’s a record that feels more like a ragtag collection of off-cuts and B-sides than a cohesive whole, and it could perhaps be argued that it shouldn’t be labelled a Bloc Party album at all. The initial impression is that Okereke wants to unleash a string of dance anthems, as on lead single ‘The Love Within’, but is held back by the necessity of including those pesky guitars Bloc Party fans have come to expect over the last 15-odd years. Of course, much has changed personnel-wise since Four. Gone are long-term bassist Gordon Moakes and drummer Matt Tong, but how much of an effect that has had on song-writing is unclear. The over-cooked balladry of ‘Fortress’, ‘Different Drugs’ and ‘Exes’ contributes the least, and while there are some deft licks throughout ‘So Real’ and ‘The Good News’, the result of listening to Hymns is a lingering question: Will the real Kele Okereke please stand up?
Bloc Party’s Hymns is out on January 29th via Create/Control
Cool your boots, 2016; I’m still working through the impossible amount of tuneage your predecessor tried compressing into my earholes. Is there a way we can start the year around, say, March? Just kick back a bit and write January and February off as a hangover? No, I thought not, you heartless swine. Things Madrid quartet Hinds gives zero fucks about, not including releasing their debut album in the first week of January, are (a) wearing their hearts on their sleeves, (b) displaying their goofy demeanour, and (c) learning to play their instruments properly. In other words: they have exactly the right ingredients for an album which is infectious, fun and fresh. Lo-fi garage pop is the order of the day, centred on the alternating vocals of founding members Carlotta Cosials and Ana Perrote, who tend towards singing about the joys and pitfalls of trying to maintain relationships amid a sea of insecurity, misguided declarations of love, and heavy partying. ‘Warts’ is an early highlight; it’s perhaps the best example of the group’s ability to mix scrappy guitar melodies and loose, dual vocals, whereas the breezy jangle-twang of ‘San Diego’ takes it up all a notch. With an approach to playing that’s as much about writing great pop tunes as it is having a good time, Hinds are not only clapping their hands and enjoying the wild abandon of the moment; they’re digging their heels in for the future. Here’s to you, 2016. Let’s do this.
Most of us, at one time or another, have wanted to take off across some dusty plain with nothing but a faithful old heeler on the passenger seat, one sunburned arm hanging out the driver’s window and maybe a couple of cartons of brews in the back. Melbourne quintet Rolling Blackouts might have made just the EP for such a trip: Talk Tight is a five-track effort of guitar pop with so many links to the McLennan-Forster songbook of 1988 that it could almost be mistaken for a period piece. A compliment so heady shouldn’t be handed out willy-nilly, of course, but in this case it’s deserved; the young band’s jangly guitar sound is some seriously top-drawer Australiana. It’s pretty laidback going in the most part, though, so it’s a ride we’re all welcome to come along on. Opener ‘Wither With You’ gets the motor started and wheels rolling with a plenty of guitar hooks, before lead single ‘Wide Eyes’ cleans out the cobwebs of its fuzzy opening with an all-guns-blazing alt-country climax. ‘Heard You’re Moving’ is a straightforward and charming guitar-pop number that cleverly takes a minute before the vocals kick in, while ‘Clean Slate’ gets all garage-jam massive before breaking back down to where it started, before ‘Tender is the Neck’ closes the deal with a tenderness that is both unexpected and welcome. If you like your indie-rock freewheeling and chock full of charm, these boys have you covered.
Melbourne monster-punk upstarts Going Swimming are on a mission, and it involves a heavy helping of the F word, an excellent debut album and an upcoming national tour. Hold the language warning, though, as singer Nick Leggatt explains exactly what the F makes his band tick.
“If you’re having fun, people have fun with you,” says Leggatt. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We try to play shows that we think are going to be fun, with bands we like; shows we think we would want to go to, not just any old show. And I can’t see us [writing about] any subjects too hard-hitting or anything. One of the guys tracked a demo the other day that was about three-and-a-half minutes and we accused him of writing an epic.”
The quartet have taken three years to release a debut LP, after Leggatt and guitarist Aswin Lakshman spent time in several bands together since meeting at school. Wanting to play music which better reflected the tunes they listened to, they formed Going Swimming with bassist Callan Trewenack and drummer Ben Barclay. The result is the hot-off-the-press Deadtime Stories; a 12-track collection of raucous garage, surf and punk tracks, executed with a healthy dose of piss-taking posturing.
“The four of us have all been a lot more serious bands [with] longer songs [which were] a bit more wanky,” says Leggatt. “We wanted to be in a band that didn’t take ourselves too seriously. We recorded a few tracks as demos and put out a five-track EP in 2013, which we did ourselves. We played as many shows as we could and put out a couple of double A-side singles later that year. We thought it was time to put all our new songs into an album, and thought it wouldn’t take us very long; being a very no-fuss, lo-fi recording. The whole recording process took us a lot longer than we thought. We probably laid down the drums tracks maybe 15 months ago, and between drum tracks and tracking everything ourselves, the tendency is to get a bit lazy. Three of us live together as well, and we thought it would come together quicker than it did, but we got there in the end and we’re stoked to put it out and move on to play the newer stuff. Progressing as a band has felt pretty natural; we’re still enjoying it and having fun.”
Not quite garage and not quite punk, the band might have invented a genre of their own: monster-punk. It’s a fitting description for not only the Goosebumps-inspired album cover and title, but the often-ramshackle way they attack their music.
“When you think of the word punk, I don’t think we fit that bill,” Leggatt says. “And we’ve played with a bunch of garage-punk bands, and sometimes we don’t fit that bill either. So, we’re kind of our own little niche, and I think part of that is my vocals; I yell and do weird stuff. Someone came up with monster-punk and we kind of like it. One review called us ‘piss-taking punk’ and I like that, too. I don’t think we were looking for a theme too much [with the album]. To be honest, the tracks are pretty random and a lot of that is to do with the fact whoever writes the demo, they tend to give it a working title. I like to try to riff on the working title and see if I can keep the working title as the final title. It’s not like I have a big scrapbook of heartfelt lyrics I want to put into song. That’s the fun part of it; just writing fun little ditties.”
A quick glance over the Deadtime Stories tracklist reveals an additional level of humour with some creative and funny song titles.
“‘Yoko, Oh No!’ was a tough one as it’s an instrumental,” Leggatt says. “That song has changed titles a million times. At some stage it was called something like ‘YOLO’, but we decided we can’t have that. ‘Cosmonauts and Crosses’ was a riff on the original title, which was something about being a cosmonaut. The lyrics are a bit messed up and all over the place; we almost wrote it as we recorded and I couldn’t get the lyrics right. We got really drunk one night and I just spat out the verses.”
A national tour is locked in for October and November, so expect to be experiencing the F word on a stage near you.
“It’s that fun vibe,” Leggatt says. “We’re pretty loose on stage. We try not to be loose musically, but sometimes that works its way in. Our songs are short and sharp; we smash them out and pack as many songs as we can into a half-hour set. At the same time, we know what it’s like to be a punter and stand there in the crowd and be a bit bored. You don’t want to see anyone yawning, so we get out there and smash it out. We want to leave them wanting more, so hopefully they’ll come to another show. We love touring; it costs us a lot of money, but it’s like a little fun holiday for us.”
DEADTIME STORIES IS OUT NOW. GOING SWIMMING PLAY:
SUN OCT 18 – FRANKIE’S PIZZA
FRI NOV 13 – THE WORKERS CLUB
Just like certain actors being cast in a film almost guarantees it’ll a good one, there are a small number of musicians whose albums you won’t ever have to worry about being sub-par. Kurt Vile is one: he has released five solo albums of the most tip-top indie-rock and folk since co-founding, and subsequently leaving, the War on Drugs in 2008. The 35 year-old Philadelphian’s problem, then, is maintaining the almost impossibly high standards he has set for himself, but it’s a task he sets about with typically laidback ease on this solid 12-track effort. While no wheels are reinvented or new ground broken, the warm and hazy embrace of Vile’s gently-rolling indie-Americana is as welcoming as ever, and it’s a very good thing that he hasn’t done a Kevin Parker and gone electro-pop. First single ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is just that, while ‘I’m an Outlaw’ is banjo-pickin’ good. Vile’s melancholia is never far off, and it raises its heavy eyelids first in ‘That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate to Say)’; in which he sings of “taking pills to take the edge off”, while the equally downbeat ‘All in a Daze Work’ features the obligatory day/daze pun long-time fans will recognise. A perennially underrated guitar player, Vile is more often praised for the high standard of craftsmanship of his songs and indie-stoner vibe, but there’s magic in these licks that demands respect. Six albums in and Kurt Vile is still somewhat of a cult figure; can we keep him that way, please?
Calling your band Going Swimming and putting a song called ‘Shark Attack’ on your debut record can only mean one thing: you see piss-taking as a duty rather than an option. A quick glimpse at the track list provides confirmation: song titles include ‘Yoko, Oh No!’, ‘Cosmonauts and Crosses’ and the supremely satisfying ‘I Think I’ve Been Had, Lads’. Ramshackle garage-punk is the vehicle which takes the Melbourne quartet’s howling horror stories and tales of debauchery on a gutter-bound journey, but while the whole deal threatens to fall apart at any second, the band just about hold it together until the final chords ring out. Single and opener ‘Them Shakes’ wastes no time getting among the surf-punk licks, with lyrics which could pass for both a bedtime story about friendly monsters or a transcript from your latest therapy session; whichever suits the mood. ‘Your Sister’ follows in a similar vein; its commanding and raucous riffs hint at the scrappy punk aesthetic being a construct rather than a necessity, although ‘Whatever Happened to the Plan?’ suggests the contrary. The aforementioned instrumental ‘Yoko, Oh No!’ could have been lifted from an alternative-dimension Rocky Horror, and ‘Careers Counsellor’ finds the gang railing against convention. Nick Leggatt’s tireless bawling and Aswin Lakshman’s red-hot riffs are at the centre of Going Swimming’s piss-taking punk, and make for an album which is frantic, frayed and damn good fun.
It’s been just over a year since the release of their fourth album, but Sydney metalcore mainstays Buried In Verona aren’t wasting time with a follow-up. With a new guitarist, drummer and bassist on board, a settling-in period could be expected, but reinvigorated singer and founding member Brett Anderson is keen to grab the bull by the horns, with largely positive results. Much is softer than what has gone before, including unmistakable pop-rock elements in ‘Hurricane’, but the harder tracks are still there in ‘Pathways’, ‘Dig Me Out’ and the brutal pairing of ‘Vultures Above’ and ‘Lions Below’. Elsewhere, soaring single ‘Can’t Be Unsaid’ is a highlight, as Anderson works through his demons and displays an increasingly impressive range. A band that stays still is a band that gets left behind, but, with Vultures Above, Lions Below, Buried in Verona are making sure that doesn’t happen to them.
Back in 2004, you would’ve got long odds on Pete Doherty living to the following Christmas, never mind making a third album with the Libertines. Adrift on a sea of mistrust, petty crime and intravenous drugs, the singer-guitarist seemed doomed. How pleasantly surprising is it that eleven years later, the Libertines’ full line-up is back with a new album, but is there still a place for a band who once were the doomed youth, but now only write songs for them? The answer is yes, if only to allow the dual songwriting skills of Doherty and Carl Barât to flourish once more. The duo are equally adept at referencing Wilfred Owen and Rudyard Kipling as they are telling tales of crawling the streets of Camden Town or trying to “find a vein”. Much of the edge present on their earlier records is inevitably blunted, but danger’s loss is songcraft’s gain, and a less frantic approach to their work makes sense for a bunch of guys approaching forty. Opener ‘Barbarian’ is misleading as it could fit perfectly into either of the first two albums, while slower tracks ‘You’re My Waterloo’ and ‘The Milkmans Horse’ provide introspective moments, and the garage reggae of single ‘Gunga Din’ shows the band still owes much of its sound to the Clash. Anyone looking for an anthem as glorious as ‘Don’t Look Back into the Sun’ will be disappointed, but maybe it’s unfair to compare the Libertines of 2015 to the 2004 version. Perhaps we should be grateful this album exists at all. Or should that be astonished?