Tag Archives: pop

Record review: Emma Louise – Supercry (2016, LP)

emma louise supercry

It’s been three years coming, but Emma Louise’s second album is finally here and there are questions to be answered. What has changed in the singer-songwriter’s world since her first EP in 2011 and debut album two years later? Is the Brisbane-based artist still comfortable laying her soul bare in her songs? And what exactly is a Supercry?

Given the amount of time Australian and international audiences have been appreciating her considerable talents since she won a state-wide songwriter’s prize at just 16, Emma Louise already feels like a veteran of Australian music. Perhaps it’s the timelessness of her indie-pop tracks, again apparent on Supercry, that make her feel like an old-timer in these parts, despite being barely 25. Perhaps it’s the quality and depth of her lyrics, which yet again sound like they’ve been written by someone with decades behind them in the singer-songwriter business.

What’s changed between releases is simultaneously not much and just about everything: her voice is as delicate and engrossing as ever, but the drama is ratcheted up several notches from past releases; no doubt a result of a few more years of life experience.

‘West End Kids’, with a tip of the hat to Brisbane’s left-leaning community south of the river, is sparse and nostalgic, ‘Talk Baby Talk’ is an emotion-charged last roll of the relationship dice, ‘Everything Will Be Fine’ sees the singer in self-assurance mode, as does ‘Illuminate’, which sees her declare “I know I’m braver than this”. The mood is grand and graceful throughout, even if it walks a fine line between triumphant and troubled along the way.

Now, Supercry isn’t Saturday night listening; it won’t get you pumped up for a big night. It will, however, soothe your tortured soul and ease you into a state of transcendence within no time at all. By the end of a first listen it’s still not clear exactly what a Supercry is, but with this collection of songs, Emma Louise has cemented her place as one of Australia’s finest young songwriters.

Supercry is out Friday, 15th July

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Record review: Australia – Portraits of People, Places and Movies (2016, LP)

australia the band album

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.

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Record review: Hinds – Leave Me Alone (2016, LP)

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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.

For Beat

Record review: Tame Impala – Currents (2015, LP)

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“It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but the ones most responsive to change” is a misquote often attributed to Charles Darwin, and it’s an idea vocalist and songwriter Kevin Parker seems acutely attuned to on Tame Impala’s contender-for-album-of-the-year third LP. Psych-rock has been the name of the game up to now, but would you expect such an accomplished band to trundle out the same smack as before? “They say people never change, but that’s bullshit,” Parker sings defiantly on ‘Yes, I’m Changing’, as guitars make way to more electronic (read: dance and pop) elements than on any TI release thus far, with notable exceptions ‘Eventually’ and the goofy disco-funk of ‘The Less I Know the Better’. His love of ‘90s Michael Jackson shows in ‘Love Paranoia’, while ‘Gossip’ recalls 1998-era Air and ‘Past Life’ gets deep into dreampop territory. There’s no big rock number in the vein of ‘Desire Be Desire Go’ or ‘Elephant’, but the addition of one doesn’t feel like it would be a good idea. In fact, this is the most coherent Tame Impala release yet. These are the times, people: some of the best Australian music is being made right here, right now. Well, in Fremantle, to be precise. Currents is the sound of Parker dropping his guard and embracing everything he loves about great pop music.

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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

Ingrid Helene Håvik of Highasakite: “To be singing in Norwegian is pretty special”

highasakite

NORWEGIAN indie-pop five piece Highasakite haven’t had the pleasure of visiting our shores just yet, but singer and songwriter Ingrid Helene Håvik is already busy forming an image of Australia in her head.

“I know you have dingos there,” she says. “And those big animals that jump; I don’t remember what they’re called. And I’ve heard the food there is amazing. Actually, it’s so far away that I don’t know anything about it. I think we are coming to Australia at some point – and I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this – but the plan is to go maybe around September or October some time, and then in maybe February 2015. We’re just starting to plan it now, so it’s not a solid plan yet.”

The Bon Iver-approved band’s new album Silent Treatment will be released on April 11th, and is an ethereal and expansive affair, with all songs written by Håvik.

“We’re really excited,” she says. “We hope a lot of people are going to hear about it and we love playing it for people. The album is already out in Norway, so we have played everything and we’re touring with the material in the States right now. I’d probably call our style indie-pop music, or even just pop music to be brief. [My lyrics] are based on all sorts of things; from dreams I’ve had [which] I write down and use later, and many different things from different places. I can only write at home when I’m really isolated, not on tour.”

The Oslo-based band’s origins can be traced to the Trondheim Jazz Conservatory, where Håvik and drummer Trond Bersu began to write and record together – in English.

“I sing in English because it’s more natural to me,” Håvik says. “I’ve listened to music that is in English my whole life, and I’ve never really listened to any Norwegian lyrics before. English is the music language for me. It’s more natural for most people in Norway to sing in English; to sing in Norwegian is more of a curiosity in Norway. To be singing in Norwegian is pretty special.”

An already hectic touring schedule was recently made busier with an appearance at SXSW, and being added as support to growing global stars London Grammar.

“[SXSW] was really a lot of fun and super busy,” Håvik says. “People came to our shows and that’s all we were really hoping for. We played four shows and had to cancel one; our crowd sizes were never embarrassing, so it was all good fun. We saw a Norwegian guitar trio band too, but that was all I managed to see. Supporting London Grammar on tour has been going really well and it’s been a lot of fun. We’ve had full houses and everything. In the beginning we were really nervous when we started playing the new songs, but we’ve played a lot of shows already with this new material, so we feel pretty good. After the London Grammar tour we’ll be going home to Norway. We’ll be doing some shows in Europe and some summer festivals, and we’re going to the States again in May. Then we’re going to Japan.”

Silent Treatment by Highasakite is out April 11th.

Record review: Metronomy – Love Letters (2014, LP)

The best thing about Metronomy’s 2011 breakthrough The English Riviera was that founder and chief songwriter Joseph Mount allowed what began as a fairly obscure solo electronic act to finally blossom into a full-blown band. The result was an album of exquisite and visionary pop that turned the quartet into an international concern, and once again it’s when Mount relinquishes control on Love Letters that the resulting sounds are most exciting. After three tracks of beeps, clicks and pseudo-baroque synth tickling it finally happens in exuberant and celebratory fashion on the sing-along title track, followed by the laid-back ‘Month of Sundays’ and creepily noir-ish ‘Boy Racers’. The mood doesn’t last throughout the second half of the album, and despite ‘Reservoir’ offering somewhat of a lifeline, the end comes in rather limp fashion with the plodding ‘Never Wanted’. Eclecticism has always been a large part of Metronomy’s appeal, but Love Letters is an album of two halves, and only one of them is in any way memorable.

Record review: Foster The People – Supermodel (2014, LP)

foster the people supermodel

Californian indie-pop trio Foster The People just about cornered the hipster music market with their 2011 debut Torches. It was a decent album of dance-infused pop tracks and spawned five singles, including the ubiquitous ‘Pumped Up Kicks’; a deceptively dangerous little pop tune that lost its charm after being played incessantly on every radio station in existence. Now it’s time for the so-called difficult second album, and it’s one that frontman Mark Foster has gone on record as saying is closer to his vision of the band’s sound than Torches. “I’m bored of the game, and too tired to rage,” he sings on first single ‘Coming Of Age’, and unfortunately by that early stage, the listener is too; such is the lack of ideas present on the first three tracks. Maybe the off-the-charts catchiness of parts of Torches have increased expectation on this album to be similar in execution, but the simple fact is there is very little to like here, besides a few slick guitar riffs here and there. Mid-album efforts ‘Nevermind’ and ‘The Angelic Welcome of Mr. Jones’ are cringeworthy pseudo-choral nonsense, and sound like they are probably leftovers from Foster’s soundtrack work. The low point is ‘Best Friend’, which grates like ’80s cheese-pop dorks Level 42 crossed with a bad case of food poisoning. There’s no ‘Pumped Up Kicks’, or even a ‘Helena Beat’, and while the variety of sounds have increased, the result isn’t in any way improved for it. Foster The People are going to have to work very hard to recover from this. (Columbia)

Record review: Go Violets – Heart Slice (2013, EP)

Go Violets

There’s something pretty irresistible about Go Violets, even before you’ve heard a single note of their music. The Brisbane all-girl indie-pop quartet take the kind of infectiously rosy approach to making music and performing that makes you feel like you’re stuck in some perennially perfect version of your teenage self, with nothing but carefree good times and unadulterated high hopes for the future.

Then you hear their tunes, and before you can work out whether the sweet, summer-y harmonies and tales of innocent adolescent longing are cleverly and carefully reconstructed versions of pop masterpieces from times gone by or whether the reference points are entirely coincidental, you find yourself being absorbed into the simple upbeat beauty of it all and thinking that if there’s any justice in the world, this band will be bigger than Robin Thicke’s ego. That’s pretty damn big.

Heart Slice is their debut EP, and in a nutshell, is a six-track, eighteen-minute blast of power-pop and catchy choruses that will charm you into falling under its spell, even if it’s not exactly ground-breaking or particularly technical stuff. “We’ll stick and never will divide,” sings lead vocalist Phoebe Imhoff on opener and best track ‘Teenager’, starting a lyrical run of subjects that include being “mad about you” and “meeting in the park” – get the idea? Various members switch instruments and take turns at lead vocals, as they do when playing live, with drummer Ruby McGregor and guitarist Alice Rezende swapping spots with ease, while bassist Harriette Pilbeam underpins it all with a punchy pop groove.

There are some pretty goofy lyrics here and there, “Hey Josie, this is not the end, or as the Spanish would say ‘fin’,” on slacker-pop second track, ‘Josie’ for example, but they all add to the overriding senses of charm and fun throughout. Buy this EP, and you’ll listen to ‘Teenager’ about fourteen times in a row – I guarantee it.

HEART SLICE BY GO VIOLETS IS OUT OCTOBER 4

Live review: Blondie – Waterfront Hall, Belfast – 26th June 2013

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It’s a deliciously warm summer evening in my hometown; the kind that makes it seem that the sun won’t ever go down. In Belfast for the first time in about five years; I’m arguing with a taxi driver as we do about seventy miles per hour along the carriageway. He foolishly but stubbornly reckons Blondie were the first band to release a rap record, while I’m certain ‘Rapper’s Delight’ at least came before, even if it wasn’t the first. And weren’t Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five knocking around before either of them? I’m not sure on that one, so decide to keep it in my back pocket in the event of this debate heating up.

A dismissive “nah,” is all he’s got when I repeatedly make my argument that 1979 demonstrably came before 1981, and that elements of rap have been seen throughout reggae, jazz, and other forms of music well before front-woman Debbie Harry was even thought of, and also who-fucking-cares-anyway-can’t-we-all-just-enjoy-the-fucking-tunes. So, it’s with this sense of infuriation that I arrive at the Waterfront Hall to catch the classic new-wave band, now in their thirty-ninth year. Cheers, cabbie.

Thankfully, Blondie are way too much of a class act to let a smartass taxi driver spoil the vibe. The 2500-seater venue is full to capacity, and although the age-range of the audience is generally in the ballpark of those old enough to have enjoyed the band in their heyday, the energy level and atmosphere are high and buzzing, in that order. With an act that is obviously honed to perfection, the sextet take to the stage exactly on time, with Harry stealing the limelight with her trademark platinum blonde hair and an interesting red catsuit type number. It’s only about halfway through opener ‘One Way Or Another’ that surely every member of this – by now bouncing – crowd is reminded of what an original, and classic band this is.

Harry, from the off, is immeasurably infectious, and at 68 has lost none of the sex appeal that was such a trademark of the band in the late ’70s and early ’80s. She is a front-woman who is never boring, always visually engaging, and still has the pipes to fill out a venue of this size. Maybe it was her years spent working as a Playboy bunny, or simply a naturally engaging personality that taught her the need to not simply stand, but to always have a stance. Look up the ‘Heart of Glass’ video for example, and she’s not just standing behind the mic, but she’s there, hand on hip, one knee pushed forward, gently swaying her hips in an almost hypnotic motion. She also knows when to take a back seat and let guitarist Chris Stein or drummer Clem Burke’s sounds come to the fore. Did I mention that word class, already? Or the fact she influenced just about every white female vocalist who came after her?

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Newer songs mix with old dependables, with ‘Hanging on the Telephone’, ‘A Rose By Any Name’, and ‘The Tide Is High’ following in quick succession, with the Waterfront audience now looking like unwilling participants in a mass epileptic fit in a retirement village, before Harry announces “there’s something here that’s big, wet, and wild: Mr. Chris Stein on the guitar!” Oh Debbie, you’re a tease and you know it.

A couple of unannounced new tracks are fired off to a relatively muted response, as token youngster Tommy Kessler engages in some impressive axe shredding, with the predictable result of several hundred middle-aged women now hanging on his every move, and the scene being set nicely for the biggest cheer of the night, which comes during the first few notes of ‘Atomic’.

Closer ‘Heart of Glass’ is perhaps Blondie’s best-known song, and at the time of writing was considered to be nothing more than another album track by the band, hence its position tucked three-quarters of the way down the track-list of Parallel Lines. Clem Burke proves himself to still be a hard-hitting drum machine during the final tracks, as the Belfast crowd loses its collective marbles, and Harry and co. strut off-stage for a towel down and a cold drink.

An energetic encore featuring new song ‘Take Me In The Night’, ‘Call Me’, a cover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘Relax’, and finale ‘Dreaming’ brings a fine night of entertainment to a close, and the band leave the stage for the last time to the sounds of near-deafening appreciation.

For those seeing the band for the first time, it’s a glorious moment, and for those seeing them for a second or maybe third time, it’s probably even more so. While the hits get the biggest response, this is a band with plenty of mileage remaining, and with new songs being written constantly, they aren’t happy to rely on their past. While songs like ‘Atomic’ probably won’t ever be bettered, it’s exciting to think that Blondie are going to give it a damn good try.