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: Bruce Springsteen – High Hopes (2014, LP)

While the arrival of a new year brings new hopes and changes to many, some facts of life remain satisfyingly steadfast; and one of those is that The Boss never disappoints. Forty-five years and eighteen studio albums into a monumental career, the sixty-four year old New Jersey native shows no sign of slowing down; the fact that the majority of this album was recorded on the road, before being completed with covers, out-takes and reworked versions of songs that didn’t make the cut on previous releases is testament to that. The plundering of unpolished gems begins with the title track, a song originally recorded by The Havalinas in 1990 before appearing on the 1996 Blood Brothers EP. Aussie fans will notice a faithful cover of The Saints’ 1986 classic ‘Just Like Fire Would’, and I’ll be damned if it doesn’t sound like it came straight from the mind and fingers of the man himself, but it’s originals like ‘American Skin (41 Shots)’ and ‘Hunter of Invisible Game’ that really pick you up by the lapels, and set you down again with a soulful bump. The E-Street band is in fine form throughout, and given that the material is taken from a time period as long as ten years, recently-deceased members Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici both feature, as well as Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello on the excellent ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’. While the coherence of previous Springsteen records is somewhat lacking and there’s a definite thrown-together feel to the record, the song-writing and execution are as masterful as ever, making this another fine addition to an already legendary catalogue. (Columbia)

Record review: Stonefield – Stonefield (2013, LP)


Haim might be the most well-known group of sisters to storm the charts in recent times, but the hard-rocking Findlay sisters of Stonefield have been impressing on the live circuit since 2010, quietly (or blisteringly loudly, if you’ve been to one of their shows) building a following, and baby-of-the-family and bassist Holly is still only 15. For their debut album the quartet from rural Victoria have dipped a sponge into their parents’ album collection, soaked up the best vibes from early ’70s classic rock (think Led Zeppelin and The Who) and turned them into a classy set of rock tunes for a new generation. Drummer/vocalist and oldest sister Amy is the most powerful weapon in the band’s arsenal; her voice could probably knock out a bull at ten paces, as on grandiose lead single ‘Put Your Curse On Me’. Combined with Sarah’s swirling keyboard lines and the crushing riffs from Hannah’s Les Paul, it makes for a powerful album that will give you confidence that the future of Australian rock is in safe hands.

Record review: Busby Marou – Farewell Fitzroy (2013 LP)

Busby Marou

With their 2011 self-titled debut album and lead single ‘Biding My Time’, Rockhampton duo Thomas Busby and Jeremy Marou announced their arrival onto the music scene with a uniquely Australian take on the folk and country genres. Now, after two years of playing shows up and down the country several times over, it’s time for their so-called difficult second album, and it’s a task they take in their stride with total ease. Singer-guitarist Busby is the primary songwriter of the pair, while Marou provides backup vocals and impressively quick-fingered guitar licks, despite apparently never having had a guitar lesson in his life. As you listen to their tales of leaving home (Fitzroy being the river on which Rockhampton lies), being on the road, and of broken relationships, you can’t help but think of classic Australian troubadours like Paul Kelly; such is the evocative power of Busby’s lyrics. Anthemic folk number ‘Luck’ is a major highlight, while ‘Heard It All Before’ shows they can rock hard when they want to. Second track ‘Get You Out Of Here’ is another peak while ‘Over My Dead Body’ begins as a slower and more melancholy affair, before Marou unleashes a devastatingly fast solo. This album’s generally bright and breezy vibes make it perfect for a summer’s day, and the down-to-earth appeal of Busby Marou’s songs mean they can be appreciated just as much in the local pub as they can on the country’s biggest stages. (Footstomp)

Record review: Lenny Kravitz – Are You Gonna Go My Way: Deluxe Edition (2013, LP)

Lenny Kravitz

You know that feeling when you listen to an album that you used to love for the first time in years, and all those nostalgia-tinged memories of how good it is come flooding back in an instant? I just had one of those feelings, courtesy of New York multi-instrumentalist, multi-award winning, multi-bloody-everything, Lenny Kravitz.

First of all, it’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since the release of this bonafide classic album, Kravitz’s third after his 1989 debut Let Love Rule and 1991’s Mama Said. His recorded output up to that point had been a solid but not quite breakthrough series of soul and pop numbers; held back by their influences while their writer hadn’t yet found the boldness of his own voice. Are You Gonna Go My Way would change all that and establish Kravitz as the star he had been trying to be since 1988. It would be his first top-twenty album in the States, hit the top spot in Australia and the UK, and spawn five singles. As a result, there’s been no looking back for Kravitz ever since; he’s gone on to fill arenas the world over and even launch a film career.

Of course, the obvious focal point of this album is that guitar riff in the title track and opener. It’s a bombastic riff inspired by Hendrix and Prince and often pops up in those top ten riffs of all time lists that guitar magazines like to publish from time to time. In short, it rocks, but like Kravitz’s entire career, this is an eclectic album in terms of sounds and styles, unbound by genre or trend.

Second track ‘Believe’ is an orchestral ballad that is a nice cool-down after the frenetic pace of ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’, while ‘Heaven Help’ heaps a spoonful of soul over things, and ‘Just Be A Woman’ is the tearful acoustic number that Kravitz tends to throw in on every release. ‘Black Girl’ couldn’t sound more ’70s if it tried, but while there are many fairly obvious influences at work here, it’s all top quality stuff.

Deluxe editions and reissues are often nothing more than an underhanded attempt to squeeze more dollars out of the record-buying public, but the extras included here are well worth getting your teeth into. They include twenty extra tracks, instrumentals, acoustic versions, and a fifteen-minute radio interview from the era, making 31 tracks in all. It’s been twenty years but this album still sounds amazing.


Record review: Lime Cordiale – Falling Up The Stairs (2013, EP)

Lime Cordiale

Hailing from the northern beaches of Sydney, indie-pop quintet Lime Cordiale make the kind of pop music that will make you think of summer sun, beach parties, beer, barbecues, and good times. The core of the band consists of brothers Oli and Louis Leimbach and one thing that makes this EP different from most similar indie releases is the frequent addition of brass to the songs, including trumpet and trombone at various points. There’s also a bit of clarinet in there, because why the hell not? It’s indie-pop, but with a touch of ska and world music influences in places.

As the band’s name name suggests, Falling Up The Stairs takes a fresh and sprightly approach to indie-pop, and there’s a definite Australian laid-back and upbeat vibe; this music couldn’t come from anywhere else, and much of the style isn’t too far off that of fellow Sydneysiders Sticky Fingers.

Opener and single ‘Bullshit Aside’ is the best song, and sounds fun and upbeat despite having some fairly heavy lyrics. The playful synths in ‘Famous’ are layered over what is a tight and groovy rhythm section, and the jaunty ‘Sleeping At Your Door’ sounds like it would be pretty amazing played live.

The only criticism that could be levelled at this EP is that there isn’t an obvious stand-out killer track, but with the band having just played a by-all-accounts killer set at BIGSOUND and with the might of Chugg Entertainment behind them, expect to hear a lot more from Lime Cordiale in the coming months.


Record review: The Walking Who – Mansions (2013, EP)

The Walking Who

Sydney-via-Wollongong trio The Walking Who don’t seem like the type of band to stick to traditional methods. Take making a record, for example – the house for which the EP is named (and in which it was recorded) is a now-demolished old dwelling previously occupied by an eccentric theatre owner who died in the master bedroom, and in recent years became somewhat infamous locally for the strange and supposedly spooky goings-on there. Clearly the band weren’t put off, as this second release – after their 2011 debut Candy Flu – is a cool mix of psychedelic space jams, summer-y rock wig-outs, and indie-fuelled guitar fuzz along similar lines to parts of Pink Floyd’s career and compatriots Tame Impala’s last record. You can almost smell the incense and rollies in the air as the tracks go by, starting with opener ‘Rita’; a cool, calm, but not altogether collected track that ambles along at a casual pace. The heavy use of swirling organ and twangy guitars coupled with Rohin Brown’s deep vocals make single ‘Have You Seen The Colours?’ the most psych-rock track here, while ‘Pollen Of The Hour’ has a mystical vibe to begin with before breaking into shoegaze territory. Angus Stone makes a cameo on jointly-penned final track ‘Dead Man’s Alter’, and brings a dose of his folk sound to proceedings, complete with ominous undertones and brooding lyrics. They haven’t reinvented the wheel and it’s hard to pin-point exactly what it is they’re trying to do here, but The Walking Who have definitely got something good going on. (Independent)

Record review: The Clash – Hits Back (2013, Boxset)

The Clash

In a recent interview with the UK’s Uncut magazine, The Clash guitarist Mick Jones said “Being in The Clash was a defining moment in our lives, and I’d be lying if I said I’d gotten over it.” At first these would appear to be heavy words from a guy who was unceremoniously given the boot seven years into the career of a band he co-founded in 1976 with Joe Strummer and Paul Simonon, but it reveals a little about how this new collection of The Clash tracks came about. After Strummer’s untimely death just before Christmas 2002 at the premature age of 50, all hopes of the Holy Grail of band reformations vanished, and it’s left to events like the release of this new box-set to quench the thirst for new The Clash material for their legions of fans the world over. The fact that the three surviving members – including recently rehabilitated drummer Topper Headon – got together to curate the release (and are apparently still good friends) also adds a touch of intrigue.

Fully remastered from the original tapes, this 2 CD or 3 LP 32-track box-set will probably be the last release by the band – at least officially – and that alone makes it something of an interesting record. “It seemed important to me that what we did should be preserved,” said Jones, on the subject of carrying the band name forward. One thing of which there can be no doubt is the fact that this music is top, top stuff – among some of the best ever recorded. Cute band reunions are all well and good, but do we really need another greatest hits by The Clash, no matter how nicely packaged and sufficiently endorsed by ex-members? The answer is probably no, although die-hards will buy it all the same; that’s how much the band mean to so many people. The Clash were something that is these days a rapidly vanishing part of musical culture; they were an outstanding albums band, while still being hot shit in the live arena, and they had a finger on the social pulse of personal politics. The conception, progression, and ultimate decimation of their career is played out throughout their six studio albums, and with a couple of excellent post-mortem live records available for public consumption, there is nothing much more you’ll need to hear from the West London originals. In saying that, if there has to be such things as greatest hits albums, this shines high and mighty above any of the dross you’ll find in the 3 for $20 bin down at JB’s.

Clearly someone, or probably a team of people, was in charge of sequencing, but the running order isn’t chronological as perhaps it should be, or even particularly ordered by the many genres the band covered throughout their short but explosive career. But then, The Clash’s albums were often such a versatile mix that maybe it’s appropriate. There’s straight-up punk in ‘White Riot’, rockabilly in ‘Brand New Cadillac’, Caribbean rhythms in ‘Bankrobber’ and ‘Ghetto Defendant’, rock in the likes of ‘Clampdown’ and ‘Complete Control’, and a hundred other elements throughout. Maybe it actually takes a collection like this to truly understand the range of this outstanding band.

I’ve listened to the original album versions, subsequent greatest hits packages, and then the new release, and can’t hear any real difference in the quality of sound, so don’t be expecting some mind-blowing new form of clarity here. The music sounds fantastic, but then so did the original albums. To anyone thinking about getting into The Clash, I would urge them to try the original albums first; start right at the beginning and then head for London Calling and Sandinista!, followed by the live album From Here To Eternity. But to everyone else, I’d say why not go for it? They were only one of the best bands to ever play a note; what could possibly go wrong?

Record review: Placebo – Loud Like Love (2013, LP)


They may have been around since 1994, but Loud Like Love is – somewhat surprisingly – only Placebo’s seventh studio album, and first full-length record in four years. So, are the English alt-rock veterans growing old gracefully, or making musical fools of themselves? The answer is a little bit of both, as this ten-track album has some good moments, and some pretty bland filler. In the first few years of their existence the band had an edge that quickly smoothed out after the turn of the millennium, and they haven’t again hit the heights of tracks like ‘Pure Morning’ or ‘Teenage Angst’. In saying that, there are some solid tunes here; the title track and piano and strings-led closer ‘Bosco’ being good examples, but for every good song, there are two bad ones. Lines like “My computer thinks I’m gay, I threw that piece of junk away, on the Champs Elysées” on ‘Too Many Friends’ show that frontman Brian Molko is still primarily milking the subjects of blurred sexuality and alienation for lyrical content, and his flat attempts at social commentary on tracks like ‘Rob The Bank’ leave him wide open to criticism. His addition of spoken-word lyrics on ‘Hold On To Me’ seems like an attempt at some sort of Tolkien-esque middle-earth fantasy, and the electronic elements on ‘Purify’ are a little grating. Die-hard fans of the band might find a fair bit to like on this latest addition to Placebo’s catalogue, but it’s not an album you’ll likely to still be spinning in the coming weeks and months. (Universal)

Record review: Palms – Step Brothers (2013, LP)


Not to be confused with the Los Angeles-based Deftones-affiliated band by the same name, Sydney quartet Palms have taken a refreshingly traditional route by opting for a full-length debut recording with Step Brothers, and not the three-EP-and-four-singles approach that many new bands seem to be going for recently. If, like me, you enjoy the simple pleasure of hearing three or four raggedy chords being battered out of an old guitar with a hint of a pop melody, a smattering of punk venom, throatily-screamed vocals, and a heap of clanking and bashing noises in the background, then you’ll like what’s going on here. The band’s Facebook page lists their genre as ‘shredding’ and their sound as ‘strum, strum, bang, wah, wah, wah, strum, boom, crash, strummmmmmmm,’ and that’s a pretty accurate description of what’s to be found on this instantly appealing, eleven-track record. Second track ‘Love’ is the obvious highlight; singer-guitarist Al Grigg’s howling during the chorus sounds like recording it probably shredded his vocal chords, but the results were well worth it. ‘You Were Mine’ is another peak, as torrents of youthful angst and desperate longing come pouring out of the band in a series of scuzzy, scratchy, and catchy riffs. Single ‘Summer Is Done With Us’ sees Grigg barely containing his aggression in another savage outpouring of emotion, and downbeat closer ‘Far Gone’ provides a quieter, almost soulful finish to a more-than-promising album. (Spunk Records)

Record review: Belle & Sebastian – The Third Eye Centre (2013, LP)

belle and seb

Belle & Sebastian could never be accused of being attention seekers. Ever since their 1996 debut, they’ve flown distinctly under the radar in terms of self-promotion, but have somehow still managed to gain a fiercely devoted following of mostly pale and lonely Smiths fans. Newest effort The Third Eye Centre is less a bona fide album, more a collection of EP tracks and B-sides from the Glasgow band’s Rough Trade career, a sort of companion piece to 2005’s Push Barman To Open New Wounds, which featured a similar collection. Drawing songs from such a wide range of origins means this release has inevitable peaks and troughs, but unfortunately the troughs far outnumber the peaks. ‘I’m A Cuckoo’ is an aimless opener that takes too much from Jethro Tull’s baroque-rock nonsense. Second track ‘Suicide Girl’ is more cheerfully up-tempo, yet with miserable lyrics, while ‘Love On The March’ sounds like a twisted Brian Wilson B-side that didn’t make the cut. Dreary remixes by the likes of The Avalanches and Miaoux Miaoux come infused with the unmistakable whiff of filler, and will probably offend more than one of your senses. Under the pretentious façade of a few of the later tracks lurk the bones of some good songs; ‘Blue Eyes Of A Millionaire’ being a good example. Despite this, there comes a point early on when all their whimsy and effete dreaminess has never seemed so obsolete. (Rough Trade)

Flashback: Thin Lizzy – UK Tour ’75 (LP, 1975)

thin lzyy 75

Everyone knows Thin Lizzy. The music world is awash with their albums and there are enough bootlegs, greatest hits, extended versions, live albums, compilations, radio cuts, cover bands, and once there were even enough versions of the band itself out there to choke the airwaves for the rest of time. Of course, almost every music lover is familiar their ‘big’ rock albums Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox, Bad Reputation, and their touring masterpiece Live and Dangerous; all albums filled with rock radio staples we know and love. But to me, their finest and most interesting period was just before ‘Jailbreak’ and “The Boys Are Back In Town” sent them stratospheric, around the time of the Nightlife and Fighting albums.

Eric Bell had sensationally quit the band during at gig in Queens University in his hometown of Belfast by throwing his guitar up in the air mid-song and marching off stage in a state of epic drunkenness. Not wanting to get caught mid-concert with no guitarist ever again, band leader Phil Lynott decided to hire two of them as a safety net. Brian Robertson was in town trying out for the spot of drummer in another band, and Scott Gorham had flown over from California to audition for Supertramp (how things could have been so very different,) and both of them landed guitar spots in ‘Lizzy. Their first album together – Nightlife was a fairly patchy and poorly produced affair, but the follow up, 1975’s Fighting is a stone-cold classic, and laid all the foundations for their success with Jailbreak. Live and Dangerous was released in 1978 and has since been considered by many to be one of the best live albums of all time. How much of it was overdubbed in the studio has also been a topic of discussion ever since, although this small controversy doesn’t detract from its pure rock brilliance and rightful place as a classic album.

When, in 2008, it was announced there was to be a new Lizzy live album to be released, the reaction was lukewarm at best, due to there being more than a couple of disappointing Lizzy releases out there. However, what is to be found on “UK Tour ’75” is an absolute gem of a collection of Thin Lizzy songs, recorded at a period just before they hit the big time. It’s a snapshot of a band on their way up, not quite yet possessing the hard-boiled confidence they would later display, and way before things started to go awry for Lynott and his various addictions. What you will also find here is some of the best Lynott crowd banter, and a band trying out some new songs and part-songs that will later evolve into chart smashes. It’s bloody fascinating.

Recorded at Derby University in 1975, the show begins with Lynott speaking into the microphone. “One, two, testing,” he says, before telling the audience the gig will be recorded and asks them to “make a lotta noise, hear yourselves on the radio,” and the band launches into ‘Fighting’. What is immediately clear on this album is the quality of the sound. Many Lizzy releases – including the awful ‘Live/Life’ series – sound like they were recorded with two toilet rolls and a long piece of string, but the sound here is crisp, clear, beautiful, and moreover, the band are on great form.

Having been recorded in 1975, the album is years ahead of songs like ‘Jailbreak’, ‘Waiting For An Alibi’, and ‘Don’t Believe A Word’; instead it is filled with great songs that fell away from the Lizzy live roster after around 1976. “Wild One”, “It’s Only Money”, and my own personal favourite of all Lizzy songs, “For Those Who Love To Live” are given a fine run out, with the band sounding HEAVY. Later live staples are in there too, from Bob Seger’s ‘Rosalie’, and earlier Lizzy track ‘The Rocker’. Rosalie sounds particularly fantastic, and just shows that had “Live and Dangerous” not been overdubbed, it still probably would have sounded pretty damn good.

The finest thing about “UK Tour ’75”, though, is the wonderful opportunity to hear a band refining their sound and songs. Track thirteen on the album is labelled ‘Derby Blues’; a working title for a song that would eventually become Lizzy classic ‘Cowboy Song’. It’s simply fantastic to hear Lynott trying out lyrics and rhyming couplets, as he announces it as a “new number, this one, as yet untitled… we’ll call it Derby Blues”. The dual-guitar riff is there, the opening line of “I am just a cowboy, lonesome on the trail…”, and the rest basically consists of a bit of a jam and Lynott throwing in lyrics about being lost on the road and turning up in alien places. It’s a must-listen for any Lizzy fan, pure and simple.

And as if this embarrassment of riches wasn’t enough, there’s also a three-minute sound check jam tacked onto the end, which showcases the guitarists warming up their fingers in a groovy blast of improvisation, and a rather fetching booklet with a few dozen photos of the band in and around the time of recording. Again, the sound check jam is a thing of beauty and of such outstanding sound quality, especially for the time. UK Tour ’75 has now overtaken Live and Dangerous as my favourite live ‘Lizzy album, and maybe it will for you too.

Flashback: The Replacements – Tim (1985, LP)

replacements tim

There’s something magical about hearing a song for the first time, looking up the album it came from, and finding the other songs to be just as good, or better. But, have you ever loved a band on first listen, only to discover they split up years ago, leaving you wondering just how the hell you’ve never heard of them and lamenting the fact they’ll probably never record again? Let me tell you about how I discovered the Replacements.

A few years ago I spent a freezing January evening in a dingy bar with an old friend, downing beer and shots and discussing plans to better ourselves in all sorts of fantastical ways. After we parted I stumbled home through the cold night air, turned on the electric heater and slumped in front of the TV with a beer. By dumb luck the set was tuned to some long-forgotten channel showing a documentary about lesser-known college rock bands of an unspecified era. It was at that glorious moment, through my numbing alcohol fuzz, I heard a throaty voice singing the words “Sweet Georgia breezes, safe cool and warm…” I reached for a piece of paper and scrawled the name of the song: ‘Left of the Dial’.

It could be argued it was a very Replacements-esque way of discovering something: being a bit worse-for-wear, alone, and dreaming of better times. The band had taken self-sabotage and hard-living to ever-increasing heights since their 1979 formation, in between releasing albums containing a mixture of bonehead punk, sloppy adolescent thrash, and occasionally, heartfelt pop; all done in a way that would make you think they were the only band to ever truly understand loneliness and alienation.

By 1984, Minneapolis label Twin Tone could no longer contain them, and they signed to Seymour Stein’s Sire. With this in mind, the production quality on 1985 release Tim could be expected to be a step above previous recordings, when the opposite is true. Produced by former Ramone Tommy Erdelyi (allegedly through a set of headphones as he was near-deaf from his touring days), the sound is blunt and distant, especially Chris Mars’ drumming.

Nevertheless, Paul Westerberg’s song-writing and worldview make Tim great. ‘Left of the Dial’, ‘Hold My Life’, and ‘Bastards of Young’ are anthems for fringe-dwelling outsiders everywhere. ‘Kiss Me on the Bus’ – originally titled ‘Kiss Me on the Butt’ – is a brilliantly jangly, rockabilly-tinged, pop tune that you never want to end. Dumb rocker ‘Dose of Thunder’ is followed by quite possibly the only song ever recorded about being at the mercy of prima donna air hostesses: ‘Waitress in the Sky’. “Strutting up the aisle, big deal you get to fly, you ain’t nothin’ but a waitress in the sky,” is Westerberg at his most cutting.

‘Swinging Party’ and ‘Little Mascara’ tell more tales of wasted opportunity and loneliness, with Westerberg admitting “If bein’ wrong’s a crime, I’m serving forever, if bein’ strong’s your kind, then I need help here with this feather.” Such honest inadequacy probably wasn’t heard since ‘Teenage Kicks’. Closer ‘Here Comes a Regular’ is a melancholy ode to the pathetic booze hound; something Westerberg could see himself becoming, and what Stinson had been for some time, bringing about his sacking from the band before Tim’s release (he died of alcohol and drug related causes in 1995.) Gut-wrenching and arresting, it’s a fitting end to a fantastic album.

After Tim, the Replacements were never the same; seemingly floundering between punk ethics and Westerberg’s desire to crash the top-20. While they took several more years to fade away rather than burn out, Tim stands as testimony to the power of the Replacements, and tells the story of a time in the fakest of decades when four young punks from Minneapolis were the real deal. Grab a beer and give it a spin.

Flashback: King Cannons – The Brightest Light (2012, LP)


This morning, via the band’s Facebook page, King Cannons singer Luke Yeoward confirmed what had been feared for some time: the Melbourne via New Zealand rock darlings have split up. His message reads:

“Unfortunately the news is true, gang… Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for the support over the years. So many great experiences, great people, and great laugh’s along the journey. Life changing stuff, really. Massive love and respect to each and every one of you. Honestly. Onwards and upwards – Luke Yeoward”

I wrote this review many months ago, but have never posted it on here until now. Here it is, in honour of the one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands of recent years (and also the third best live show I’ve ever been to).

King Cannons are a hardworking band, and they want you to know it. They have fought poverty and hardship every day of their existence to be together. Their songs are full of cliché and nostalgia, being almost exclusively about being flat broke, escaping the oppressive factory dust, and the joys of finding solace in rock ‘n’ roll and the open road. They aren’t exactly original in style or substance, stealing from the slicked-back greaser ’50s style of American rock, to the angry punk-with-a-heart teachings of ’70s Joe Strummer, the anthemic bombast and big drums of ’80s Springsteen, with a sprinkling of the blue-collar working man‘s plight of ‘00s Gaslight Anthem. Okay, that’s the bad news out of the way.

The good news is that the hard-rocking New Zealand quintet are one of the most exciting new rock ‘n’ roll bands of the last couple of years, with an incendiary live show and now a debut record to match. They take what will already be familiar to many a music fan and apply their own steadfast conviction and earnestness to it, using their influences as a driving force rather than allowing them to be a disadvantage. They want you to know that it’s okay to dream and it’s okay to want something better, and their own back story told through their songs will just about inspire you to do anything you want.

Singer and sole songwriter of King Cannons, Luke Yeoward, lived the working man’s lifestyle until only a few months ago. A mill worker or furniture removalist by day, he wrote songs in his spare time and played Auckland’s dive bars by night. After the band released their first self-titled EP in 2010 and it began getting serious airplay on Australian radio (mostly focussing on the excellent ‘Take The Rock’ single), they packed up their small amount of gear and moved to Melbourne; the route for many a Kiwi band wanting to take their career further. There they met fellow Kiwi, producer, and Shihad drummer, Tom Larkin, who offered to man the dials on their debut record. It was a fortuitous meeting; the experienced sticksman going on to fill the drum stool on a national tour of the country as the band’s current drummer was fulfilling other commitments in the States. King Cannons have toured incessantly in the last couple of years, and the result of all their hard work is the debut album The Brightest Light.

Change is coming, I’ve been told” sings the gravely-throated Yeoward on opening track ‘Stand Right Up’, over an unconventional intro combination of Lanae Eruera’s bongos and handclaps, before the full band kicks in to make a rolling anthem spring to life. “We’ve been all riled up, now we don’t sit true, flip that coin is what we’re gonna do,” he continues, and it’s instantly clear he means every word.

By second track ‘Too Young’ you’ll realise that King Cannons like getting straight to the point. “We’re too young to settle down, fighting the workers battleground,” is the opening line, before another barrelling, joint guitar and keyboard riff kicks in, sounding like some of The Hold Steady’s rockier moments. “Sixteen, working in factory, breathing that dust five days a week, rather be rocking with the gang all night, needed a living, didn’t want a life,” could be King Cannons’ mantra. The first two tracks signal the intent of this album and sum up just about everything the band stands for.

After the quick one-two opening salvo comes the title track. It begins as a slow burner with Yeoward dropping the wonderfully descriptive Springsteen-esque line “There’s something about a mid-summer’s Friday night, the smell of the grass and gasoline,” before erupting into a pounding, smashing chorus that explodes with the joys of summer and being free. It’s quite the heady, uplifting anthem.

Fourth track ‘Too Hot To Handle’ adds a bit of soulful funk into the mix, complete with shout-y chorus and a grinding guitar riff; less rocky than the first two tracks yet standing alone as an excellent album track in itself.

‘Call For Help’ again features bongos in spades, as Yeoward indulges in some storytelling about having his ass kicked by the big city. “Went down to Otto’s and drank all the booze, saw a conga band play in ninja suits, went to Manitoba’s but they wouldn’t let me in, I guess that New York wins again”. Call for help, indeed.

‘Shot To Kill’ and ‘Ride Again’ could be two parts of the one song; both being mid-pace rockers that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Gaslight Anthem album, before ‘Charlie O’ introduces some Caribbean rhythm and groove in a laid-back, funky track that shows the band’s versatility, and allows Yeoward’s baritone voice to shine through. In a recent interview Yeoward said it took him a long time to learn how to sing properly, preferring to get drunk and shout at the microphone in his punk band days, but from this evidence that’s not apparent at all.

‘On Our Own’ is a fantastic story of friendship and lending a helping hand, and shows the band’s Americana influences. “All we can do is trust, be true, and keep our heads above water, and stay out of that box”. Amen to that.

‘Everyman’s Tale’ follows, and provides another pleasant surprise by being a gentle acoustic track, somewhat melancholy yet still bursting with the feeling of being free and the right to choose your own destiny. The execution is different, but the message is consistent.

Final track ‘The Last Post’ finishes The Brightest Light on a high; it’s a soaring anthem that sticks to the sentiments of the entire album, a statement on the pointlessness of war, and an urging for more hope for the future. A great finish.

King Cannons want to be your favourite rock band, and they’re prepared to work until their hands bleed and their backs ache to earn that title. More importantly, their honest, workmanlike approach is incredibly refreshing in a time when earning an internet following seems to be more important than an on-the-road one for new bands. Call them old-school, call them blue-collar, call them whatever you want; it’s down-to-earth rock ‘n’ roll at its finest.

P.S. – I saw King Cannons recently in an intimate venue and something strange happened. I’m not a dancer; I prefer to watch a band and take as much in as possible, but these guys had me bouncing and screaming with excitement like a little girl, and there was only a minimal amount of beer involved. That’s music for you.

Record review: Bloods – Golden Fang (2013, EP)


If you’re a fan of pop, punk, garage, rock, girl bands, catchy two-minute guitar songs, or any combination of the above, GET EXCITED – Bloods will make you want to jump around and forget about all the things you probably should be doing with your day. Golden Fang is their debut EP, and with a slew of catchy singles already under their belts, the Sydney pop-punk trio have left behind the days of doing Spiderman theme covers and beefed up their sound, as well as recently signing to Shock Records. While their outer veneer might make them seem a like a trio of snotty kids sticking a middle finger up at the idea of getting a real job or any of that ‘square’ sort of stuff, there’s serious power and musical ability strewn between the bubblegum punk-pop choruses and sneering lyrics, not to mention a solid dose of reckless abandon and a sense of forgetting about tomorrow, or “living for the take” as singer-guitarist MC says in ‘Bodies’. They’re not a one-trick pony though, being just as adept at the slower love song-type stuff too; ‘Back To You’ having the type of direct “You’re the one that I want” chorus that has reverberated through all the best love songs in pop history. The sugar-sweet vocal interplay between singer MC and bassist Sweetie Zamora is what make Bloods so special though, and when fused with instantly catchy punk riffs and a cut-the-crap approach to song-writing, makes their music feel like some of the most essential of recent months. (Shock Records)