There’s always been something about Cloud Control’s music that has – for me, anyway – fallen tantalisingly short of being quite good. Their 2010 debut Bliss Release was a half decent stab at an indie-rock album, with a few good tunes tucked away amongst a heap of forgettable dross. Clearly attempting to branch out and evolve their sound into something more diverse, they have incorporated elements of electronic music and psychedelia into Dream Cave, and almost every song sounds completely different. The result is a bit of a mish-mash of a record that once again falls short of being anywhere near good. The first two tracks, ‘Scream Cave’ and single ‘Dojo Rising’ are the best on offer and will get your hopes up that this is going to be a cracker of an album, before the rest of the tunes break your spirit and leave you wallowing in disappointment. A swirling haze of hand-claps and reversed vocals start ‘Scream Cave’, and ‘Dojo Rising’ is an effortlessly cool pop song drenched with reverb-soaked ’60s mannerisms. Unfortunately, things go downhill from there, as the cringe-worthy lead vocal on ‘Promises’ leads into ‘Moonrabbit’, which steals too much from ’60s pop melodies to be taken seriously, and ‘Island Living’, which leaves you wondering if this is really all there is. ‘Happy Birthday’ could be a Mamas and Papas track that didn’t make the cut, and the title track is the token attempt at a ballad. Maybe it’ll be third time lucky for Cloud Control. (Ivy League)
One of the great things about seeing a concert at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre is that you know the acts will take to the stage exactly on schedule, and if you take too long finishing your drinks or get caught on the toilet and miss the warning buzzer, it’s tough luck, Jack. This almost happens to me, as I find myself with two untouched beers as the ‘please take your seats’ announcement permeates my relaxed mood and sends me into a mild panic consisting of desperate chugging and worried glances towards the general direction of door 8. Of course I could have left the brews behind, but music and drinks go so well together, don’t you agree? Consider those beers slammed.
It’s great to see the majority of tonight’s audience have also found their way to their seats early enough for support act Urthboy. The Blue Mountains singer is joined on-stage by fellow The Herd member Jane Tyrrell, and they run through an outstanding high-energy set of hip-hop songs with a thread of socially-conscious messages running through the middle. An early highlight is ‘Letters From Jamshed’; a touching and inspiring song based upon the letters received from an Afghani refugee friend, who eventually found his happy ending as he was accepted as an Australian citizen, even though afterwards he “went on to study accounting”. Urthboy’s music is motivational and reflective in equal amounts, as he tells the audience “You have won just as many Tour de Frances as Lance Armstrong – remember that,” before introducing his song ‘The Big Sleep’ as being about Natalie Wood; the pensioner whose body lay undiscovered in her Surry Hills home for eight years.
After a short interval (lesson learned, bar avoided) Paul Kelly steps onto the stage with his young band, looking dapper in a light grey suit and reflecting the spotlights off his shiny head, as the audience show their enthusiastic appreciation. Firstly, he announces he will be playing his new album Spring and Fall straight through, which will “only take about forty minutes, don’t worry”. It’s a cracker of an album, in the form of a ‘song cycle,’ as Kelly informs us, with each song depicting an event that happens in relation to all the other songs and events. A definite highlight is fourth track ‘Gonna Be Good’, which sees drummer Bree van Reyk (who is bloody exceptional all night) at one point playing tambourine, drums, and singing at the same time. Dan Kelly is similarly impressive on guitar and vocals throughout the show.
After Spring and Fall, Kelly is free to play the hits, starting with ‘Bradman’, ‘When I First Met Your Ma’, and ‘Forty Miles to Saturday Night’, with plenty of banter and story-telling in between. There’s a definite feeling of being in the presence of an Australian legend at this point, and a pretty special atmosphere is apparent in the concert hall, as hundreds of eyes and ears and totally transfixed by what’s happening in front of them. ‘Our Sunshine’ – Kelly’s Ned Kelly tribute – follows, and van Reyk breaks out the spoons on a couple of tracks after ‘The Foggy Fields of France’. The final song is the beautiful ‘From Little Things Big Things Grow’ and a mass sing-along breaks out for the chorus. It’s almost enough to bring a lump to the throat of this hardened gig-goer.
Anyone who thought it would end there is gravely mistaken, as Kelly’s skills are demanded for three – yes three – well-deserved encores, which includes an a-cappella vocal track with his four band members, and an appearance from Urthboy and Jane Tyrrell once more. Several bows, waves, thank-yous later and it’s all over, two and half hours after it began.
He’s been called one of the best song-writers around, a master storyteller, and a national treasure, and Paul Kelly deserves all of these titles. What a performance we just witnessed.
The Love Junkies have been plying their trade in and around Perth since 2009, and with an EP and a couple of singles already under their belts, it’s finally time for a full-length record. With eleven tracks clocking in at around the thirty-five minute mark, this is a direct, in your face rock album, and takes no prisoners from the start. With influences ranging from grunge, blues, and classic rock, the trio waste no time in stating their intentions with opener ‘Heads Down’; a straightforward rock song that could have been lifted from any number of ’90s grunge bands. Similarly to recent records by fellow Perth acts Emperors and Young Revelry, the ’90s alt-rock vibe flavours almost everything on Maybelene, which in this reviewer’s opinion is almost always a good thing. Single ‘Oxymoron’ is a catchy blast of Nirvana-esque grunge that leaves you thinking that these guys would be awesome to see live; all frenetic rock energy and big riffs. ‘Hurt You’ is the token mid-album slow number and veers a bit too close to Britpop territory for comfort, but ultimately only serves to make you more grateful for ‘Black Sheep Blues’; a riff-and-handclap-laden Led Zep-like blues-y number with just the right amount of sleaze. The Love Junkies seem to be flying a bit under the radar with this album, but rock fans will want to check it out, as the loud, raucous, and loose tunes sound like they’d be a lot of fun to get sweaty to. (Independent)
Are there many better places to be in Brisbane on a Friday night than Black Bear Lodge? Probably not. The snug venue is quite perfect for a cold and rainy evening, and tonight’s bill of all-Queensland talent looks set to keep things toasty.
First up is Cairns native Adrian Mauro, otherwise known as Machine Age. The virtually unknown Mauro begins with just a folk-y, Fender-y sound and his rich voice, before breaking out the synths and turning his solo act into a whirlwind of electronic drums, heavy bass, and ramped-up guitar noise. After singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to someone in the audience (don’t you have to pay royalties to somebody to sing that song?) his final tune is a colossal, Communist-era chuggernaut of a jam; the sound building to such a cacophonous, blaring drone that it felt like a derailed train would crash through the walls at any second. This guy is definitely worth keeping an eye on.
Next up is Brisbane’s own Seja, who takes to the stage with an appeal to the audience. “Sorry for my nasal voice, I woke up this morning feeling like a pig shat in my head,” she says, earning top marks for choice of film reference to make her point. With second album All Our Wires having just been released (featuring collaborations with Gotye and members of Cut Copy and Regurgitator, among others), her set is heavy on new material; a highlight being the folk-y ‘Die Wolken’, on which Robert Forster sings on the album.
Ben Salter has been in and around the venue all night, so he is well aware that a large percentage of the audience has been loudly chatting up to this point, foolishly oblivious to the artists on stage in front of them. “Can we have a bit of shush?” he demands, changing the atmosphere immediately for the better, before beginning with ‘Not Today’ from his newly-released European Vacation EP. It’s a great start, and immediately shows what an outstanding vocal talent Salter is. The title track from previous album The Cat follows, and then perhaps the most Brisbane song ever written, ‘West End Girls’. “West End girls run wild and free, take the 199 to the Valley”: fantastic.
Immediately after this tune the charismatic Salter announces “You can take your Dick Diver and all those other bands and get rid of ’em… The Young Liberals albums are all free online,” (and so they are, so go get ’em), before telling a story about him and Seja making plans to play each others songs, before changing their minds at the eleventh hour. Salter continues to be entertaining in more ways than one, throughout an excellent set of songs.
Having secured a deal with ABC Music to release the travel-inspired European Vacation, Salter’s stock is pretty high right now, and tonight’s confident showing by one of Brisbane’s best singer-songwriters is surely confirmation of that.
There’s something about a sold-out show that will partly make you happy that artists can still sell out venues on a cold Thursday night in Brisbane in these uncertain times for live music, and partly apprehensive about the fact you’ll be spending the next three hours crammed shoulder-to-shoulder with a plethora of potential idiots after enduring a two-day wait to get to the bar. I guess some of us are never happy.
Young Melburnian folkie Vance Joy is first to step into the rich blue lightning of The Tivoli’s stage; and his amiable and charming patter entertains a quickly swelling crowd, between songs from his new EP God Loves You When You’re Dancing, including ‘From Afar’ and the excellent ‘Riptide’. A cover of ‘Dancing In The Dark’ fits in nicely mid-set after Joy explains he saw The Boss recently and didn’t expect such a lengthy set.
Next up is Melbourne duo (or in live form, a trio) Big Scary who also have a new album out in Not Art. Beginning with the slow and ominous new song ‘Phil Collins’, the band are instantly engaging and almost hypnotic, as all eyes turn to drummer Joanna Syme for the second track – the outstandingly grand ‘Belgian Blues’ – as she displays her enviable skills all over the kit, before asking the audience to engage in a joint “drool over Vance Joy”. The edgy ‘Twin Rivers’, ‘Luck Now’, and older track ‘Falling Away’ see singer Tom Iansek switch between guitar and keys with ease, and the only way this set could have been any better would be with the inclusion of ‘Mix Tape’. Like I said: some of us are never happy.
*** Allow me to now take a moment to congratulate whoever decides on what music plays between bands at The Tivoli; it’s never anything but top-notch tuneage. The boring lull waiting for gear to be set up is transformed into a collective musical erection with the likes of The Faces’ ‘You’re So Rude’ and Ike & Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep – Mountain High’. Keep up the good work, you fine, faceless people. ***
And now: Bernard Fanning. Where I grew up Powderfinger were never big, so tonight’s show isn’t fuelled by nostalgia or a sense of musical loyalty for me, as it seems to be for a lot of the audience in front of The Tivoli’s stage. Fanning and his five band members take to the stage to massive cheers and begin to rip through songs from new album Departures, as he announces his first gig in Brisbane since 2007 by saying “this is already markedly different to Toowoomba,” to the sound of even more resounding cheers.
‘Tell Me How It Ends’ is up first, followed by the big rock number ‘Inside Track’, and ‘Limbo Stick’, which all get great responses considering the record has been out barely six weeks. Introducing songs from his 2005 Tea & Sympathy album, including ‘Believe’, and then giving a shout out to his sister, mother, wife, and mother-in-law in the audience (“four firey ladies – don’t fuck with them”), Fanning seems entirely at ease throughout his hometown show, and appears to be enjoying the fervent adulation reverberating around the venue, which peaks during the best of his new songs, ‘Battleships’.
The title track from Departures is one that Fanning introduces as being about where he grew up, and gives a shout out to “anyone from Toowong”, before a massive sing-along erupts during encore highlight ‘Wish You Well’, and a happy audience pours onto Costin Street and makes for home.
Bernard Fanning has put together another fine album in Departures, and has a kick-ass touring band, and while we just enjoyed a solid set of quality Aussie rock, it’s Big Scary who fill my thoughts as I head for home; reinforcing the argument that gig-goers should NEVER avoid the support act, lest they miss their new favourite band.
Melbourne duo Tom Iansek and Jo Syme – a.k.a. Big Scary – aren’t a band to be restricted by genre. On their 2011 debut Vacation, they jumped between minimalist musical styles with ridiculous ease; from White Stripes-esque rockers to moody piano ballads, and they’re back with more of the same on Not Art. Describing their music as alternative pop, the pair have talent dripping from every pore, and they have an album with so much quality and versatility to surely make them more of a household name, both at home and overseas. It’s a slow-burning journey from the start, and one that will reward the patient listener for multiple listens, as Iansek switches between piano, guitar, whispered verses, and big choruses, and Syme hits the drums almost like a lead instrument in a way few drummers before have dared to do before, without ever being a detriment to the song. They can even make a Phil Collins homage sound cool on lead single ‘Phil Collins’, and question the validity of their music as an art-form on ‘Luck Now’. The boy-girl vocals and playful piano tinkling on ‘Twin Rivers’ are a joy to behold, as is harmonic piano ballad ‘Invest’. ‘Belgian Blues’ veers into Jeff Buckley territory, before ‘Final Thoughts With Tom and Jo’ closes the album with a final dose of piano-tinkling, accompanied by a sludgy synth. There is no obviously catchy single, and while they claim their album is not art, it should be appreciated as a whole. It’s most certainly Big, and it’s definitely not Scary; Not Art is quite the masterpiece. (Pieater)
Back in 2007, the powers that be saw fit to nominate Northampton native James Chapman’s (a.k.a. Maps) debut album We Can Create for the Mercury Music Prize, among such esteemed company as Arctic Monkeys, Amy Winehouse, and eventual winners Klaxons. Six years and two albums later, and it’s hard to see what could have possibly possessed that year’s panel of experts; one has to assume it was a pretty lean year for British music, outside of a few big albums. That album at least had a relatively fresh sound for the time; the electronic shoe-gaze approach to making music being fairly uncharted territory in a year that saw a resurgence in beardy indie bands. The truth is, listening to Vicissitude is a tiring and insipid affair. Opener ‘A.M.A.’ sets the scene for what’s to come by evoking nothing but a face-cracking yawn, as waves of sickly, over-pleasant muzak waft over gentle vocals, and second track ‘Built To Last’ follows in a similar and almost indistinguishable vein. ‘Nicholas’ is probably the worst effort; getting through its six minutes of dull, repetitive dirge is a challenge to test the strongest of constitutions. The only positive thing that can be said about Vicissitude is that it could make pretty good background music in a situation when you don’t need to notice it, but that’s hardly much of a compliment, is it? It has to be assumed that making this album cost someone quite a lot of money, when really they shouldn’t have bothered. (EMI)
Formerly sticksman for legendary ’80s hardcore band Hüsker Dü, Grant Hart moved from the drumstool to the singer-guitarist position long before Dave Grohl successfully did the same, but his subsequent career has enjoyed much less attention than the former Nirvana man. The Argument is Hart’s fourth solo album, following 2009’s excellent Hot Wax, and is a concept album about the epic poem Paradise Lost by 17th century poet John Milton, and Hart’s friendship with notorious beat poet William Burroughs. Sounds heavy, right? In some ways it is, and twenty songs and seventy-two minutes is a lot to get through, but like all Hart’s solo work, it’s laced with a variety of sounds, psychedelic fantasy, literary references, and grand themes; which is enough to keep you interested, and his song-writing is, as ever, first rate throughout. Opener ‘Out Of Chaos’ sees Hart indulging in some spoken-word theatrics, ‘Morningstar’ is a catchy lo-fi pop number, and ‘Letting Me Out’ is a jaunty rockabilly tune, while ‘If We Have The Will’ can only be described as a science-fiction polka. The melancholy ‘Is The Sky The Limit?’ is unquestionably Milton-inspired, as is the wonderfully off-kilter ‘(It Was A) Most Disturbing Dream’, as biblical themes involving the Fall of Man are explored. Translating these songs into forms that can be played live will surely be a major headache for Hart, but The Argument is a unique and brilliant album that showcases an artist who clearly has complete control over every aspect of his work, and the freedom to do exactly what he wants. (Domino)
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)
There’s an argument that psychedelic flower-power rock belongs in another age; an antiquated, bygone form of music that has no frame of reference in today’s dog-eat-dog world. It never totally went away of course, but it was pushed so far underground that it came close to pushing up daisies instead of wearing them in its hair, as the sixties died off and bled into the dark rock of the early seventies and anarchic punk stylings of the second half of the decade. So, given time to lick its wounds and pick itself up again, flower-power is back in fine form, refitted and retuned to cope with the rigours of the 21st century, and young New York group Foxygen are leading the revival. Despite the influences being glaringly obvious (The Beatles, The Byrds, Lou Reed, The Stones’ more upbeat moments) this ain’t no acid flashback folks – this is flower-power revamped for a new generation. Setting out their stall with a ridiculously lengthy and apt title, Foxygen duo Sam France and Jonathan Rado are clearly wired to another era, and sing with total conviction about missing their West Coast love on San Francisco, and being some kind of new-age troubadours on the title track. There isn’t a dud to be heard on this album of sixties vinyl distortion, catchy melodies, sunny harmonies, and perfectly fuzzy guitar; ‘No Destruction’ being probably the finest example of all the above. Based on this evidence, 2013 could well be the year of peace, love, and Foxygen. (Breakfast Horse)