Record review: Bloc Party – Hymns (2016, LP)

bloc party hymns

“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

For The Brag

Record review: Rolling Blackouts – Talk Tight (2015, EP)

rolling blackouts talk tight

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.

For The Brag

Record review: The Libertines – Anthems for Doomed Youth (2015, LP)

libertines anthems for doomed youth

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?

For The Brag

Record review: Bad//Dreems – Dogs at Bay (2015, LP)

bad dreems dogs at bay album cover

Ahh; take a deep breath and suck in the smell of stale beer, man sweat and fetid urinals: pub rock is back and it’s as welcome as an icy stubby to a parched throat in the summertime. Adelaide’s Bad//Dreems are perfectly placed to provide Aussie rock with a shot in the arm with this debut album, having put in the hard yards touring at home and overseas and recently soaked the Splendour stage in much of the contents of their rider. The result is their music is no longer left of the dial, as their songwriting hero Paul Westerberg would say, but easily accessible to anyone with a penchant for heart-on-sleeve rock and wonderfully raw live shows. An early highlight is ‘Bogan Pride’, on which frontman Ben Marwe announces “Friday night and I’m five pills deep, I can’t think straight,” before questioning the motives of those overly-muscular boneheads every festival-goer loves to hate. Gutsy singles ‘Cuffed and Collared’ and ‘Dumb Ideas’ provide the rockier moments, but the real magic is to be found among the nostalgic ‘Hume’ and ‘Ghost Gums’; moments of sunburnt Australiana which mark this album as a guitar-rock classic. In true Westerberg style, though, the quartet know a record isn’t complete without at least three minutes of devastating loneliness; provided in the form of ‘My Only Friend’. Top-drawer production by the legendary Mark Opitz helps their honest and often bleak Australian world view come to the fore, on an album that will sound just as good at home as it will down the pub. Tip: best served with a refreshing pint of West End.

For The Brag

Record review: Holy Holy – When the Storms Would Come (2015, LP)

holy holy

Ambition has its pitfalls. A young band with big ideas and vague lyrics referencing “burning hearts” and “faces changing” risks being compared to U2, or worse; Mumford. To counter, you’ve got to bring something of your own to the table; bait to drag the listener’s mind from the horizon to the foreground. A handsome helping of compositional clout is what sees Holy Holy’s Tim Carroll and Oscar Dawson stand head and shoulders above many bands of a similar ilk, and a debut album of class, artistry and scope is the general result of their efforts. The Brisbane/Melbourne duo are fresh from the Splendour mud and recent European shows, where these songs have been going down a storm, including meandering first single ‘History’ and the pleasantly lilting ‘Outside of the Heart of It’. Just as you’re getting used to the folky melodies, though, they hit you with the atypical ‘You Cannot Call for Love Like a Dog’. An all-dominating dual-guitar T-Rex of a track, its soaring lead lines and solos are easily the highlight of the album, and make you wish the band would take a trip down to Shredtown more often. ‘Pretty Strays For Hopeless Lovers’ gets close to the same level of prodigious picking, but, having peaked at track six, the second half of the album feels like a trip back down the mountain depicted on the cover. The ambition of ‘… Like A Dog’ is the major wow factor here, and while some of the slower tracks are somewhat same-y, this is a debut album of some promise.

For The Brag

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

tame impala currents

“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.

For The Brag

Richard Cartwright of Richard In Your Mind: “If you want to have a spliff in the morning, you can”

richard in your mind

BLUE MOUNTAINS psychedelic/pop quintet Richard In Your Mind have returned with Ponderosa, their most accomplished album to date.

Band leader Richard Cartwright explains how it came together and why marching to the beat of your own drum is a good thing, ahead of their Sydney shows.

“People seem to get it,” he says. I think it’s kind of a weird album I guess, although that’s for other people to decide. There are songs on there that stick out like a sore thumb, but we decided we’d keep them on there anyway because that’s what we like and what we wanted to do, and it seems that other people are like ‘it’s great that you did that’ instead of ‘you really messed up the whole thing by doing that’. So, we’ve been pleasantly surprised that people get it, and that’s cool.”

A 14-track collection of psychedelic pop gems mixed and produced by regular cohort SPOD, Ponderosa features woozy instrumentals, waves of percussion and a few surprises.

“There’s one called ‘Good Morning’ and even a little of ‘My Volcano’; they’re kind of synthy and groovy,” Cartwright says. “’Good Morning’ especially has a pitch-shifted and distorted vocal. It’s kind of noisy. We wrote heaps more songs than we put on the album. We basically kind of just chose the best. In making the list, we played around a lot before deciding. There are still heaps of songs we really like that didn’t make it on, but we tried to balance the instrumental tracks in between the songy-songs to make sure people weren’t getting too lost in an instrumental before giving them another kind of stronger-feeling anchored to a proper song. In the long run, there’s an argument for not having too much coherence. I feel like there’s always more work to be done leading up to releasing it, but we’ve had it ready for a little while now, and now it’s not just in our heads, it’s in the world. We wanted to make sure we got it right. It took as long as it did, and once it was finished it was decided we were putting it out in five months, which seemed like ages, but time is on a slope and it goes fast and here we are now. It feels good.”

The singer explains how the off-kilter album found its title after a discussion about the Cartwright family on the American TV Western Bonanza.

“Well, I’m a Cartwright,” he says. “Not that I really grew up watching a lot of Bonanza, but my parents and people in the generation above did grow up with it would talk about Bonanza and start singing the tune to me. It was only recently when my mother came to visit and we were talking about Bonanza that she mentioned that the ranch was called Ponderosa out of the blue, and I thought it was a kick-arse name for something. The whole album is a diverse album; it goes to different places, but in a way this idea of home and trying to describe the different things that stand for a unified whole or the quest for home or something; it’s not specific but it’s a vibe.”

While the influences and variety of sounds on Ponderosa are as eclectic as they come, single ‘Hammered’ is a frolicking ray of sunny pop that pays tribute to daytime indulgence, although Cartwright admits it’s not necessarily about alcohol.

“It depends on what you’re getting hammered on, really,” he says. “With booze you should wait a little bit, until you’ve done something, but if you’ve got the day off, the sun is shining and you want to have a spliff in the morning, you can.”

When he’s not getting loaded in the daytime, Cartwright can probably be found collecting ingredients for dinner, as described on ‘Four Leaf Clover Salad’. But how many four leaf clovers constitute a salad?

“I think it’s the same rule as ‘a few’, so three,” he laughs. “Two is only a couple of four leaf clovers, so obviously you’ll want more, so I’d say three is enough for a little salad. My wife is really good at finding four leaf clovers – she finds them constantly, and the way you get luck is by eating them, or so she tells me. I was walking the dog one day and that concept occurred to me, as I think I did eat a few.”

Expect upcoming Richard In Your Mind shows along the east coast to be heavy with new material.

“To start with, it’s a small eastern tour; Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, Newcastle, Byron Bay, Brisbane and stuff. Then, hopefully we’ll play a bunch more shows. We’ve played a couple of shows, mainly focussing on the new songs. We want to make sure a couple of the new songs are more up-to-scratch, but at the moment our set is probably 50 percent new stuff. We’ll try to get it up to about 75 percent new stuff, while keeping songs we’ve always enjoyed playing live as well.”


For The Brag

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

Record review: The Jezabels – The Brink (2014, LP)

Sydney quartet The Jezabels have become such an integral part of the Australian indie-rock landscape that it’s easy to forget that their debut album is just a little over two years old. While much of their time has been spent overseas since that well-received debut, The Jezabels are back with a bang and treating their Australian fans to an album release over two weeks before the rest of the world, and that can only be good news for us.

Intense, brooding and full of their trademark grandeur, The Brink picks up where Prisoner left off, albeit with slightly darker undertones and a few new sounds. Soaring anthems are what The Jezabels do best, and ‘Look of Love’, ‘The End’, ‘No Country’ and the title track are the best examples, while ‘Angles of Fire’ adds a touch of Kraftwerk-esque synths and ‘Psychotherapy’ is the token slow-burner.

Hayley Mary’s voice is the unquestionable highlight and places her near the top of the pile of Australian female vocalists plying their trade right now, and when everything else seemingly falls into place so easily, it makes for another strong showing from one of the country’s best exports.