Record review: Surfer Blood – Tarot Classics (2012, EP)


Surfer Blood main man John Paul Pitts recently claimed he unwittingly became part of the lo-fi movement by virtue of his band recording their debut album on less-than-adequate equipment in his apartment. Clearly keen to avoid a repeat of releasing something of such perceived low quality, Surfer Blood’s second release Tarot Classics immediately shows itself to be a much crisper recording. In doing so, however, Pitts has changed Surfer Blood’s sound, dragged it kicking and screaming into high fidelity, and risked alienating some of the fledgling band’s fans.

A modest release at only 4 songs and 15 minutes long, plus two remixes, Tarot Classics hints at potential Smiths-cum-Weezer indie glory, but following a recent tour in support of the latter, Pitts should be more keenly aware of the importance of a pop hook to keep his songs memorable. The problem with this EP is, while the songs are enjoyable on first listen; they are too easily forgotten.

Opener ‘I’m Not Ready’ picks up where debut album Astro Coast left off. “I’m not ready to look the other way” sings Pitts, over a deceptively-intricate guitar line.

The pace is upped on first single ‘Miranda’, its chugging guitar powering the song along, with Pitts doing his best Morrissey impression with a lyric that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Weezer album circa 1995.

‘Voyager Reprise’ slows the tempo down, its piano opening hinting at something epic, punctured by Pitts’ somewhat morose vocal, again with distinct hints of the Smiths. A stylish synth break divides the song in two before a Strokes-esque guitar riff finishes the lengthiest track on offer at 4 ½ minutes.

Closer ‘Drinking Problem’ is Tarot Classics’ highlight, and possibly the least characteristic song yet recorded by the band. Pitts’ increasingly-assured tenor sings “at least I know who my friends are,” over a simple bass/drum riff, with excellent interweaving guitar work filling out the song.

Ultimately, Tarot Classics is a fun and welcome addition to any existing Surfer Blood fan’s catalogue, even if it is unlikely to win over any new fans. Here’s hoping they can make their next full-length release as hot as their native Florida. (Kanine Records)

Live review: Bluejuice + Gung Ho + The Cairos – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane, April 2012


The rain-soaked streets of Brisbane’s West End are already full of the usual mix of hipsters, tramps, and drunks by the time the queue of people to see Bluejuice begins to stretch a couple of hundred metres along the side of the Hi-Fi on a cold Saturday night.

Although not quite a full house, the venue is tightly packed for what promises to be an exciting night of music featuring the Sydney pop-rockers, supported by local lads Gung Ho and The Cairos.

First up are Gung Ho; a young band deservedly making big waves on Triple J and with a very bright future ahead of them. Their catchy single ‘Twin Rays’ closes out a short, yet bright set of jangly indie pop.

Next is The Cairos, another band for whom we have high hopes, and also from the school of Triple J. Filling out a set with power, catchiness, and plenty of pop hooks, the local lads seem set for stardom; their new single ‘Shame’ being the highlight of a fun set.

With the crowd well-oiled and raring to go, the Bluejuice boys waste no time in bouncing onto the stage in retina-melting fluorescent garb, sending the enthusiastic audience into a frenzy with a flurry of arms-in-the-air calls to power. Blasting out opener ‘Can’t Keep Up’ with the enthusiasm of a bunch of kids who ate way too much sugar, vocalists Jake Stone and Stavros Yiannoukas work well together, and their infectious energy, unabashed smut, and calls for audience participation turn the crowd into one rippling, surging mass of energy.

They quickly follow up with ‘Recession’ and ‘Vitriol’; the latter track seeing Stone standing on the monitor leading his audience in a sing-along, complete with uniform arm-pumping. It’s at this point it becomes clear that Stone puts everything on the line for his performance, including himself. Over the next couple of songs, he forces his impossibly-skinny body through the audience at floor-level, along the railings at the side of the raised seating area, and back to the stage via the heads and shoulders of the audience; being pulled, pushed, and probably groped in all directions. As he returns to his vantage point he thanks security for “saving his life again,” and the crowd at the front responds with a massive cheer.

Older tune ‘Ain’t Telling The Truth’ keeps the energy levels high, before ‘I’ll Put You On’ is unashamedly introduced by Stone as a “song about fucking.” A tune with Rick James levels of down-and-dirty funk; it’s one the Bluejuice boys clearly wrote with the ladies in mind, and the Hi-Fi girls at front-and-centre show their appreciation with increasingly-frenzied dancing and ear-drum-piercing screaming.

‘Shock’ follows next; another slice of bouncy pop, before Stone again plunges into the crowd and is nearly swallowed up. Once again the security team prove their worth and drag him back to safety.

The majority of songs on Company get an enthusiastic run-out, and just as the energy level starts to drop, Yiannoukas announces “this is our second last song, but we’ll see some of you after for a beer and some sex,” before the band launches into the ridiculously-catchy single ‘Act Yr Age’. This gets the biggest reaction of the night as the crowd loses their collective marbles. Dozens of fluorescent glow sticks are launched into the audience from the stage, adding to the party hijinks.

The band then say their thanks and leave the stage for barely a couple of minutes; the foot-stomping and calls for more bringing them back out to fire off a mellow and melancholy cover of KC & the Sunshine Band’s smash ‘Please Don’t Go,’ before finishing up the set, thanking everyone and walking off stage to massive applause and deafening cheers.

It’s a cold, harsh moment when the house lights flick on at the end of a gig and it’s time to crash back to the reality of hard city streets, fast food litter, and cab rank queues. This is especially true after a gig full of such high energy and danceable pop tunes like the one Bluejuice just put on. A fantastic night of carefree good times was had by all. What more could you want from your Saturday night?

Live review: Angus Stone + Steve Smyth – The Hi-Fi, Brisbane, November 2012

A packed Hi-Fi (on a night that sees Radiohead playing just up the road at the Entertainment Centre) is the venue on a rainy Brisbane evening, as the Angus Stone show rolls into town for the fifth stop of his Broken Brights tour. Having only ever heard rave reviews about him – and his sister Julia for that matter – but never seen him live myself, I’m here with a slate that’s as clean as a bean and a readiness to absorb the young New South Welshman’s charming folk-rock and psychedelic leanings. Sure, the crowd is made up of 90% girls, 5% brow-beaten boyfriends, and the rest of us are just wondering what the fuck we’re doing here, but with a drink in hand and a perch by the steps, the view is looking pretty good.

The surprisingly aggro-fuelled audience is already fired up by the time support Steve Smyth and his drummer saunter onto the stage, looking like lost Allman Brothers with an enviable array of angular facial hair and locks. “Good evening Brisbane, how are you this evening?” offers the singer, before setting forth on a varied selection of era-bending whiskey-soaked blues, gruff rock, and indie; combining the lot to craft perfectly-poised walls of noise that make the audience stop chattering and listen, impressed. As he swings his SG about like he’s trying to hit a persistent fly, Smyth sings in a voice that is alternatively coarse, clean, and at times even veers into falsetto territory. He ultimately grinds out a singularly bloody beautiful set of songs that leaves me, and I bet many others in the room, wanting to check him out further. Well played sir.

Angus Stone and his band stroll onto the stage in a haze of purple and red lights to the sounds of cheers from all corners. It’s clear by the sudden frenzy among many of the girls present that the singer’s appeal is greatly helped by the fact he’s a pretty handsome lad. How much of his appeal is based on that remains to be seen, although it’s clear that his simple and direct outlook on life is certainly a crowd-pleaser. As the singer and his band run through songs from his new album, with an extended ukulele wig-out thrown in for good measure, a large chunk of the audience sings along in a display of devoted fandom. By the fifth track ‘Bird on The Buffalo’ Stone addresses the crowd – something that he doesn’t seem to be naturally comfortable with – telling us that “when I have time off I like to sit on the couch and roll a big joint and watch television.” Well, who doesn’t, Angus?
‘Broken Brights’ and ‘Monsters’ again induce gargantuan sing-alongs, before Stone, implicating one particularly lairy rum-sodden girl, tells the audience “if anyone next to you is talking shit, tell them to shut up or else they never will. Their whole lives!” Cue massive cheers from all around, including the totally incognizant Bundy girl.

Towards the end of the evening I think I ‘get’ Angus Stone. His tunes are simple and sweet. His near-incoherent mumblings are ludicrously charming. He’s a hairy, earthy scruff that girls go ape-shit for. What else is there to say? The stratosphere awaits.

Record review: The Sound Platform – The Sun & Silver Anthology Vol. 5 (2012, LP)

sun and silver
This volume of ten songs by defunct experimental rockers The Sound Platform forms part of a sixty-eight track, career-spanning anthology of Melbourne rock journeyman Darren Smallman, who also had stints in rock bands Warped! and Toad in the early ‘90s. Now running his own label, Smallman has thrown together the best parts of his final band in this ‘90s-tinged collection. There are hints of what could have been in Sonic Youth-esque third track It’s Cold In The City, while elsewhere there are lyrics that could have come from the mouth of Evan Dando, Doors-y keyboards, and jangly guitars à la The Byrds, adding up to make quite a mish-mash of an album. Despite the age of some the material, the sound quality is excellent, and well worth checking out. (BATTLE/Low Transit Industries)

Record review: The Dillion James Band – One Chance To Say It (2012, EP)

dillion james
With this debut EP of bluesy reggae, Brisbane-via-North-Queensland groove collective The Dillion James Band might just have made one of the smoothest sounding local recordings this year. Formed in West End with an ever-evolving line-up centred around the man himself, they have put together a funky, yet socially-conscious set of songs that seamlessly fuse the best elements of reggae and blues. Despite his relatively tender years, James’s lyrics deal with social and cultural issues in the manner you would expect from some old bluesman or Indigenous band, but his husky voice has the character to pull it off, and the overall sound is finished off with top-notch musicianship from his band. This music is perfect for an open-air summer festival, and I for one am looking forward to hearing it in that setting. (Beanstalk Records)

Record review: Howler – America Give Up (2012, LP)


Unfortunately for Howler the Strokes’ last album wasn’t a stinker; otherwise this spirited bunch of young Minnesotans would probably take their place as the rightful heirs to the throne of fuzzy, floppy-haired, lo-fi strum ’n’ roll. While Casablancas and Co. can still bear each other’s company long enough to show the young pretenders how it’s done, bands like Howler will continue being the young wannabes stuck in the kitchen at the cool kids’ house party.

That’s not to say Howler don’t have the tunes or the indie cred to have the Strokes looking over their shoulders, and in front-man and Johnny Borrell-lookalike Jordan Gatesmith they have the song-writing-and-cool-haircut combo that makes hipsters and label bosses alike cream their jeans. Upon hearing their unsolicited demo, Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis couldn’t get across the Atlantic fast enough to make Howler his new charges. Gatesmith, a self-confessed Stiff Little Fingers fan, jumped at the chance to sign.

America Give Up showcases Howler’s ability to blast out catchy rock-pop hooks blended with vintage sounds. They avoid the risk of being labelled a rip-off or bandwagon-jumping band by plundering the archives of dirty rock ‘n’ roll to create an energetic, fun, and frantic debut. Single ‘Told You Once’ epitomises this best; its simple, jaunty riff defying you not to tap your feet or crack a smile. ‘Back of Your Neck’ encapsulates 50s Elvis riffs, spritely ooh-ooh-oohing, and weapons-grade swearing. Elsewhere, ‘Beach Sluts’, ‘This One’s Different’, and ‘Free Drunk’ provide plenty of riffs with just the right mixture of poise and slop.

America Give Up is a fantastically-promising debut album full of charm and potential. So, until the Strokes release their next masterpiece or pack it in altogether, enjoy this bunch of upbeat, tousle-haired tunes. While America Give Up doesn’t quite make Howler the new international world beaters some sections of the music press have labelled them, it’s a cracking debut. And that’s something we can all appreciate. (Rough Trade)

Record review: Bearhug – Bill, Dance, Shiner (2012, LP)

The words bill, dance and shiner could probably describe a pretty action-packed night out if you‘re that way inclined; just as the words bear and hug could describe a good way to spend a night in. Luckily this Sydney five-piece don’t seem the aggressive sort; their music is less of a rip-your-ears-off-and-shit-all-over-your-corpse-just-for-the-fun-of-it grizzly bear hug; but something closer to a friendly panda type hug. With influences coming from a mixture of fuzzy, Dinosaur Jr-style guitar licks and the best of dreamy ‘90s indie pop, Bearhug have made one of the best Australian debuts of 2012 so far.

While you may think the likes of J. Mascis’s wall of superfuzz and guitar pop in the style of say, The Lemonheads, have no worldly right being on the same record, Bearhug manage to take the two sounds and fuse them seamlessly, with the tripped-out psychedelic jams of one and the shimmering pop melodies of the other both having a part to play in making this album what it is.

Opener ‘Over The Hill’ is the most straight-up guitar track on the album, as well as being one of the best. Nicholas Mabbit’s drums drive the track along, with guitarist Jesse Bayley letting loose on some noisy solos mid-song, before the tempo is slowed as it fades out. Singer Ryan Phelan’s vocals immediately come off sounding like J Mascis with more range and clarity; which is no bad thing.

Third track ‘Angeline’ is another highlight; it’s three minutes of west-coast pop riffs both charming and instantly-catchy, with a spot of fuzzy guitar crunching thrown in for good measure. While it feels like summer is ending rather than just getting started, the upbeat and ‘fuck-it-all’ attitude is infectious.

The Wurlitzer-heavy ‘Cinema West’ couldn’t be more laid-back if it tried, despite the “I just wanna shoot my gun” lyric. The same could be said for the first half of ‘When I Shake’, before it builds up into a swirling maelstrom of guitar noise, before coming back down in a series of beautifully-floating guitar chimes.

Penultimate track ‘Home’ is ninety seconds of catchy, punky, fuzzy guitar blasts which sound as if the bastard child of Dinosaur Jr and Pavement was raised by Sonic Youth. Closer ‘Cold Stream’ starts off sounding epically ballad-y before kicking up a gear to a triumphant and almighty close.

Bill, Dance, Shiner is one of those albums that sounds like it was rattled off in the studio in a short time, when it probably wasn’t at all; and I mean that in the best way possible. There’s a real art to sounding a little loose yet completely tight at the same time, and Bearhug have it down pat. While the influences are obvious, the quality of the songs on the album make Bearhug sound like nothing but Bearhug, much like Yuck have taken their influences and put their own stamp on them. There’s restraint here too; they sound like they could go off on some ridiculously-long wig-out jams, but hold back for the sake of the songs.

If you like any of the bands mentioned here, get your grubby mitts on some Bearhug. You won’t be disappointed.