ALBUM REVIEW: VARIOUS – THE KEY OF SEA VOLUME 2

In 2010 the first The Key Of Sea compilation debuted with established Australian artists pairing up with some fine but lesser known ethnic musicians. Two years on and the second installment again embraces the collaborators’ diverse backgrounds and heritage with a warm bear hug by thumbing the racist idea that some people should “Go back to where they came from”.

Volume II offers 11 new tracks that are as diverse as an Afghan love poem presented as a mournful love song (“Az Eshq Tho”); a wonderfully weird, Kurdish space epic, “Come Along”; some dance music by the beach in “Islands” and a layered, Crazy Horse-infused grunge song by Kim Salmon and Waleed Aly.

The compilation is a fun, if varied one with traditional instruments like the bouzouki and baglama played alongside Cambodian and Filipino choirs and artists like: Paul Kelly, Jinja Safari and Lanie Lane. In short, The Key Of Sea is an excellent celebration of both the present and varied lines of tradition that come together as we share our lives in our great island home.

 

Originally published on 29 November 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/34329/Various–The-Key-Of-Sea-2

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EP REVIEW: DEERREPUBLIC – THE SWEET RESISTANCE

deerRepublic are a Sydney-based quartet who produce richly textured, indie pop music. It’s an effervescent sound that has seen the boys being crowned winners of the uncharTED band competition and playing amazing gigs like Splendour In The Grass. But for my money, this group sound like they’re just picking up from where Red Riders left off.

The Sweet Resistance is the band’s debut EP where the four tracks on offer have a common thread in that the glass is always half full. The group are on a constant pursuit for the next form of happiness and the soundtrack comes via some guitar-driven songs that you can also dance along to with glee.

Opening track, “Young Reverie” is a big pop number that commands your attention in much the same way as a Coldplay anthem. It’s about the guys sharing their youthful exuberance over the course of a big night, perhaps even bottling these flavours into some kind of sugary cola (and if it had to be a colour would be rainbow). At times you can even hear a similarity to some of the things Tigertown have recently put out, but there is also the added bonus of the ringing chime of what sounds like Christmas bells signalling some good times and a party ahead.

The first single the band released from this EP was “The Score”. This came out earlier this year and actually shares a fair bit in common with producer, Jean-Paul Fung’s previous work with Last Dinosaurs. That’s because this is a tale of persistence which also sounds like an indie pop tune that is being delivered straight from a beach near you. It’s an optimistic track which proves a good warm-up to the soaring Strokes-like beat of the following, “Sometimes”.

deerRepublic may be a young band but they certainly know their way around a good hook and lots of different melodies. They combine these with great rhythms and other textures to produce something that is cheery and catchy, with the odd retro twist thrown in for good measure. It’s all very light and bubbly and while it’s not the most original sound, it certainly is among some of the most fun to sing-along and dance to from the latest crop. So all that’s left to say really, is to stay tuned…

Originally published on 27 November 2012 at the following website: http://lifemusicmedia.com/?p=24914

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ALBUM REVIEW: HENRY WAGONS – EXPECTING COMPANY?

Henry Wagons’ debut solo offering is a conceptual mini-album filled with intense duets about love, loss and death. Expecting Company? is theatrical and melodramatic, with Wagons’ smooth baritone taking on a sinister air when combined with sweet vocals from his female guest stars who play his foil, his narrator and his object of affection at different points.

‘Unwelcome Company’ is a dark, Nick Cave-inspired murder ballad set in the Wild West. Amid some rumbling and caterwauling from Alison Mosshart (The Kills / Dead Weather) we get a tragic tale about battling demons. This darkness is later reprised in the murky rock guitars of ‘A Hangman’s Work Is Never Done’, featuring Patience from The Grates. Wagons has not turned his back on his alt-country roots as evinced on ‘Give Me a Kiss’, which includes an appearance from Gossling, while a stripped-back acoustic version of ‘Marylou Two’ (originally performed by Wagons’ main band) closes the album.

A solid and energetic collection full of fire, whiskey and menace.

 

Originally published on 26 November 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/34301/Henry-Wagons–Expecting-Company

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BOOK REVIEW: BETH DITTO – COAL TO DIAMONDS (A MEMOIR)

Beth Ditto’s autobiography with Michelle Tea proves that the Gossip’s effervescent frontwoman is a diamond in the rough. A proud punk, her story is told in the form of various episodes from her fractured childhood in Arkansas. It was not an easy one by any stretch, as Ditto was part of a large, blended family and living the life of a nomad from an early age (sometimes living with her single mother, occasionally with an aunt and at other times with the man she thought was her father). The only constant was her hometown and one that could be re-dubbed “Hicksville, USA”.

 

In Coal To Diamonds the unlikely frontwoman describes how she overcame obstacles like abuse, poverty and even bullying about her weight to eventually become the strong and powerful singer we know her as today. It’s a role she relishes and one she sometimes can’t believe she has. But we also learn that she did consider becoming a choir mistress and has never turned her back on the idea of chucking it all in to become a hairdresser.

 

One things for sure, the story is a true, underdog tale. Ditto was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But she does make good. But then, this only happened after she’d earned it through her punk-DIY spirit and gigging with her friends and bandmates (Nathan “Brace Paine” Howdeshell and Kathy Mendonca (who was later replaced by Hannah Blilie).

 

Ditto would eventually have her own share of personal and professional successes and these were off the back of her own moxie and talent. It is more than the Kardashians and Hiltons of this world can claim and certainly what makes Ditto such a fabulous role model. Well, that and the fact she’s a proud lesbian and flag-bearer for the feminist cause. She has also been outspoken on her views about certain issues and it’s clear from this book that these were shaped during her formative years when she was listening to the riot grrl bands that pre-dated her group’s output.

 

This memoir is not a difficult one to read in a literary sense. Although it is heart-wrenching to read about her abuse, poverty and the bullying she endured; the actual writing is personable and gripping. It is also how I imagine Ditto is in real life- i.e. down-to-earth, passionate and as tough as nails. Brilliant.

 

ALBUM REVIEW: MADNESS – OUI OUI, SI SI, JA JA, DA DA

Madness is the kind of band that have been acting their shoe sizes (i.e. not their ages) for nigh on 36 years. And that’s why people love ‘em. Now with album number ten the rather silly-named, Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da (translated as “Yes” eight times) we get more of the nutty and much-loved ska/pop the group have produced over the years in hits like ‘House Of Fun’, ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘Our House’.

The boys show no signs of slowing down just yet, having previously played such high-profile gigs as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the closing ceremony of the London Olympics. One might say they’re an English institution as they evoke nostalgia and leave a trail of good times in their path. For this record they hoped to make a “London pop album with real density and quality” and on at least some of these points the answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”

‘My Girl 2’ is offered here twice in both a remixed and an original form. The latter cut opens the album with the almost gobbledegook-like repetition of the affirmations evident in the record’s title, while also telling you the story of a smitten guy. The music is a kind of bubblegum pop mix that makes you think of The Monkees but with a more eighties feel than those sixties heartthrobs. In fact you don’t have to listen too closely to hear Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ also thrown into the mix.

From the eighties the band then travels back even further to the seventies and specifically to the disco era on ‘Never Knew Your Name’. This one sounds like it was an extra off the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack, a fun track that certainly doesn’t signal what follows on ‘La Luna’. The latter has plenty of clip-clopping brass, whistles and a mariachi band. Yes, you read that last part right and sure it’s an unexpected addition, but it works because of its madcap jolliness.

One of the standout cuts here is ‘How Can I Tell You’, otherwise known as some exuberant pop you can sing along to. A simple tale of unconditional love, this one is worth the admission price alone just to hear lyrics like: “The last chocolate in the box” and “The time I stuck an ice-cream in your face”. These are such happy and relatable images that they’re guaranteed to invoke some long, past memories for you. And you’ll also feel like they should’ve been included in an old ad for a telephone company where you’re reminded to give the old folks a call. Such is life.

The cream was certainly placed in the first half of the record because from here the guys veer off-track with some reggae in ‘Kitchen Floor’; The Specials-esque ‘Death Of A Rude Boy’ and the overblown and rather trite, ‘Misery’. This one is definitely the album’s weakest track as clichés are coupled with a fairground feel that takes things simply too far, a shame as one imagines it could’ve been as good as a sunny Split Enz number.

Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da is a melodic record full of amusing moments and catchy hooks made all the better by some good, clean production. This offering proves the guys are still young at heart as they produce a relatively consistent album full of layered pop guaranteed to raise a smile or ten during its finer moments of quirky mischief and amiable irreverence. In short, this is all a casual and rather mad affair that will have you beaming “Yes” more often then you shake your head, “No” and not just because the album says so.

 

Originally published on 22 November 2012 at the following website: http://sludgefactory.com.au/madness-oui-oui-si-si-ja-ja-da-da-cd-review

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ALBUM REVIEW: TARA SIMMONS – IT’S NOT LIKE WE’RE TRYING TO MOVE MOUNTAINS

 

There are two obvious things that you notice after listening to Brisbane chanteuse, Tara Simmons’ sophomore album, It’s Not Like We’re Trying To Move Mountains. The first is that this gal is not afraid to experiment a little. Here, she drops her previous genre of down-tempo pop songs for something a lot more sample-driven, soaring and electro-sounding. The other is that she loves people and singing about them because although the she offers ten personal tracks, these seem as much about Simmons’ relationship or thoughts about the individuals as they do about the fine lady herself.

“Weekend Of Hearts” opens up with a more upbeat feel, with everything from a self-confessed, 80s diva vocal to some rolling pop co-written along with Hungry Kids of Hungary’s Dean McGrath. It boasts an infectious, pulsating rhythm that continues into “Where Do You Go”. The latter could be by Catcall and is about the feeling of never knowing when you’ll run into an old flame.

In addition to the ex, another important person to Simmons is the one that is the subject of “Honey”. This song is an angelic, piano ballad that is like a less quirky but sincere, Regina Spektor number. It starts with a flourish of skipping piano and builds up to a haunting crescendo as Simmons emphasises how lost she’d be without this special individual in her life.

On “Found” Simmons details “Where Do You Go” part two, otherwise known as what did happen when she ran into the ex with some synth-driven pop that has a casual, swaying vibe. This slower feel is also apparent in “Love Attack”, which sounded like a gentler number by The Breeders and an almost 180-degree turn away from “No Sleep Tonight”. This later track has an African influence that is all water, tribal drums and sweeping plains as the listener gets lost – in a good way – in a dream. Lovely.

Tara Simmons set herself a challenge with this record. Having previously self-produced and recorded her debut, Spilt Milk, this time she worked closely with producer, Yanto Browning (The Medics, Kate Miller-Heidke) and made a conscious effort not to repeat herself or her sounds. The result has paid dividends with ten tracks that are light and airy, electro-infused pop that would appeal to fans of Metric and Ladytron or closer to home, Elizabeth Rose.

It’s Not Like We’re Trying To Move Mountains is a warm record in every sense. The hooks soar along with her sweet and perfect, feminine vocals that carry these personal tales to another level. It’s hard not to like this layered and cohesive record and hopefully this is a sign of the brighter things she is yet to accomplish or the bigger mountains she will one day overcome.

 

Originally published on 15 November 2012 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/tara-simmons—its-not-like-were-trying-to-move-mountains-15112012.html

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ALBUM REVIEW: EAGLE & THE WORM – STRANGELOVE EP

Expect the unexpected.

If there’s one disclaimer that should accompany all of the releases by eight-piece Melbourne band Eagle & The Worm, it is just that. Since 2009 their aim has been to push pop to weird and uncharted territories. It’s one that’s worked, earning them a legion of fans and their new EP; Strangelove looks poised to achieve more of this.

Frontman, Jarrad Brown was halfway through writing a 40-song double album (the follow-up to their much-lauded debut LP, Good Times) when he scrapped the idea. He instead wrote five new songs that basically show a bunch of talented musicians who clearly have a good handle on their instruments. They also sound happy doing exactly what they do, shaking things up and genre-hopping with aplomb so that smooth lounge numbers can sit happily alongside southern rock ditties and spaced-out psychedelic jams.

“Angela’s Lonely Heart” is a light track, which will make you want to jump up, shake and shimmy. The music resembles a few different groups from the nineties, most notably The Beta Band. On the following single, “Darling Let Me In”, this is the appropriate time for the guys and a gal to crack out the brass section (instruments that have seen them being compared in the past to The Cat Empire). This all adds a nice dimension to the sweet acoustic guitar and is all about melody and calm as Brown sings about how wonderful music is and how great it can make you feel.

The set is completed by some 80s-inspired, chiming pop (just think of any John Hughes movie) in “Give Me Time” while “What You Looking For” has a groovy, intergalactic vibe. As you listen to the latter song it is an interesting ride and not at all surprising to learn that the group had previously cut their teeth by playing with a number of different Melbourne artists, including a swing band.

Eagle & The Worm are a bold and imaginative lot of youngsters who have charm and sun-drenched exuberance in spades. Their music is full of a variety of impressive colours and textures which has seen them likened at different points to their influences (The Beach Boys, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones) even though they are certainly not out of step with their peers like Ball Park Music and the John Steel Singers. Strangelove is delightfully chaotic and ramshackle, and you know the future will be bright for this talented bunch because they treat their music like a grand pop odyssey through all sorts of amazing and strange dimensions. Nice.

Originally published on 8 November 2012 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/eagle–the-worm-ndash-strangelove-ep-08112012.html

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ALBUM REVIEW: NEIL YOUNG & CRAZY HORSE – PSYCHEDELIC PILL

Neil Young has done it all. He’s written a memoir, built a car, invented a new musical service and has produced countless studio albums and concert films. He’s played the folk singer-songwriter, hippie, rocker, superstar, robot-lover, and protestor and is the undisputed Godfather of Grunge. Earlier this year he teamed up with longtime collaborators, Crazy Horse to produce the covers album, Americana (their first in nine years). These sessions proved so fruitful that the collective would go on to produce another new record, this time of all-original material.

There may not be much left for this near 67-year old to do and yet, what makes Psychedelic Pill such an easy one to swallow is that after five decades in the biz he still continues to entertain and challenge his fans. The latest offering manages to achieve all this and more and is a double album containing just nine songs (and one of these is an alternate mix of the title track).

Opener, “Driftin’ Back” is one of the longest songs on this collection, taking up 27.5 minutes it’s a big, sprawling number where the guitars rumble and drone. It plays out like a drug haze (a curious feat as Young says he was not under the influence of anything illicit, despite the title suggesting otherwise). The experience is punctuated by grungy fuzz that dips and curves, maintaining your interest despite the long runtime and it even contains the killer, wry line: “Gonna get a hip-hop haircut”.

It is unsurprising that this album was born out of some extended jam sessions between Shakey and Crazy Horse. These “songs” often play out like unpolished jams and gems that crackle and pop with white heat, a raw/grungy sound and le noise in the key of walls of guitars. The set is an energetic one, which at times is also repetitive and could’ve been tightened at points. But it is still stunning as it celebrates life, old age and Young’s influences all through interesting sonic landscapes that will induce their own drug-like trance or ten.

The title track is a more immediate number that thunders like a Young anthem while “Ramada Inn” boasts the kind of distortion we all know and love from classics such as “Like A Hurricane”. For my money, this one is also a tad reminiscent of The Small Faces’ “Tin Soldier” as it roars like a tiger. In this the lyrics are also much calmer when compared with “Born In Ontario”, as the latter sees Young’s autobiography entwined with his infamous grumpiness and inner rage.

The second disc opens with “Twisted Road” or a love letter by Shakey to his principal influences: Bob Dylan, The Grateful Dead and Roy Orbison. Here, he lets the good times roll along to some country twang. It’s a different kind of love and experience to “For The Love Of Man” where Young pens a song for his wheelchair-bound son and sings with the angels to a rather languid tune. But it’s back to business as he whistles while he works (read: noodles a guitar) on “Walk Like A Giant” where the climax is a big, black storm.

Psychedelic Pill offers lots of those notes for you and at an hour and a half there is a lot of terrain tackled in this slow-burning and fluid mix. Messer Grump growls his way though pet peeves like MP3 sounds and other modern irritants while also looking back rather wistfully at different chapters in history with a tense, yet keen-eyed amount of nostalgia.

Neil Young’s Psychedelic Pill is full of an organic charm and ragged glory where solos are copious and there are touchstones to just about everything he’s lived through and done before. But rather than be a mere rehash of a life well lived, Mr Neil Young proves there is still a great amount of fire burning in his belly and that there are more inspired moments of le guitar noise yet to come.

Originally published on 8 November 2012 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/neil-young–crazy-horse-ndash-psychedelic-pill-08112012.html

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ALBUM REVIEW: COHEED & CAMBRIA – THE AFTERMATH: ASCENSION

 

There’s an ambitious new album full of grandiose, apocalyptic visions performed by talented rock musicians who also employ electronic trickery to ultimately craft elaborate adventures in theatrical melodrama. And this time it ain’t Muse. It is in fact American prog rockers, Coheed & Cambria with their sixth studio record.

The Afterman: Ascension is the first of a double album (the second, Descension, is due out in February) and this is the latest instalment in the group’s science fiction series, The Amory Wars. The latter is an epic, sci-fi fantasy set in an alternate universe where a tyrannical dictator reigns with an iron fist. Here, our lead character is Sirius Amory, a much-lauded astronomer and scientist who discovers a unique energy force that binds together 78 planets from this strange world.

The lyrics – just like the music – are full of depth and breadth as the band forces us to stop and think because through this saga we will learn about how having different priorities can cause the important things in life to slip from your grasp. It’s a significant and mature theme, one influenced at least in part by events that have occurred in frontman, Claudio Sanchez’s life. This ultimately makes it feel like a very detailed and human experience that has been effectively realised because it grapples with the full complexities of human emotions.

The Ascension also sees a change to the band’s line-up as drummer, Josh Eppard has returned to the fold (he had previously left the group in 2005) and there is also the addition of new bass player, Zach Cooper. This change to the grouping means the band sounds fresh and as if they are itching to move forward, experimenting but not shunning the old. This is especially apparent with the inclusion of more ballads and electronics than on their previous works and this additional layer of variety adds extra spice to an already polished-set from an accomplished and experimental group.

‘The Hollow’ includes some ambient piano music to help set the stage. It is eerie and works at being a tad unsettling while also staying rooted to a future time period. Single, ‘Domino The Destitute’ follows with guitars that tease with an exotic flavour before they bite and create a more typical hard-rock sound, as the boys invite us into a dark world that seems like the antithesis of utopia.

The title track is full of the kind of melodic guitarwork that fans will recognise from their previous efforts but with enough punch and added goodness to keep things interesting. On ‘Mothers Of Men’ one of the group’s influences, Pink Floyd, immediately springs to mind as Sanchez sings about: “Another cog in the wheel”, sure it ain’t a brick but it’s still as heavy.

Some prog metal continues into ‘Holly Wood The Cracked’ while ‘Vic The Butcher’ is all urgency, angst and powerful moments that combine to form a blinding fury. It’s a very different feel to the softer and more redemptive tale in ‘Evagria The Faithful’. The latter has a relaxed vibe that carries forward into the electronic-like pop of ‘Subtraction’, which subsequently closes with some ebbs and flows from what is essentially a computer game soundtrack.

The Afterman:Ascension feels like half the story is told and cut off at that crucial moment where you know a plot twist is inevitable and you’re hanging by the edge of your seat. It is a complex and dark beast that is expansive, energetic and multi-faceted. It’s another fine instalment from these prog rock powerhouses who are also confident enough to mix things up by seguing off into pop and punk rock territories. So let us all pause and reflect as we await the make-or-break second act.

 

Originally published on 5 November 2012 at the following website: http://sludgefactory.com.au/coheed-and-cambria-afterman-ascension-cd-review

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ALBUM REVIEW: KASEY CHAMBERS & SHANE NICHOLSON – WRECK & RUIN

Four years on from the debut collaboration between Australia’s long-standing queen of country Kasey Chambers and her husband Shane Nicholson, Wreck & Ruin is a diverse collection of songs that fits neatly into blues, gospel, country, folk and bluegrass traditions. Like Johnny and June Carter Cash, this husband-and-wife duo are talented songwriters in their own rights, and together they create sharp songs while making it all a family affair (Heck, their kids even review the album on YouTube.)

There’s a great sense of honesty and ease in the songwriting and its old-fashioned values. Religion is another important touchstone, found in the standout track ‘Adam & Eve’, and also reprised in ‘Have Mercy On Me’. There’s the hymn-like opener ‘’Til Death Do Us Part’ before ‘The Quiet Life’ gives us a window into their domestic life. This is a divine slice of loved-up charm.

Originally published on 6 November 2012 at the following website: http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/reviews/music/34147/Kasey-Chambers-and-Shane-Nicholson–Wreck-Ruin

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