ALBUM REVIEW: THE JOHN STEEL SINGERS – MIDNIGHT AT THE PLUTONIUM

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The John Steel Singers are no strangers to producing bright, poppy sounds. But on their third studio album, Midnight at the Plutonium their venue of choice is a disco in the seventies and a soundtrack punctuated by smooth basslines, sweet melodies and hypnotic synths.

Single, “Weekend Lover” boasts local champions Donny Benet on keys and Jonathan Boulet on vocals and they seem to have created some healthy rivalry, because it comes across like a competition for the highest falsetto and tightest pants. The result is an awesome party anthem with a fabulous video clip to boot.

“Can You Feel The Future” is nothing less than a bizarre, eight-minute epic that started life as a psychedelic jam and includes some sultry saxophone lines and a bass that bubbles like an effervescent soft drink. It’s the complete opposite to the slower, more dream-like “Taxi or Walk?” This short interlude of introspection doesn’t last long, however, because it’s clear that this record has sold its soul to seventies funk and pop.

Midnight at the Plutonium is the sound of a confident in a playful mood, tinkering away on various pieces of instrumentation for its own amusement. Good times.

 

Originally published on 19 May 2016 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/archive/music/all/review/all

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ALBUM REVIEW: TIM ROGERS & THE BAMBOOS – THE RULES OF ATTRACTION

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Melbourne soul/funk band The Bamboos and the inimitable Tim Rogers have already had one successful partnership with the 2012 single, ‘I Got Burned’. Fast-forward a few years and they’ve collaborated on an album.

It’s one that achieves a balance between the band’s patent introverted groove and Rogers’ effervescent rock’n’swagger from You Am I. The result is something that sounds varied (in the best possible way), fresh and brimming with enthusiasm.

Rogers himself believes the record sounds like a mix of The Jackson 5 and Eric Burdon’s War, while Lance Ferguson wanted to write a Bamboos song that sounded like The Police. In reality these 12 songs and four demos share those musical touchpoints and a whole lot more from the ’60s. In essence, it’s about complex and exciting pop music that can make you tap your feet and nod along like you know it all already.

The Rules Of Attraction is upbeat and joyous, showing some Australian musical darlings simply plugging in and having a ball. They trade riffs, grooves and ideas and create a cool, retro sound with a contemporary bite. It’s tight, a little cheeky and dapper as hell.

Originally published on 12 May 2015 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/music/tim-rogers-bamboos-rules-attraction

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ALBUM REVIEW: ELLA HOOPER – IN TONGUES

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When Ella Hooper from Killing Heidi joined her brother to form the acoustic folk duo The Verses, it was considered a ‘maturing’ of her earlier rock sound.

Some 15 years after it all began, Hooper is armed with her solo debut, on which a metamorphosis has occurred again so she sounds like she’s keeping company – at least stylistically – with the likes of St. Vincent and Ladyhawke.

In Tongues sees ten varied songs tackling personal and esoteric themes. They fit under the banner of dark, intelligent pop while also retaining a hard, spiky edge. Among the tracks are Hooper’s previous singles, ‘Low High’, ‘Haxan’ and ‘The Red Shoes’, which give an indication of the enormous jumps between genres and add an edge to this smoky experiment.

The eponymous opening track manages to be dreamy, ethereal and commanding before the virtual opera of ‘Low High’. A strange, Brian Eno-like synthesiser noise is dominant here, while ‘Love Is Hard To Kill’ comes across like an old, dusty 45.

Hooper’s debut had a long gestation period and it strives to be many different things, meaning that often this baby works.

 

Originally published on 2 December 2014 at the following website: http://thebrag.com/music/ella-hooper-tongues

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ALBUM REVIEW: FRENTE – MARVIN THE ALBUM 21ST ANNIVERSARY EDITION

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Frente’s Marvin The Album celebrates a significant milestone this year, its 21st birthday. To celebrate, the band have re-released their debut record and made it into a deluxe, remastered two-CD version as well as touring in support.

Marvin is light, sweet and summery and looks poised to win some new fans, while there will be many others who will be listening to it again in order to reminisce (I’m looking at you, Sarah Blasko).

If we cast our minds back to late 1992 and early 1993 we should consider the then-musical landscape. This may not have been a conscious thought in the band’s minds but the music world is full of masculine-sounding rock and grunge. Heavy guitars abound, teen angst is high (despite the mood being low) and the prevailing thought is that anything bigger (volumes, solos, etc) is better. Enter Frente, a girly-sounding, anti-rock group thanks to frontwoman, Angie Hart, and their music, which straddles the line between pop and folk music

The anniversary edition sees the 13-tracks from the original Australian album expanded to 16 to include the extra cuts from the group’s international release. These new tracks include the soft, acoustic cover of New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’. It’s a very different beast to the original, and yet on Frente’s very own ‘1.9.0’ they sound a little like the Manchurian group as there is a catchy riff combined with some quietness.Frente achieved their biggest success with their bouncy, summery single, ‘Accidently Kelly Street’. It was written after bassist, Tim O’Connor moved house and mispronounced Kenny as Kelly. It is full of giddy, youthful effervescence and it was largely off the back of this and their other big single, Ordinary Angels’ that the group became an international concern and sold 1.2 million copies of this record.

The members of Frente had varied musical tastes and had strong and assured-enough personalities so that they were able to draw inspiration from other artists and still sound completely like themselves. In lesser hands the sweet, nuanced and fragile ‘Girl’  would not work as the opening track to ‘Accidently Kelly Street’. There is the nice balladry of ‘Pretty Friend’, with the song sounding like yet another facet of their musical personalities. And the group is very good at making twee music as shown on ‘Ordinary Angels’.Depending on your view, this can be endearing and charming or annoying and grating.

Above everything else, Frente are sweet and they sound comfortable in their own skins. Their quirky, acoustic-based songs are full of whimsical flutter, but when you scratch the surface there is more on offer here then light, airy and dismissible pop. Marvin The Album is positive, cute and honest and is peppered with an innocence of youth that shows no signs of mellowing with age.

Originally published on 26 August 2014 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/frente—marvin-the-album-21st-anniversary-edition-26082014.html

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SINGLE REVIEW: THE VINES – METAL ZONE

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The Vines is a loaded name that can mean anything from the early successes of their debut album, Highly Evolved, all the way through to front-man and mainstay, Craig Nicholls’ tortured past. If we can set aside the bullshit and listen to ‘Metal Zone’, the debut single from their forthcoming, crowd-funded and independent record, Wicked Nature, I think everyone will be happy. Okay?

The song is supposed to be a homage to the band’s favourite distortion pedal. Like many Vines hits, it toys with different tones and dynamics, skipping through both loudness and softness like they were each going out of fashion. The first 30 seconds are a hazy jangle (the radio edit only goes for 2:24) before things become even more freewheeling and hyper.

A few years older and it seems Nicholls is still convincing as a snot-nosed punk but equally as good at playing a haunted choir boy. Ultimately this means the song packs a punch, is energetic and rip-snorting, but it does throw up the question of whether it is enough of a career progression in terms of sound. Overall, the jury’s not yet out.

Originally published on 14 August 2014 at the following website: http://sfmedia.com.au/the-vines-metal-zone-single-review/

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE SUNNYBOYS – OUR BEST OF

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SunnyboysOur Best Of sees 17 tracks hand-picked and remastered by the band and released in one tidy set. It is not the group’s first greatest hits and thanks to the quality of the music, it is also unlikely to be their last. The songs are the closest thing you’ll hear to guitar pop perfection and show the genius that is Jeremy Oxley.This album was actually remastered by Jeremy’s brother and Sunnyboys’ bassist, Peter Oxley. It draws together cuts from the band’s three studio albums, The Sunnyboys,Individuals and Get Some Fun, plus a number of singles and EPs.

It should come as no surprise that most of the songs here come from their debut and undoubtedly, best record. This collection also includes the group’s biggest singles,’Happy Man’ and ‘Alone With You Tonight’. The set is a good one overall, because the big hits sit easily alongside more obscure fan favourites. There is also unreleased material and alternative rough mixes to keep things interesting.

‘Love To Rule’ opens the set and features twin solos by Jeremy and Richard Burgman. Their guitar playing was a driving force for the band. Their overall sound was influenced by a number of noteworthy guitar groups including: MC5, Radio Birdman, The Beatles, Elvis Costello and Iggy Pop & The Stooges. It means that The Sunnyboys flit between being poppy, punky, new wave and even a kind of underground rock.For ‘The Seeker’ Jeremy said he wanted the song to sound like Garry Glitter’s ‘Rock & Roll’ while ‘You Need A Friend’ was inspired by Talking Heads. The former was about finding out that a girl doesn’t reciprocate your affections and how you have to move on to find a new love. The idea of looking for love and trying to find the right girl is a recurrent theme in Oxley’s work and no doubt a reflection of his headspace and situation at the time, it can’t have been easy to have a relationship in amongst a relentless work schedule.

The 1981 demo for ‘Tomorrow Will Be Fine’ is a quick and energetic ditty. It sounds like a typical Sunnyboys song but is actually a stark contrast to the latter, ‘Comes As No Surprise’. During this later period, Jeremy was battling his own demons and felt like he was traveling in a dark tunnel towards despair. Thankfully the group did manage to overcome this (albeit many years later) when they returned triumphantly and played an awesome reunion show at the Sydney Opera House in 2013 where album track, ‘Let You Go’ was recorded.

The SunnyboysOur Best Of is a great introduction to this band. Their music is melodic, bright, clever, emotionally charged and for the most part, fun. It will get you dancing in the street to its cool rhythms and it boasts an everyman relatability, which will have you thinking that Jeremy wrote this song especially for you. Fans will also marvel at how four men managed to achieve such great sounds, flourishes and textures at such a young age and with such limited equipment. But that just adds more mystery to the talent, power and mystique that is The Sunnyboys.

Originally published on 14 August 2014 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/sunnyboys—our-best-of-14082014.html

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ALBUM REVIEW: SUNNYBOYS – SELF-TITLED

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The Sunnyboys’ debut, eponymous record is considered a classic Australian album. And listening to it in 2014 it is easy to see why.

This perfect collection of 12 tracks is an absolute gem that is so deceptively simple and engaging and doesn’t sound at all dated. If anything, the music sounds fresh and exciting.

The group were actually named after some ice-creams that share the same name. This was because the musicians wanted to evoke the idea of being bright, happy, fun and young.

Included amongst the 12 songs are the band’s two biggest singles: the swinging, ‘Happy Man’ and the pop precision of ‘Alone With You’. These two cuts – like many of the others – are assured and honest guitar pop. The group used minimal guitar pedals and effects, yet still managed to weave together a diverse array of colours and textures to form these emotionally-charged and uplifting songs.

The clever lyrical content is also very impressive and the most frequent subject matter to be tackled here is about young love and lust. Front man, Jeremy Oxley often spoke for his audiences, as he was a frustrated young man full of equal amounts of angst, joy, sadness and hope. The words are often charming and relatable like in the thoughtful, ‘My Only Friend’ and the whimsical, ‘Trouble In My Brain’.

The Sunnyboys was made a mere ten months after the guys’ first gig. It was produced by Lobby Lloyde of Billy Thorpe’s Aztecs. He proved a good fit in capturing the raw, guitar sound, as the band often recorded their cuts live and in a single take. This means the music often has an added effervescence, spark and energy that musicians just can’t capture once they start tinkering around too much in post.

The 2014 remaster of The Sunnyboys’ rock ‘n’ roll debut is an excellent combination of pop, new wave and punk music that shows a depth and quality of sound that bellies their then, young years. Included in this new release are a number of B-sides plus two live tracks and a whole separate album of 17 songs gathering together an unreleased, pre-album demo session.

The Sunnyboys were masters of expression and their eponymous record is a catalogue of their formative years. It shows them singing relatable songs that can also get people tapping their feet along in earnest. Their sound is very clean and polished and yet they also retain a determined, underground feel. This confident album is still an excellent listen in 2014 and thanks to its original sound and thrilling elements it will ensure that a new generation of fans will come to love this band.

Originally published on 14 August 2014 at the following website: http://www.the59thsound.com/sunnyboys—sunnyboys-14082014.html

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ALBUM REVIEW: ELBOW – THE TAKE OFF & LANDING OF EVERYTHING

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If Elbow were carpenters they’d be considered master craftsmen, especially on album number six. The Mercury prize winners have created an epic, consistent, and beautifully-crafted timepiece that has as much mystery and emotional treasure as a stunning glory box.

The record is driven by Guy Garvey’s thoughtful and emotional lyrics, which have previously moved audiences. Now that he is approaching 40 they are also as mature and clever as ever.

The births, break-ups, and new romances that happened to the members of Elbow while making this album set the tone. In fact, the LP is nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster; some moments are joy-filled while others are tinged with loss.

‘This Blue World’ is similar to Foals’ ‘Spanish Sahara’ in that it is a broody ballad full of ambience. In this, Garvey makes a romantic gesture but he doesn’t get carried away with Hollywood theatrics, instead keeping things simple and singing wistfully.

These melancholic vocals are prevalent across the album as the singer croons and pleads, sometime rather softly, but in each instance commanding the listener to sit up and listen to what is being said.

There is a pop symphony in ‘Charge’, while ‘Fly Boy Blue’ sounds like something closer to a movie soundtrack. ‘Honey Sun’ sees some of Radiohead’s darker, Kid A-inspired beats coupled with sunnier moments and lyrics that take us to the ends of the earth.

The mood shifts to a more upbeat and spirited set of harmonising not unlike Fleet Foxes on the title track, while the closer sums up the attitudes of some English politicians towards refugees.

The Take Off And Landing Of Everything is not an immediate album nor one filled with makeshift singles. Instead, it is strongly centred on grandiose honesty, gentle storytelling, and a reflective sense of extensiveness. The result is evocative pop and prog that is rich and rewarded by multiple spins.

 

Originally published on 15 March 2014 at the following website: http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/new-music/393038/the-take-off-and-landing-of-everything.htm

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ALBUM REVIEW: VARIOUS – BOB DYLAN – THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY CONCERT CELEBRATION

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The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration sees a cast of thousands pay tribute to Bob Dylan’s brilliant career. Recorded live in 1992 to a sold-out audience at Madison Square Garden, this double album displays a ramshackle group at its freewheeling best.

Despite the show going for over four hours, this remastered and repackaged set is still incomplete, as omissions include: a Woody Guthrie cover, Sinead O’Connor’s a capella performance of Bob Marley’s ‘War’, and Dylan’s very own ‘Lay Lady Lay’, among others.

The cast reads like a veritable ‘who’s who’ of 1992, with the then young stars like Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder and Mike McCready playing alongside musical legends Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, George Harrison, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, and Dylan himself.

Each guest brings along something unique, and it’s clear that this is a jubilant meeting of those who had worked with or been influenced by the famous singer-songwriter.

Neil Young’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ sounds like Jimi Hendrix’s famed cover thanks to its wall of fuzzy guitars. Ditto, The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn plays a jangly ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, which sounds like his band’s version of the song.

The re-imagined ‘Just Like A Woman’ is excellent and boasts some fast Spanish guitar stylings from the late Richie Havens while Tracy Chapman does a close retelling of the classic, ‘The Times Are A Changin’.

The performances here are like the original songs in that they’re very versatile and expressive. Some cuts are great (see contributions by Reed, Clapton, Harrison, and Vedder) while others by Wonder and Cash seem to miss the mark, with the latter’s chirpy rendition failing to capture the pain of the original number.

‘Bobfest’ (as it was dubbed by Young) was a brilliant concert and chapter in music, and this set is ultimately a rousing crescendo to the enduring influence and legacy of one enigmatic artist.

 

Originally published on 13 March 2014 at the following website: http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/new-music/392560/bob-dylan-the-30th-anniversary-concert-celebration.htm

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ALBUM REVIEW: JOHN BUTLER TRIO – FLESH & BLOOD

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On album number six, John Butler takes a step off his social and political soapbox to sip wine at the altar of love.

Flesh & Blood is Butler’s most collaborative effort to date. To give you a taste, there’s the catchy single, ‘Only One’; the high-energy, blues rock number ‘Devil Woman’; and the dub, ‘Blame It On Me’, co-written from jams with his tight-knit bandmates Byron Luiters and Nicky Bomba (who has since left the group to focus on Melbourne Ska Orchestra).

Across 11 tracks, Butler stills sings with his occasionally gentle and sometimes feisty lead vocals, and the music boasts funky grooves and rhythms that touch on the rock, folk, pop, and hip-hop styles.

The singer-songwriter has definitely spread his wings a little with this album, adding extra layers and programmed beats to his folk songs and acknowledging that his lyrical inspiration was from other people (like the young, junkie couple that inspired ‘Young & Wild’). But despite this apparent departure, Butler remains true to his old form while also sounding fresh and keeping things personal, honest, and emotional.

‘Wings Are Wide’ is the best example of this, a raw love song that was written from his late grandmother’s perspective, and a tune that encapsulates the decades she mourned for her late husband.

Flesh & Bone is a full and meaty record that, while diverse and varied, does overstay its welcome a little, especially when lyrical clichés are offered up in ‘Livin’ In The City’. But despite some minor flaws, what’s left behind is a very true and human album where the well of inspiration proves to be deep, rich, and plentiful.

 

Originally published on 25 February 2014 at the following website: http://www.tonedeaf.com.au/reviews/new-music/388090/flesh-blood.htm

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