Ghoul – 3Mark

Ghoul are back and I couldn’t be more excited. They’ve had a prolonged hibernation, surfacing for a show here and there but generally not doing too much to draw attention to themselves. I get the impression this has been due to some substantial labour being directed towards their followup to 2008′s A Mouthful Of Gold mini-album (which I loved)

“3Mark” is the second taste from their upcoming mini-album Dunks, which apparently will be out in January 2011. The first – Milkily – was a quirky, jagged tune which was solid but left me guessing which direction the band was heading in.

This new tune is bigger, more confident, more streamlined – and definitely more accessible than anything heard from the band prior. It also comes across as something of a genre study: someone has definitely been listening to Burial, as many of that artist’s hallmarks are present, including the syncopated rhythmic shuffles, his muted ambient stabs, and the pitch-shifted vocals. This isn’t a diss – the track wholly works, but the arrangement definitely bears a strong imprint of its influences. Giving this tune some distinction is a big, live-band middle 8 and outro which provides a nice pay-off to the song’s otherwise murky groove.

All of this said, I love the tune, even with it wearing the influences on its sleeve. What the song doesn’t give, however, is any more of a definite idea of what the Ghoul’s new “sound” actually looks like as a whole. We’ve heard two vastly different tunes so far, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what fills out the picture.

Also interesting is Ghoul taking a step on from their ardently DIY methods seen with their last release – the band have signed with Speak N Spell Records, have managers and bookings agents in the picture and generally look intent on taking things to the next level. I’m hoping it really pays off for the guys.

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Parades – Past Lives

Parades - Past Lives single cover

It’s no secret that Parades are up there on my list of favourite Sydney bands at the moment. After a self-titled, self-released first collection of songs in late 2008, followed up by the gobsmackingly brilliant Hunters/Dead Nationale single in mid-2009, the band has recently signed with label Dot Dash / Remote Control (home of Snowman, Ned Collette and others) and are on track to release their debut LP Foreign Tapes in April this year. I predict good things ahead.

Their pre-album single is “Past Lives”, and it’s a lovely, concise pop tune that’s big, pretty and spacious. It continues a trend the band seem to be exploring with more adventurous arrangements, with Efterklang-esque horns floating around the background, and loads of ambiance scattered everywhere.

The band’s had a live lineup shakeup as reported on their Myspace – their touring party now contains the girls from Kyu along with appearances from a brass section where possible. You can see these changes yourself as the band promote the new song alongside The Seabellies on the following tour dates:

  • 18th March 2010 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
  • 19th March 2010 – The Grand Hotel, Wollongong
  • 21st March 2010 – Northern Star, Newcastle
  • 27th March 2010 – John Curtin Hotel, Melbourne
  • 1st April 2010 – The Clubhouse, Brisband

Get amongst it. Their live show comes highly recommended.

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Beach House – Teen Dream

I’m in. I’m sold. If Beach House‘s last album Devotion was an introverted, dimly lit Pet Sounds by way of a drum machine, this one’s bigger, brighter, and more assertive. Not that I didn’t like Devotion by any means, but I think I’ll be spinning this one more regularly.

So, the changes in sound: there’s the aforementioned brighter tone to it, for a start. It’s got more dynamic shifts – bigger harmonies, lusher mixes, bigger choruses, but it still manages to retaining the delicate dream-pop elements that are fundamental to the band’s sound. Instrumentally, the arrangements feel a more substantial than past album – Victoria Legrand’s voice is also out front and centre, propelling each song and making sure it connects.

The songs are gorgeous – first single “Norway” definitely sticks out as the biggest, catchiest number, but opener “Zebra” and “Lover of Mine” come close in infectiousness, with the latter particularly finding a groove amidst some subtle 80s pop influences. “Real Love” definitely jumps in as a highlight in the form of a lovely, slow-burning ballad.

There’s not a lot more I need to say. If you’re into music that’s dreamy, sunny, texture-rich and song-oriented, this one’s in category A. I highly recommend it. If I could hack a metaphor, Beach House seem to overcome their indoor-bound introversions and discovered the outdoors. This album is a natural progression – neither a leap nor a baby step – but the results are working for me, and I think it’ll take the band to a bigger crowd.

Also: I also have to make special note of the packaging – I picked up the special edition CD and it’s brilliantly presented as a folded digipak box with individual full-page artwork for each song. Really enjoyable. The special edition also comes with a DVD containing video clips for every one of the album’s songs. Buy your music yo, it rewards you with pretty pictures and stuff.

Teen Dream is out now on CD through Mistletone/Inertia. The vinyl release is available for import from Sub Pop.

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Massive Attack – Heligoland

It’s taken me the two weeks since Massive Attack‘s new album came out for me to decide I’m ready to put my thoughts together on this album, and even then I’m not entirely sure I’ve got my head around it altogether.

Let’s get things started with the bit I wasn’t expecting to write: this album’s not crap.

I know, I’m scratching my head as well. After the dismally middling 100th Window, and all of the subsequent rumours of the remaining two members of Massive Attack’s barely-functioning relationship, I’d basically given up on Massive Attack or any kind of return to their former greatness.

Having said this, this isn’t (in my humble opinion) a return to band’s greatness as seen in their best works – but in a lot of ways I think comparing Heligoland to those albums will perhaps inhibit your enjoyment: I started to properly enjoy the album once I managed to disentangle my listening from comparing the album to it’s predecessors, and trying to work out where it fit within the Massive sound.

The album’s sound and aesthetic is clean, and bright: it’s melodic, it’s pure. This is not entirely good, but it’s not entirely bad either. There’s no sonic grime – no Blue Lines vinyl crackle and hiss or Mezzanine distortion. It’s calculated and precise, and most definitely digital – occasionally with a little too much Pro Tools post-production applied. That’s not to say it doesn’t have atmosphere – there’s plenty, it just manifests itself in different ways. There’s less bombast by way of slow, plodding beats or rib-shattering sub-bass, but the band manage to conjure up dark and occasionally downbeat textures by way of other means, including an unexpected presence of recognizably acoustic instruments: pianos, horns, drums and guitars.

The highlights are definitely pushed forward by their guest appearances – Tunde Adebimpe (saves an otherwise potentially dull song), Hope Sandoval (absolutely stellar), Horace Andy (“Girl I Love You” is excellent) and Damon Albarn (excellent) each turn out incredible tracks, largely due to their performances and songwriting input. Elbow’s Guy Harvey’s modern futuristic spy tune feels like it’s trying a little hard to be a clever tune, but it ends up winning you by the time it reaches its horn-laden conclusion. Robert Del Naja seems to have given up on rapping (unfortunately) but he manages to turn out two good singing performances on “Rush Minute” and “Atlas Air” – but these songs, while decent, seem let down by uneven arrangement and production, both feeling a little bit laborious and uninspired in their assembly.

And then there are the missteps, sure – “Splitting The Atom” is an embarrassing attempt at a lighter Blue Lines-era tune with phoned-in performances from Daddy G, Horace Andy and Del Naja, while Martina Topley-Bird’s two contributions are pleasant enough but ultimately unremarkable.

All this being said, I found once I got amongst the album and let it speak on it’s own terms it’s thoroughly listenable and definitely enjoyable. A few tunes will be able to stand as classic tracks in the Massive Attack oeuvre, and many of the remaining at the very least contribute to a cohesive album.

Colour me surprised – I wasn’t expecting much from this one at all.

“Splitting The Atom” Video

Four Tet – There Is Love In You

Four Tet - There Is Love In You

A lot of people are saying they really love the new Four Tet album – I don’t think I’ve got anything too unique to add, just chipping in to agree really.

I reviewed this record’s preceding release – the Ringer EP – on Polaroids of Androids and as a conclusion wondered whether it was a sort of experiment, or a hint of the nature of his next album. Turns out, it was kind of both: There Is Love In You does have similarities – soft four-to-the-floor foundations, organic samples scattered liberally and flourishes of synth elements – but it pulls back on the hypnotic, lengthy song structures just slightly and tightens up the focus of each piece. It ends up as an accessible, thoroughly enjoyable listen. It’s at times happy (“Circling”), bouncy (“Sing”), baddass (“Love Cry”) and simplistically beautiful (“She Just Likes To Fight”) in turn.

In amongst all of those above words, I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m finding it really really good.

Stream

  • Love Cry on Myspace (best I can do, sorry)

The Soft Pack

The Soft Pack

I find it a little bizarre that I’m writing about this album, as I’m frequently not much of a fan of the lo-fi garage rock ‘n’ roll set. I don’t think it’s a genre prejudice, I just find that the line between “authentic” and “sloppy” can be altogether too blurry at times.

Having heard the The Soft Pack‘s recent Australian release of singles, b-sides and demos entitled Exctinction, I was gearing up to dump the band in the “sloppy” category. The release, apparently intended to capture interest arising from the group’s “buzz” status, contained a lot of songs with mediocre-to-dismal sound quality and a general lack of impact.

It was with little enthusiasm, then, that I gave the band another go with their new self-titled. Surprisingly, what jumped out at me was a different band to what I’d previously encountered. The production, granted, is more refined: the arrangements are more pre-meditated than before, in the way the guitars blend, the vocal harmonies and the dynamics of the songs. Many might cry foul of this as “losing the vibe”, but here’s the thing: unlike the previous songs I’d heard from the band, all these modifications allowed the hooks to shine through. And, as it turns out, these boys have a knack for writing hooks – tons of them.

This is infectious stuff – no revolutions here, just an album that’s a 32 minute ride of quality, rollicking rockers. Despite the aforementioned production values, the album’s sound still retains the punch of a band-in-the-room aesthetic. The songs saunter along, usually at a brisk pace. It’s got singable choruses and a boatload of energetic riffs. The refinements simply aid the band in hitting the spot more consistently, making for a much more enjoyable start-to-finish experience.

In conclusion, I think what’s been managed here is a straddling between the two extremes – spontaneous, “authentic” performances and refined production value. Too much of either and you lose the plot, but The Soft Pack have managed to turn out a release that walks the line neatly in the middle without pandering to either side. The result is a cunningly executed balance: when it comes served like this I’m not too concerned about its originality, I’m having too much fun enjoying the ride.

The Soft Pack comes out March 6th through Pod/Inertia.

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Yae!Tiger

Yae!Tiger

Here’s a great band to surreptitiously drop onto your playlists for forthcoming summer BBQs. I first mentioned Yae!Tiger on my Twitter feed a couple of weeks back, but after some further playing I’m convinced they deserve their own blog post.

The band recently sent me a two-track album sampler for their upcoming EP Casualty of the Avalanche, which will apparently be released in January 2010. The sampler itself bears a clue to the band’s work ethic – a gorgeously handmade packaging that definitely captures one’s attention (I can’t wait to see what the EP looks like!)

The tunes are similarly assembled – detailed, intricate and yet unmistakenly handmade: ramshackle pop songs fused with elements of folk, rock and a hint of occasional psychedelia. They’re infectious bits of work, sunny in disposition and completely addictive. Highly recommended.

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(apologies about the cross-site linking for the mp3s. I’d host myself but have limited bandwidth at present)

Cuthbert & The Nightwalkers Pace Themselves

And there was me thinking just a week or so back that it had kind of been a while since I’d heard new recorded material from Richie Cuthbert and his crew. And then just like that, lo and behold, an announcement enters my inbox: they’re back.

Cuthbert & The Nightwalkers return with a new single entitled “Pace Ourselves” and it’s just what the doctor ordered – an eccentric, shouty, fun tune with a singalong refrain.

It’s kind of the anthem of a big night in reverse – the song starts with the tale of a night gone wrong (dodgy mobile phones! lonely bars! references to The Streets maybe?) that builds into the bliss of meeting a friendly stranger, getting high on life and… well, getting sloshed (“Pace Ourselves” elegantly turns into “Waste Ourselves”, y’dig?)

If anything, it’s “that” song that should prevent the group from endangering themselves of being pidgeonholed as a red frog-eating, perpetually high-school aged innocent pop group. F bombs! Drinking tales! Yeah, the Nightwalkers have grown up I guess.

Oh, the single was also mixed by Cornel Wilczek (a.k.a. Qua) – expect good things to come from the rest of the album if this man has had a hand in shaping the rest of the tunes, because this guy is the goods (coincidentally I was listening to Q&A and Silver Red back to back just today, so I’m particularly Qua fanatical at this point in time)

New material means new live shows and that means definitely good. This band are essential live viewing if you haven’t already seen them. You can see them tomorrow night (10th July) at Q Bar or the (still a long way off) single launch show at The Hopetoun on the 5th of September.

Listen to the track

Deastro – Moondagger

Here’s the story of my first listen of Deastro‘s new album Moondagger:

  1. Chance upon album, vaguely recall positive mentioned of Deastro
  2. Insert album in CD player
  3. Instant grin, room reverberates with explosive energy, evening transformed within 30 seconds, etc

This is a first listen album. It’s not a grower – it’s all there, hitting you smack in the face right from the word go. Fortunately the instant appeal doesn’t dissipate over time – I’ve been giving it plenty of spins over the last couple of weeks and it continues to stand up as a great pop album.

Deastro is a one-man project belonging to Randolph Chabot Jr, apparently all self-produced and home recorded. Perhaps due to this creation process, there’s a delicious dichotomy in the music he creates – all at once the songwriting is human, personal, genuine and even unassuming while the sounds are frequently colossal, epic, almost stadium-esque.

The Deastro sound is defined by layers and layers of synths and Randolph’s swampy, ethereally treated vocals, but instead of rigid, robotic drum programming most of the rhythm section is propelled by live drums and bass, which give the songs a lot of their energy and help further both the expansiveness of the sound and the personality of the recording.

I’m pretty fascinated by the lyrics – the ones I can make out anyway. Randolph (from what I can gather) seems to hold Christian convictions which appear to permeate the song content. References to God are frequent (“Day of Wonder”, “Vermillion Plaza”) with my favourite instance being the bonus track “The Shaded Forests” as he yelps out the Psalm-derived refrain “whom shall I fear?” followed by “we’re gonna make it home!” … in the wrong hands it might be another biblically plundered cliche, but when he sings it it’s extraordinarily compelling. Naturally the album isn’t confined to a single subject matter – it seems to span all manner of topics of interest in Randolph’s worldview. Now to find a lyric sheet so I can actually decipher them.

Seriously, get the album – I love it to bits, and I think you will too. It’s an “up” album – try it on a Friday night or the start of a roadtrip. It’s epic.

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Odawas – The Blue Depths

The new Odawas album has been getting some plays here lately. I noticed a little buzz surrounding it when it appeared on the radar (mostly thanks to Twitter and some limited blog coverage), but I haven’t heard much more about it. Which surprises me, because I was expecting it to be a lot more controversial than it has been.

So let me just get things out there in the open: I don’t get it.

I don’t get why I find this album enjoyable, why I don’t find it cloying, why it didn’t get tossed out my front door so it could find a new home under the tyres of rush hour traffic.

On paper, the album is not supposed to work. Not only that, it shouldn’t even get a look-in. The songs are open-ended, languid affairs, drenched in dense layers of morose synths. The mix has so much reverb it doesn’t even wade in the stuff, it swims. The percussion frequently reminds me of downtempo AOR staples from the 80s. It’s got plasticky synth-pianos. And to cap it off many of the tracks exhibit FRETLESS BASS. Did I mention synth panpipes?

Yes, I have to fess up: I’m enjoying the record. So the question is: why does it work? The answer, clearly, is that I frankly don’t have the thinnest wisp of a clue.

I never heard the earlier Odawas full-length, so I don’t know how this rates with their earlier work or how it compares in terms of sound. The music on this album is basically super-atmospheric, melodic singer-songwriter music, emerging from a sombre, reflective universe – I haven’t ruled out the possibility that the album was written in a lonely bar on a distant planet where few humans ever venture.

Despite the fact that most of the defining sounds on the album come from synthesized sources, it gives off strongly folk vibes. The harmonica flourishes probably do something to aid this impression, and the fact that the vocals sound uncannily like a young Neil Young at his most yearning doesn’t hurt either. Guitar strums sit nestled amongst the synths from time to time, but overall this album offers tones and sounds that normally don’t get a look-in on singer-songwriter material unless they’re in the hands of someone like Daniel Lanois.

To conclude, this is a grey-weather album. It’s not a daytrip sunshine car album, and it’s not a downtempo party album. It sounds best suited for wet days when you would prefer to curl up in a blanket with a mug of cocoa. Try it out – you might love it, or you may hate it.

(The album has also been given rotation for my daughter Nadia’s bedtime music. She seems to like it for chilling or sleeping to, which gives it bonus points)

You can get your first taste by listening to an mp3 below:

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