Valar

Valar appeared on my radar a couple of months back, and having now seen them live a couple of times in the time since, they’ve become firmly fixed on my “band to watch” list. They’ve just released a short live performance film that very compelling makes a case for why you should, too.

This 6 and a half minute clip features two songs, and highlights all of the band’s trademarks: meticulous yet sparse songcraft, poignancy, and a very candid, genuine sense of human frailty. Impressively, the entire performance was recorded old-school: just two mics in the centre of a room – a gutsy move, giving the band little opportunity for editing or post-production trickery, so you’re definitely hearing the live performance without much happening between the recording and you.

The clip was gorgeously shot using a four camera setup all manned by Matt Davis in a pristine, church-like setting. Obviously a lot of attention to detail has gone into making sure the space really comes alive, and it all pays off wonderfully.

The band recorded an EP earlier this year entitled We Have A Home Amongst The Trees, which is available as a digital download or handmade 10″ vinyl from Bandcamp.

Bon Chat, Bon Rat

One of the many (many many many) artists that I’ve been wanting to write about for some time is an incredible new Sydney band that have just recently appeared on the radar. They’ve already begun collecting much acclaim around the traps, and really I’m just dropping in my additional two cents on a group that is sure to be doing many more great things in the very near future.

Bon Chat, Bon Rat are a three-piece group specialising in a melodic, partially electronic sound that never you never quite pin down to any particular genre. Somehow they manage to cohesively tie together a dreamy, synth-pop oriented sound while never actually sounding constrained by any of the particular “scenes” that synth-pop has found itself in. 80s synth-prog/pop revival? No, somehow it’s fresh enough that it never feels like it’s retreading a past movement. Chillwave? Nope, it’s definitely not within that category. IDM’s second coming? Nope, it’s more accessible, more organic than that. Throughout the EP’s play you can definitely spot a lot of seminal influences amongst it all, but as a whole the band manage to get away with sounding like they’ve got their own thing happening.

Part of the identifiable fingerprint of the band’s sound is live instrumentation which is frequently included without being too smoothed-over by effects and post processing. Whether it’s a minimal guitar arpeggio creating texture across the mix, or a distorted live bass line sitting amongst the foundations of a track – they have a direct, live feel rather than something that’s been shorn of its natural characteristics. In a sense, it helps give the impression that the band is much more than elements filtered through a laptop.

On their new six track EP, three of the tracks feature vocals (four if you count the vocoder-tinged closer “Nowhere Paradise”), which are all differently approached – ethereal in “Map of São Paulo”, densely harmonized in “Tribes” and very direct in “Le Rayon Vert”. All are impressive in their delivery – excellently developed melodies, great vocal performances. Meanwhile, the instrumental tracks are densely atmospheric, almost soundtrack-like pieces built around simple ideas which explore dynamics via elaboration in texture and instrumentation.

Through all of this rambling and raving I guess what I’m trying to say is this EP is great dammit and you have utterly no excuse not to have it when it’s available as a free download (linked below), or in physical form for the low price of $5. Go get amongst it.

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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)

Midlake – The Courage of Others

Midlake - The Courage Of Others
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you contender #1 for Worst Album Cover of 2010.

Disclaimer: it’s usually my policy not to write negative reviews. Felt like this one was a valid exception to the rule.

I really wasn’t expecting the anticipation that came ahead of Midlake‘s The Courage of Others being released. Sure, The Trials of Van Occupanther was a cool album and all, but I didn’t realise it had attracted as large a number of devotees as there seemed to be anxiously hankering out for this one.

If my last review was one of extremely low expectations being surpassed, this one is the polar opposite. I mean, daaaaamnnn.

I should have known as soon as I saw the awful cover art. But no, your hapless reviewer soldiered on and gave this album not one, but many listens.

Where to start! I mean, hasn’t the druidic folk thing kind of been played out to death already? Haven’t we got enough classic albums (mostly released in the 70s) with ambling fingerpicking and mumbled mystical lyrics that work better than this? Not to mention bombastic harmonies? Friggin’ multi-tracked flute ensemble arrangements? (no offense to the flautists). From start to finish, it plays like a bad 70s hippie-folk throwback you’d discover in the bargain vinyl collection, almost to the point of comedy. Well, it would be, if it wasn’t so dull.

This album has the following unwavering constants: minor keys, epic choruses laden in three to four part harmonies, and slow tempos. One song blurs into the next. I was pretty ecstatic every time I approached the end of each listen.

And here’s the problem: it’s not badly done. I mean, they’ve pulled it together sounding remarkably true to this whole vein of music. It just comes off sounding a little too wishy-washy, not to mention limp and largely lifeless. What a shame.

The Courage of Others came out on the 1st of February through Speak ‘n’ Spell Music, if you’re still keen.

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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Ben Frost – By The Throat

Ben Frost - By The Throat

I’ve been utterly blown away by and constantly replaying this album of late since first having my ears massacred by it a few weeks back. Yes, massacred. It’s an experience to behold: layers of rib shattering bass, gorgeously arranged strings and horns, delicate piano and scattered glitched out fuzz.

Finding words to describe the album is not particularly easy: it defies categorisation but sits somewhere in the general realm of modern ambient composition. That being said, it straddles just about every gap – both organic and electronic, beautiful and abrasive, melodic and dissonant.

I first came across the album after hearing “Híbakúsja” late one night on FBi. It was intriguing but radio’s definitely not the medium to listen to this stuff through! Once you hear it a high quality recording an entire panorama of bleak, paranoid soundscapes open up and completely immerse you. It’s terrifying, but simultaneously exhilarating. Sorry about the semi-hyperbolic language, can you tell I enjoy listening to it?

Comparisons? It defies them, but the works do remind me a little of Efterklang in places, particularly the use of horns. Amiina (Sigur Ròs’ string quartet) make an appearance, so some will draw links to that. Frost’s collaborator and co-producer Valgeir Sigurðsson also works with Björk and a host of others, so you there’s plenty of that Icelandic experimentalism happening in the mix.

Whatever the case, give it a shot. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea but it’s definitely a mind expanding and thoroughly rewarding listen.

Listen to the whole album at Ben Frost’s bandcamp site

Why?, Seekae, Kyu @ Annandale Hotel

Why? live at the Annandale
Photo credit: Wayne from Oceans Never Listen

I’ve been mulling over this show for a week now, attempting to ensure that the gobsmacked proclamations of “best show this year” weren’t just hyperbole caused by fresh memories. But there we have it – a week has passed and I’m still pretty sure that this night was one of the best gigs I attended this year.

I’ve been a huge fan of Why? since their tune “The Hollows” off the then-forthcoming Alopecia dropped on the web in early 2008. The combination of hip-hop with dramatic, nuanced indie rock sucked me in and I quickly explored their back catalogue and began thrashing Alopecia out upon its release onwards. The album’s never got old since, and it’s use of space and fascinating arrangements, instrumentation and tone has made it something that’s continuously yielded rich rewards. The recently-released Eskimo Snow is a slightly more conventional direction in that’s it’s more song-driven, but still relies on frontman Yoni Wolf’s twisted lyricisms and bizarre compositional approaches.

Back to the show. Expectations couldn’t have been higher: aside from all of the fanatacism built from the countless repeats of the aforementioned albums, both of the supports (Kyu and Seekae) have a strong building reputation in Sydney.

Kyu opened the evening. The duo first appeared Sydney’s radar for a lot of people when their excellent tune “Sunny In Splodges” was included on the highly recommended New Weird Australia compilation. Their sound is an abstract combination of understated minimalistic songwriting, loops, vocal effects, keyboards and the odd floor tom. I’d seen the band once before and was eager to catch them again.

The set began with them beginning more strongly than the previous time I caught them, but a few technical glitches and a crowd with a wavering attention span had the set wobbling its way through the second half. At their best, they’re entrancing. At their worst, they’re can find themselves in danger of being a little too twee and a little too gimicky. The performance confirmed for me that the group’s talent is unquestionably brilliant, but the actual execution still needs some fine-tuning. This being said – a pub is probably not the best place to see them and I look forward to catching them in a different location, which I suspect will yield better impressions.

The crowd’s anticipation for Seekae was apparent, made only more evident by delays in the soundcheck for the set. This was my first time catching the trio live, and I was blown away: this is definitely one of Sydney’s most exciting emerging groups at present and I absolutely can’t wait to see where they go. Their sound is a combination of atmospheric electronica, post-rock and hip-hop with the sound being fresh and absolutely immersive. It was great to see Ivan from the also-brilliant Ghoul make a number of appearances on guitar and vocals.

Not much more needs to be said - see this band if you get a chance. I predict great things for them if they continue on their current trajectory, and having them completely win the crowd over like they did is no simple feat and confirms that everyone was pulled in by their work. Jonny wondered if the band had won the night and I feared that the evening might have already peaked. It was a damn close race, but Why? took the cake.

When you listen to a Why? album from a musical point of view, you’re enveloped in arrangements that are detailed, unique, engrossing and frequently gorgeous. Much of the beauty is contained within the interlocking parts, the exceptional mixing and the impact of the rhythms. How much is a five piece going to be able to actually get that across live?

As it turns out – near flawlessly. The band executes the songs like a finely tuned machine, yet delivered just the right amount of unhingedness and vigour that’s needed to actually make a show out of the performance. Yoni doesn’t drop a beat as he works his way through lyrical acrobatics and stalks the stage. His brother, Josiah, bounces on his kit like a possessed bobblehead effortlessly dropping rock solid grooves, while the remaining members on bass, guitar and keys make all of that intricacy on the album look like a piece of cake. Incredible – and then some. The explosions of fuzz bass on “These Few Presidents”? Devastating. The plaintive emotion of “Blackest Purse”? Tear jerking. The badassery of “Sky For Shoeing Horses”? I couldn’t stop grinning.

“Sydney! Oh yeah, this is a good one. This is a good show” mumbles Yoni with barely-suppressed glee a couple of songs in. I don’t know if he announces a bad show when they’re having one, but it seems the band are really feeding off the crowd. I can’t quite pick where the crowd is coming from. Certainly there’s been some hip-hop crossover judging from the hands in the air floating to the beat, perhaps with some people migrating from the old cLOUDDEAD days (Yoni’s old group). For many I’m sure there’s been the discovery via Internet (like myself). There’s a weird yobbo dynamic present as any time a verse is sung containing some of Yoni’s more twisted lyrical imagery (see: “The Hollows”, “The Vowels, Pt. 2″) the crowd launches into it by positively yelling it back. I wonder if that was a lasting impression of Australia for the group.

The extensive work of the band’s front-of-house sound engineer has to be noted. The guy put the icing on the cake by ensuring that many of the details present in the album were represented by adding delays, reverbs and compression to the mix live. As a result, he spent the entire set riding the effect busses and adding immense amount of detail through - it’s the kind of detail that’s not often seen for a show with an audience size of the Annandale’s capacity. It gave the set exactly the polish it needed and I thought it lent additional distinction to the band’s performance.

Was it the best gig I saw of ’09? It’s a tough call – there were many great, great gigs this year, and it’s hard to pin it on one show – but it definitely came close. I’m hugely glad I went and if you get an opportunity to see this band, don’t pass it up. It’s one hell of a show.

Why? Live at Annandale, Sydney 16/12/2009 Setlist

  1. These Hands
  2. The Vowels, Part 2
  3. Rubber Traits
  4. Against Me
  5. Good Friday
  6. These Few Presidents
  7. January Twentysomething
  8. Sky For Shoeing Horses / Twenty-Eight
  9. Blackest Purse
  10. The Fall of Mr Fifths
  11. Yo Yo Bye Bye
  12. By Torpedo Or Chrohn’s
  13. Simeon’s Dilemma
  14. The Hollows

Moderat

Moderat Moderat

I mentioned a little over a year ago that I’d been enthusastically getting amongst all things Apparat. If you didn’t see that post, go check it out and get a hold of those albums – a year later they still rank high as some of my favourite albums for repeated listening.

I’d been keenly awaiting an upcoming collaboration LP between Apparat and Modeselektor, another key Berlin electronica group that you may have come across when they gathered some attention by getting Thom Yorke in on vocals for “The White Flash” from their last album Happy Birthday. Ironically, the album evaded my notice for a good couple of months after release – and here I am blogging about it even later still. However, I haven’t seen a lot of talk about the album here in Australia so I figured I’d throw my commendation for it in.

The album promoters for the Moderat project seem to have made a lot of mileage out talking about the supposed tensions that exist in the Apparat/Modeselektor working relationship. In many ways, it’s not hard to see why such a tension would exist – Modeselektor seem to enjoy a goofy, hip-hop derived, swaggering beat-heavy synthetic sound while Apparat has increasingly been moving towards an ambient yet organic approach to his music. To put it more simply: Modeselektor’s music is good for clubs, Apparat is good for headphones and living rooms.

So where’s the album land, sonically speaking? In many ways, the trademarks of both entities exist evenly across the record, though the whole ends up being a little more on the dramatic, serious side. That’s not to say it’s slow – it’s generally quite uptempo – but it’s fairly minor key and takes its identity more from texture than rhythmic propulsion. The trio seem heavily influenced by the dubstep movement – notably first single “Rusty Nails” and closer “Out of Sight” live in Burial’s shadow just a little, while bringing it under a more refined, Berlin-esque structure. Elsewhere, some excellent Berlin ambient techno gets a couple of tunes (“3 Minutes Of” and “Nasty Silence”) and even a very pop-sounding rave anthem (“Sick With It”) is amongst the lineup.

Initially I was a little disappointed by the release – it seemed to lose my interest a few tracks in and repeat itself – but over many replays I’ve gradually come to find it a solid, thoroughly enjoyable work. Much lies in the detail, waiting to be unravelled over repeat plays.

As a result, the disc is certainly no party starter in atmosphere but it’s an impeccable disc for evenings (and, in my case, coding) – a detail-rich labour of love (and possibly even frustration, judging from the cover) that may not see a followup due to Modeselektor and Apparat’s own busy careers (presently on hold while they finish touring as Moderat). Worth a listen.

Rusty Nails (video)

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I apologise for the insane lack of posting (if anyone had noticed)… life has been immensely busy between moving house (I am now, terrifyingly, a resident of Ryde), multiple music projects (notably Soma Music, which has been immensely exciting and rewarding) and even Real Work. Things are settling down, so hopefully more blogging will follow – there’s a big backlog of albums that I’ve been meaning to cover.

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With some sadness Aussie music bloggers bid farewell last mongth to Sean from A Reminder. He’s left for his native land of Canada and I certainly hope that his mother country realises what a boon has just arrived for their music scene as his coverage of music in Australia will be hugely missed here. Hope the move is fruitful Sean – and I’m looking forward to hearing what you unearth out of Canada’s music scene!

Parades live @ Save FBi (World Bar) / Dead Nationale single

Last week I visited the World Bar to check out the FBi Radio fundraising event, one of the many that had been organised to save the ailing station (who, by the way, are in the clear for now). The evening was a varied, wild and frequently bizarre affair with sets by a number of Sydney mainstays including The Paper Scissors, Richard In Your Mind, Fait Accompli and others.

Easily the best set (for me), however, was a short, almost unnoticed set right at the start of the evening from Parades (I’ve raved about them before). Let me tell you – this is going to be a great band to watch emerge in the months to come. Their live sound is impeccable, managing to succeed at being both energetic and intricate. Their songwriting appears to only be getting more sophisticated, and generally their sound is moving in a larger, more expansive direction that suits itself well to a live setting.

If you haven’t checked out the new single “Dead Nationale” (hearted by many), make sure you do so at the below link.

Ensure you see them live soon – in particular make a note in your calendar for August 6th where they’ll be appearing at the Oxford Art Factory with Seekae, Megastick Fanfare, Ghoul and Bearhug. Quite a lineup!

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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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