Category: Reviews

Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper Album Cover

Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

Noah Lennox has been making music for 15 years under the name Panda Bear, both alone and as a member of Animal Collective. With his choirboy vocals and knack for songwriting Lennox has become one of the biggest names in experimental indie music, never shying away from new sounds and styles but rooting it in memorable and melodic music. But with Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper Lennox falls a little short on both fronts, delivering an album that never quite gels and doesn’t quite satisfy.

The album gets off to a good start; the unassuming Sequential Circuits opens the album with attack-heavy organ sounds and manipulated sounds of insects, with Lennox’s familiar reverberated voice ringing over the top. Things don’t stay placid for long; the next track Mr. Noah starts with unsettling samples of whimpering dogs before being subsumed by swirls of electronic sound and feedback, driven by a limping drum beat. Like many of Lennox’s best, the song wears its folk and world music influence on its sleeve; with its sing-along refrain of “this dog got bit on a le-e-e-eg..” it sounds like a simple campfire song played with a laptop and synths instead of a guitar and hand claps.

The next track, Davy Jones’ Locker, is where things start to turn sour. The track is only about 30 seconds, but it’s so irritating and unnecessary that it completely breaks the flow of the album. This change in momentum happens throughout PBVSGR; while the intended effect is probably to keep things interesting, the effect is more like musical whiplash, and the album’s cohesion suffers as a result.

Lennox has said that 90’s drum programming heavily influenced PBVSGR, but combined with the echoing keyboards and cluttered waves of sound the effect is more like Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine than a Teddy Riley production. This is especially true on Crosswords, with cheesy drum fills meeting squelching bass and staccato synths to make a strange, if slightly grating listen. The lyrics seem to be addressing Lennox’s more nostalgic fans (“stay scared while I improve/but it don’t mean I’ll do it like you want me to”), but the music behind it isn’t necessarily his strongest argument.

The next song, Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker, fares much better. The song is more ethereal and dreamlike, backed up by an endearingly tinny Bossa Nova drum machine. It’s one of the first moments on the album where the disparate sounds feel like they’re working with rather than against each other. The track is essentially a breezy pop song veiled in a thick haze, playing well to Lennox’s songwriting strengths.

With Boys Latin Lennox takes the campfire song idea to its logical conclusion, with his mantra of “Beasts don’t have a sec to think but/we don’t ‘preciate our things but…” jumping back and forth between the left and right speakers, surrounded by hypnotic reverberating percussion and a pulsing bass synth that phases in and out of time. The song is weird and disorienting in the best possible way. Come to Your Senses isn’t quite as successful; the longest song on the album, it doesn’t really have enough ideas to carry itself over its length. It aims to draw itself out and lock into a groove, but is essentially a three minute song that gets played twice, and by the time it ends its welcome is well worn out.

Where the first half of PBVSGR is a loud and at times claustrophobic listen, its second half is a more subdued affair. It also features some of the album’s better moments; the songs sound like they have room to breathe, and Panda Bear has always been good at using space effectively. This is best seen on Tropic of Cancer, the album’s emotional core and its most beautiful moment. The song features Lennox’s voice stripped of his trademark vocal reverb, accompanied only by a harp; he sounds naked and vulnerable, much like his 2004 breakthrough album Young Prayer. This song, like that album, deals with his father’s death from cancer; the song takes on an added dimension with Lennox having become a father himself and fearing the disease’s heredity. But the song is ultimately about acceptance, of death as a necessary process and of disease as just another living thing trying to survive. The track is immediately followed by Shadow of the Colossus, another short, unnecessary interlude, particularly obnoxious since it separates the two slowest and prettiest tracks with a bizarre and ugly wash of noise.

The track Lonely Wanderer is another slow burner, with Lennox singing a hymn-like melody over a cascading Debussy piano sample. The track is occasionally punctuated by a subterranean bass note drowning everything out, before building up to a sinister climax that sounds like falling through a wind turbine. Principe Real, named after an up-and-coming neighbourhood in Lennox’s adopted home of Lisbon, combines jazzy house music with Panda’s own ethereal sound. The track lives up to its name, sounding like the soundtrack to an awesome but hazy night out on the Iberian Peninsula.

The last two tracks provide a strong finish to the album. With its evocative vocal melody and simple but effective instrumentation, Selfish Gene sounds like it could’ve been written for a golden age Disney film, and its message of self-determination is a good antidote to the passive optimism of It’s a Small World or When You Wish Upon a Star. Meanwhile album closer Acid Wash is the closest Lennox has come to a lighters-in-the-air moment, a psychedelic power ballad with a huge, kaleidoscopic climax. But good as these songs are they seem to have come from a different album, one that has been building up to a big finish instead of not knowing where to begin.

Many of the best albums that Animal Collective and its members have released have been completely disorienting in a fun and engaging way. But PBVSGR ends up sounding confused itself; Panda Bear sounds like he isn’t quite sure what it should be. Many of the songs sound like they could only belong in their original context, but the album doesn’t really have the cohesion it needs to be enjoyed as a whole. It ultimately makes for a frustrating listen; Lennox’s music has always been a little opaque and obscured, but this is the first time it’s felt like he’s keeping listeners out.

Uptown Funk single banner

Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk

Bruno Mars is back with Mark Ronson, a production extraordinaire producing hits by artists Adele, Lily Allen and Paul McCartney, with a collaboration guaranteed to make you boogie! Released on the 19th of November, ‘Uptown Funk‘ rehashes the funk of the 1970s with the production and sonics of the 21st century.

This track has the makings of a brilliant dance track different to the top 40 hits of today. Stand aside Iggy and Taylor, Bruno’s stylistic appreciation of funk  is coming through! The track begins with snappy hand claps, a  guitar riff nostaligic of disco-funk tracks of the 1970s,  and a gang chorus hook that touches all the bases and makes you want to stand up and dance.

The chorus of the song really makes you want to dance, with the explosive horn section belting out a hook that you will sing in your head for days. The chorus is loud and mostly free of vocals so you can really appreciate the reflection of the era and move yourself to the up-tempo groove. In the latter half of the track, Bruno calls for the audience to “Come on, dance / Jump on it …  If you freaky than own it/  Don’t brag about it, come show me” before breaking into an extended bridge section with all the instruments growing louder and more intense, as though as if inviting the audience to give it their best and join in the chorus, “Uptown Funk you up“, until the songs end.

Bruno’s aesthetic style has been developing over the past year and has possibly reached its peak of maturity in nu-funk. Bruno Mars seems to take to the genre as if he was born for it, and his most recent track and collaboration reflects just that. There has been much speculation of Mars’ appropriation of the much adored Michael Jackson, but after much research into both respective careers it is safe to say that Bruno Mars is not directly appropriating Michael Jackson, but is merely being influenced by the King of Pop. Bruno’s style really comes into fruition within this track as he has styled himself to the genre and the track acts like a bonus track, or even a track from a future album. Bruno’s artistic style has developed and delved further into the funk genre and can really be seen within ‘Uptown Funk’.

The only downside to this track is that it’s only one track and isn’t followed by a stellar nu-funk album that pays more homage to the funk and disco era of the 1970s as this one song does! …. Although it soon will be, as it will be featured on Mark Ronson‘s own release, Uptown Special, in 2015.

Looking ahead to the future, it is this reviewer’s opinion that Bruno Mars will continue with his own style of nu-funk  that suits his voice, fashion choices, and his general aesthetic style.

D'Angelo Black Messiah

D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah

And you thought Azealia Banks had been taking her time.

At the turn of the millennium D’Angelo released his second album Voodoo, a dense and smooth fusion of soul, jazz and hip-hop that was hailed as an instant classic, a bold new direction in contemporary R&B, and the product of a songwriter and musician at the height of his powers. People couldn’t wait to see what the man behind it would do next. But wait they did, and after nearly 15 years away from the limelight, D’Angelo has released his third album, and first with new backing band The Vanguard, Black Messiah.

The album picks up where Voodoo left off, incorporating the same laid back, just-behind-the-beat groove that made that album so unique and drawing from a wider range of styles, moods and instruments to create an even more diverse and impressive listen. Lyrically, it draws from the events of the past 15 years, often returning to themes of war and civil unrest. D actually pushed the album’s release ahead in the wake of the recent shootings of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, and the songs were written in the context of worldwide protest and international conflict. It’s incredible to think how much has happened in the space of 15 years, and D has leapt on the opportunity to speak his mind through his music.

The first half of the album finds D’Angelo at his most eclectic. Lead track “Ain’t That Easy” begins with a slightly uneasy southern blues feel, D’s familiar multitracked and oblique vocal lines clashing with the fuzzed-out guitar tone all the while anchored by a tight bassline, before moving into a chorus that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Blackstreet album. “1000 Deaths” contains dark and foreboding lyrics about a soldier’s anticipation of a battle. The music follows the theme, never entirely settling down and seeming to run on barely restrained adrenaline.

“The Charade” plays like a reimagining of Sign O’ the Times-era Prince, with an urgent drum beat and overlapping guitar and piano lines surrounding Kendra Foster’s world-weary and introspective lyrics: “All we wanted was a chance to talk/’Stead we only got outlined in chalk”. “Sugah Daddy” finds D experimenting with many different vocal timbres and registers, and also has what sounds like a mouthpiece solo on the back end. “Really Love” somehow manages to combine New Orleans jazz and manouche all reimagined in the context of an R&B slow jam.

Two-parter “Back to the Future” begins with an odd pizzicato keyboard sound, slowly building into a tentative and skeletal jam, with lyrics about his emergence from self-imposed musical exile, and a sense of longing for the past. He makes passing reference to his uneasiness with being considered a sex symbol at the height of his fame, and the role it played in his hiatus: “So if you’re wondering about the shape I’m in/I hope it ain’t my abdomen that you’re referring to”.

“Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is a reflection on and lamentation of recent times, calling on everyone to find their place and purpose in the midst of global and national crisis, while “Prayer” calls upon God and religion for help, amidst a jerky and hazy instrumental and the occasional church bell. This is the only point where the album really falters; the song feels somewhat forced and directionless, while the lyrics don’t bring any new dimension to the age-old theme of salvation and redemption.

The final third of the album is a more understated affair. “Betray My Heart” is a breezy jazz cut, with brisk rhythm guitar and dexterous organ lines skittering throughout. “The Door” is similarly light; built around an acoustic guitar, handclaps and whistling, it sounds like it’d be more at home on a back porch than a bedroom. The piano-led “Another Life” closes the album on an expressive and soulful note, channeling Erykah Badu and featuring ?uestlove at his funkiest. This song in particular highlights the clear, beautiful piano tone that permeates the whole album.

Despite its long gestation period, Black Messiah succeeds where other “development hell” albums have failed, simply because it keeps D’Angelo’s singular voice. Nobody has been brought in to rush its production, and it isn’t weighed down by dozens of guest appearances; we’re hearing the album as D wants us to hear it, in part thanks to incredibly patient and supportive long-time collaborators such as ?uestlove and Q-Tip. And in a way, the album couldn’t have come at a better time. The last year or so has seen a resurgence in the soul and funk sounds of the 70’s and 80’s, and this renaissance looks likely to carry on, at least for a while. What better time than now for D’Angelo to turn everything on its head once again?

Black Messiah is available to stream on Spotify, and to purchase on iTunes. Physical copies of the album can be pre-ordered via MyPlay Direct.

Cover art of Stomachaches

FrnkIero – Stomachaches

As promised, My Chemical Romance have carried on, as past member Frank Iero released his debut album in late August. Entitled Stomachaches, Iero continues his own legacy of his angst aesthetic after the demise of the 10 year commitment to My Chemical Romance.

The album begins with “All I want Is Nothing”, a brilliant opener to the energetic and raw 12 track album. The energy within the opener creates the aura of angsty aggression transporting you back to your teenage years of defying authority and hating the world.

The album represents Iero’s stinted growth as a musician post-MCR, drawing on various articles of previous works and illustrates his difficulty to expand his style. I found that Joyriding pays homage to Iero’s first band Pencey Prep. The song is very juvenile and utilizes a similar dynamic range, production techniques, and simplicity of composition.

Smoke Rings reflects back on Iero’s time as front man of LeATHERMOUTH, channeling aggressive guitar tones and unapologetic yelling towards and within the climax of the piece, reinforcing Iero’s un-evolving musical aesthetic of pent-up angst against a soundscape of overdriven guitars and belting drums. Although, there was a pleasant surprise signifying a sign of evolution; She’s the prettiest girl at the party and she can prove it with a solid Right Hook, seems heavily inspired by Bright Eyes. From the main riff, reflecting the tribulations of the teen years, to Iero’s voice resembling that of Connor Oberst, and the great changes in dynamics throughout, the piece brings a fresh light onto Iero’s too-familiar sound.

The album attempts to hit a high mark and evoke emotive aggression within the listener, but fails to do so. Limited experimentation within the album really highlights Iero’s stinted musical growth, in reference to his previous bands. Iero utilizes simple composition and instrumentation to express his aggression and angst, but he seems to be repeating his own history. Iero does not bring anything new to the table and therefore makes Stomachaches seem like something you have heard before, but haven’t.

When I sat down to listen to the album what I expected was an album that didn’t stray very far from angsty guitars and stick-it-to-the-man lyrics. What I got, was a reasonably versatile album where Iero demonstrates his ability to challenge and control dynamics, and experiment with composition and structure. Stitches provides a particularly bass driven jam that brings to mind images of dark alleyways and cigarette smoke. Stitches contrasts strongly against Stage Four Fear of Trying, a simple melody and harmony track, illustrating Iero’s versatility between loud aggressively expressive tracks, and more mellow tracks that introduce a soft side to FrnkIero. I was very pleased to experience quieter tracks amongst the loud and aggressive ones.

In light of Iero’s unchanging aesthetic, there remains some standout songs to join the likings of past successes. I thoroughly enjoyed Weighted, the well-chosen single, with an anthem-like vibe and desire for adolescence; She’s the prettiest Girl and the party and she can prove it with a solid Right Hook, as Iero’s interpretation of Bright Eyes; and Where do we Belong? Anywhere but Here, central to Iero’s collection of great angsty songs.

FrnkIero And The Celebration’s debut album Stomachaches exemplifies Iero’s unchanging personal aesthetic which can please or bore. I personally found the album a representation of Iero’s lack of growth and development as a musician, but enjoyed the versatility and a few songs on the album. The album reaches the same status as Iero’s other side projects, a result of the desire to maintain an aesthetic.

Cover Art for Husky's Ruckers Hill

Husky – Rucker’s Hill

Husky, the award winning Melbournian indie folk band have returned with their second album Ruckers Hill. After three years of touring, writing and recording, Husky released Ruckers Hill on the 17th of October, filling the ears and hearts of many with gentle harmonies and soothing guitars.

The album begins with a swelling guitar chord and soft harmonies, the title track Ruckers Hill, personifies the feeling of arriving home late after a big night out. The first track is very well placed, as it introduces the audience to the album and acts as a transition from their debut album Forever So to Ruckers Hill. The track sets the pace for the entire album that swells between slow and toe-tapping tempo.

The album expresses Husky’s growth as a band through the extended instrumentation with the emphasis on percussion and piano. Along with the growth in instrumentation, Husky has developed their style in dynamic range. The dynamic range within their second album varies greatly from their debut that reflects delicate emotions through softness and delicacy within music. The greater dynamic range results catharsis within the listener, as seen in For to Make a Lead Weight Float, in the bridge section. Both the greater instrumentation and control over dynamics allows the album to have a greater emotive effect within the audience.

The album feels quite archaic, as though the album takes you on a journey into a past, like you’re traveling with a nomad, trekking through foot hills, forests, and visiting villages spreading stories through word and song. The archaic feeling is present throughout the entire album but is particularly noticeable in Mirror, the heavily story-based lyrics accompanied by guitar and simple percussion, it just feels aged, and Husky sounds so wise, as though they are a nomad, a traveler.

The album maintains elements that are unique to Husky. The lyrical imagery and story-telling characterized by Husky still remains in their second album. Wild and Free holds the most lyrical imagery, “I’ll wait in the car / But don’t go too far / it’s dark out there / the lake has turned to ice / but the snow looks so nice / all through your hair / my headlights light up the darkness.” This lyrical imagery is similar to their debut album, a small joy for the album which has greatly moved towards metaphors, and symbols. The archaic aura matched with the choice to write with metaphors and symbols illustrate Husky’s gaining musical maturity.

Despite the merits, the album holds little cohesion in comparison to their previous album Forever So, that focused on similar issues and listened as though a singular story, with songs that linked together. Ruckers Hill does not withhold that same cohesion. The album feels like a collection of songs compiled together, capturing several moments of time over a long time period.

The long awaited album achieved an outstanding reception by this reviewer. I loved this album; it feels like arriving home after a long journey. I enjoyed the instrumentation and emotional issues confronted within each song. I found this album refreshing, I enjoyed the addition of pace. The lack of cohesion is the only demerit I can find within this album. For me Ruckers Hill remains on par with their debut album. My favourite tracks include, Ruckers Hill, I’m Not Coming Back, Wild and Free, and Leaner Days. The album documents Husky’s maturing and recognizable sound.

Bombay Bicycle Club Concert 4

Bombay Bicycle Club at the Forum, Melbourne

 

A Familiar Kind Of Fix

Bombay Bicycle Club at the Forum Melbourne, Thursday 26th September

Coming off the back of the festival circuit following the release of their new album, Luna, Bombay Bicycle Club didn’t seem any worse for wear after their lengthy stage tour. “We’re so glad to have a crowd to ourselves again”, proclaimed a high-spirited Jack Steadman, vocalist and frontman.

Bombay Bicycle Club Concert 1

Steadman’s musical versatility shines live

Presiding over the enraptured audience of the Forum, the Roman decor an elegant background for the at ease and on point Londoners. To label the group with a specific genre would be a daunting task; over the course of three albums the band has experimented with folk, indie rock and world music. Their latest release doesn’t seem like an evolution, but a cumulative experience of how diverse this band’s tastes can be. And that comes across especially so live, with the band blending between songs such as the electronic synth pop hit Carry Me and the eastern world music influenced Feel, BBC’s performances feel confident and effortless. The crowd responding accordingly to the mood dictated to them, BBC conducted a journey through tracks ranging from their debut album to their latest release, with their well-know debut singles still holding a fresh feeling to this day. That can only speak for the showmanship and confidence that a quality group can pull off.

[quote]

“We promise it won’t be as long before we’re back again, this time”

-Jack Steadman

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The opening sets by guests East and City Calm Down, though sometimes hit or miss, were enjoyable and vaguely interesting. East, a female headed neo-rock outfit, took stems from the likes of classic and grunge rockers while embracing the modern rock femme fatale such as the likes of Paramore or The Hundred In The Hands. Sometimes East felt slightly unsure of itself, but overall carried out an enjoyable gig, yet not entirely memorable. Following up on this were four piece electronic group, City Calm Down. Strands of Bryan Ferry, The Cure and New Order were thoroughly apparent in the band’s songwriting. And that’s not a bad thing. The band pulled it off with a nostalgic feeling that was entirely pleasurable. Definitely a highlight and one to watch.

Bombay Bicycle Club concert 3

BBC’s live performances portray a confident and playful group

Overall, it’s good to see BBC’s hectic festival circuit hadn’t left a noticeable strain on the band. The crowd seemed to be in the groups’s hands, singing the lyrics with ease to almost every song. And BBC responded in turn putting on a show filled with energy and sincerity. “It’s been a couple of years since we’ve played here, Melbourne,” frontman Jack Steadman smiled to an adoring crowd, “We promise it won’t be as long before we’re back again, this time.”

Bombay Bicycle Club Concert 2

In the midst of a high energy show, a low-key number brought about an intimate moment between band and crowd

 

Photos courtesy of Gabriela Degwitz (mareundarum.tumblr.com)

 

Swans - To Be Kind

Swans – To Be Kind

Coming off the unanimous acclaim of The Seer and an entire discography that remains a circlejerk for the high-minded, not only does a reputation proceed the Swans, but brings with it weighty expectations.  I guess the question with their most recent release, To Be Kind, is not whether it’s good, rather to what to extent. More specifically, the question is: does it meet the hype? I don’t want to leave any of you taught in suspense, so I’ll let you in on a secret: it sure as hell does, but that doesn’t go without reservations.

Aesthetically, the album mirrors both its predecessor and other greats from the post-rock/experimental rock genre bracket, coupling the intricate layering of Spiritualized at their peak with the escalation and presence of Godspeed! You Black Emperor; both acts whose sound they pioneered. Fortunately, Swans have the presence of mind to avoid some of the genres biggest pitfalls, a la the emasculating effect Sigur Ros can have at times, staying true to their noisier ‘no-wave’ roots (see Oxygen and its infectious riff). These links come to surface in the tracks Some Things We Do and their thirty minute opus that is Bring The Sun/Toussaint L’Overture. 

Sharing similarities with The Seer’s eponymous song, Bring the Sun brings into question of how long is too long for a single track, especially in the world of contemporary music where convenience and immediacy are paramount. Where its length might seem appealing to some, giving off the grandeur and ‘artistic integrity’ every critic salivates over, it might seem daunting to others, devolving into a more of chore than an actually enjoyable experience. For example, I feel neither Kristen Supine nor Nathalie Neal justify their length, but perhaps these are just the trappings of a genre built on being longwinded. Surprisingly, for both this track and the album as a whole, its length is redeemed by its droning flow that leads the listener from section to section fluidly, something I believe Tim Hecker’s release, Virgins, failed to do for me last year. In this, what would otherwise be a labouring experience actually becomes enjoyable, which I have to admit is something of a triumph. Even if at times it can head up its own ass and get lost in there.

However, what is not exactly an achievement on this LP is its lyricism, which stands out as its most lack-luster element for me. Whilst arguably complimenting the sonic repetitively of each track, Michael Gira’s nervous whisper of a chant falls short of making me feel or think much at all, blurring into obscurity as just another string of sounds.

Again, I’d like to stress, I’m only nitpicking with these points, as all in all, the album is a complete experience from start to finish and looks poised to take my album of the year. In a sentence, To be Kind does it for me because it lingers, not in the way a catchy pop hook does, or some powerful lyric that hangs in your mind, but in the same way your flannel clad hipster friend does, constantly asking whether you’ve given To be Kind a listen yet. He only means well.

If you like: Godspeed! You Black Emperor with an edgier buzzcut, or Slint with ever so slightly more regular rhythms.

Favourite Tracks: Bring The Sun / Toussaint L’Overture, Screen Shot, Oxygen, A Little God in My Hands

Least Favourite Tracks: None, shit’s sick.

Rating: 4.5 baby faces out of 5  

The Hives – Lex Hives

If you caught the last edition of the Eurovision Song Contest, then you’ll already know that Swedish music is currently ready to put you in a state of ‘Euphoria’. Adding to that wave of sound is another release from one of Scandinavia’s favourite rockers The Hives, taking to shelves with a much needed heavy thump with their fifth full-length album Lex Hives.

The battle to get Lex Hives into distribution hasn’t been an easy one for lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, bassist Dr. Matt Destruction and the rest of the band. After touring with their previous album The Black And White Album for nearly three years, and deciding to part ways with their previous label, the band chose to produce and release Lex Hives independently.

The battle to get Lex Hives into ears has, however, has been worth it. The Hives have gifted the music community another rock-solid record. From the opening prelude ‘Come On!’, a straight up-and-down garage rock rallying cry, the course is set for the kind of high energy, high tempo sounds that The Hives always seem so willing to provide through their albums and their live shows.

The influences that help construct Lex Hives are as diverse as they are numerous. The first single from the album, ‘Go Right Ahead’, draws on the Electric Light Orchestra’s classic ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ so much that ELO songwriter Jeff Lynne receives a co-writing credit for the track. Other influences are far more subtle. A guitar riff in ‘I Want More’ sounds almost surreptitiously like the classic riff from ACDC’s ‘Back In Black’. ‘Wait A Minute’ could easily stand as a 21st century garage revamp of the classic doo-wop of the fifties and sixties. And ‘Without The Money’ rides a blues riff that is enough to make Jack White turn green with envy.

Through all this however, in no way does it ever have any more impact than an allusive homage, and to cap off the album, The Hives inject a few tracks of their own distinct style. ‘If I Had A Cent’ and ‘1000 Answers’ are perfect examples, and while it doesn’t match successes from previous albums like ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ or ‘Two Timing Touch And Broken Bones’, it undoubtedly hails from the same garage punk roots that Hives fans have grown to know, love, and expect.

Lex Hives isn’t an album that is going to change the world. It won’t make your list of top ten of albums for 2012. It won’t even go as far as challenging your expectations. But in a music landscape where Lou Reed gets together with Metallica for a spoken-word circlejerk, and Iggy Pop is releasing French covers, surely the need for classic, dumb, hi-tempo rock like the offerings in Lex Hives is higher than ever. Even if just for the simple reason that we need something to combat the pop pap that Eurovision dredges up each and every year. This is one situation in which a formulaic album is not necessarily a bad thing.

Prince - Funknroll

Prince – FUNKNROLL

Wow, a new Prince song! Bet it’s as good as Little Red Corvette!” That’s a sentence nobody’s heard in 25 years.

The fact is, since his critical and commercial domination throughout the 80’s, the Purple One has been more or less doing whatever the hell he wants, and that only occasionally lines up with what everybody else wants to hear. Which is a shame, because for all its inconsistencies His Royal Badness’ career from the 90’s onwards has produced some great music.

Which brings us to FUNKNROLL, the latest track to drop from Prince‘s upcoming album Art Official Age (a different version of the track will also appear on Plectrum Electrum, the debut release of his new band 3rdEyeGirl).

The track opens with Prince’s band freaking out, an audience freaking out along with them in the background, before cutting to a clucking drum machine and settling into a stripped-back groove with occasional guitar licks, hand claps and chants of “Funk! Roll!” It’s the coolest thing Prince has done in years, updating the minimalist funk of Kiss and the sped-up-tape vocals of U Got the Look without relying too heavily on past triumphs.

But the biggest surprise comes towards the end when the track suddenly takes a left turn into dance music, with a sample of Prince yelling “I don’t really care what y’all be doing” riding up against pounding drums and swirling keyboard lines.

Unfortunately the song is let down by the lyrics, which are about as inane as they come. Between the line “Whether U R comin’ by bus or train/Shade throwers hatin’ like they goin’ insane” and the part where Prince tells you to party like you’re never going to party again (where have I heard that before?) you’re not going to get a whole lot of insight out of this track.

All in all the song is at once totally bizarre and catchy as hell. And ultimately, that’s what you look for in a Prince song. The Kid’s never stopped throwing new ideas at the wall, and thankfully most of what he tries here sticks.

 

FUNKNROLL is available on Amazon and iTunes. A live version with Prince’s full band is up on YouTube at time of writing, but there’s no telling how long it will stay there. Art Official Age and Plectrum Electrum are both out September 26th.

 

Sierra performing Suburban Fame

Sierra – Suburban Fame

Suburban Fame is the new single from Mount Gambier melodic/post-hardcore outfit Sierra, taken from their upcoming EP Reality Redefined. The music video features beautiful cinematography and the track itself showcases  a much more mature and melodic sound than their previous works.
Oh, and Brett has a beard now, sweet as.

Starting with a series of soft, clean guitar strums with just the right amount of reverb, Suburban Fame quickly kicks off into a mid-paced groove with Brett (vocals) hitting you with a catchy vocal hook and melody.

“Hours at night, set aside, medicate me”

Sierra always stuck out to me in the scene due to their great poetic lyrics, which is sometimes overlooked within the genre. The vocal performance is reminiscent of their earlier work Imagery, yet definitely feels a bit more relaxed, with just the right amount of rasp and grit to pull the emotive angle of the song. Big ups on the vocal melody too, which sits really well with the rest of the track, and keeps the listener interested.

In terms of instrumentation, the song switches from clean, twangy verse sections, to driving smooth distortion, and back again. Dynamically, the song has quite a bit of changes, with the chorus pulling the track up whilst still holding the groove. The guitars work well, dropping in and out and changing textures to keep things interesting.

Kristian (drums) does a great job in holding down the feel of the track, and is tight and deliberate with his fills, not overplaying or underplaying. The highlight of this song for me is definitely the guitar solo at the two and a half minute mark, it almost comes out from nowhere and makes the whole song explode.

The production is clean, crisp and clear, and makes the song enjoyable to listen to again and again.

Overall, Sierra have hit the nail on the head, mixing the right amounts of melodic and post-hardcore elements to create a powerful and driving track. If this is anything to go by, the EP is going to be good.

Earl

St Jerome’s Laneway Festival 2014

Earl

This is the first in a (hopefully) series of gig/album/festival/night out reviews for you denizens of Radio Monash. We are back in the criticism game. Before we start: yes, I know this is an extremely late review, but we have had some issues with our website we have wanted to sort out before we started uploading new content.

Fuck, I’m going to miss Run the Jewels… a night at the Mercat had left me a broken, hungover man. The fear of missing Killer Mike and EL-P’s performance throws me out of bed and onto a train full of op-shop party shirts, high-waisted jean shorts and tinnies of Koppaberg… there is no doubt where I am going, I am going to Foot-as-grey, for the 11th iteration of St Jerome’s Laneway Festival.

I want to catch Run The Jewels so much I skip my pho, and head straight into the festival towards the gorgeous Red Bull Future classic stage. And let me tell you what, it was the right decision to make. With its focus on individual delivery, hip-hop needs a sense of enthusiasm and energy to come off well – and I have never seen two guys so hyped up to be rapping to a bunch of sweaty white guys at two in the afternoon. Flying through their eponymous album (and announcing a second to come this year), these guys seem to be having the time of their lives, even inviting a rabid fan, Chuckie, onstage giving him his 30 seconds of fame before he couldn’t take the hint to leave and had to be escorted offstage. Chuckie, you are a total flog. Over a tinnie of pale ale, I wonder if they were put on too early, but they set a great mood for the rest of the day.

Rushing up to catch my friend at the Moreland St stage, I catch the end of post-punk revivalist grrrls Savages. The energy and excitement of RTJ is really highlighted by the uninspired act of Patti and Robert Smith’s love children. Maybe it’s the sun, but they just don’t seem into it at all.

For this very Australian weather, we feel somewhat obliged to catch the very Australian band Dick Diver at the amphitheatre of the River Stage (sidenote: the festival setting was pretty on point for all stages except the Dean Turner Stage which felt pretty cramped). They play lovely inoffensive dolewave, providing some sense of escapism to the over-pressured Gen-Y crowd, who presumably would like to be sitting in their underwear smoking bongs in an inner north sharehouse all day rather than working unpaid internships. But all in all an enjoyable set, and personal grumbles aside (Dick Diver distracts Al Mofort from releasing more music with Total Control Or Straightjacket Nation) it’s great to see these guys succeeding.

For more fun fun in the sun sun, we catch the end of Kiwis Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Not much has changed since they were here for Meredith – nice psych-ey jams to roast in the sun to (next year more shade please) with a Cascade Pale Ale in hand (MB’s next year please)

At this point I retire to sit under the bridge with some hot wings (props to Laneway for giving us decent food instead of your usual festival fare) to watch the stream of people attempting to sneak into the festival – the Chinese restaurant back entrance of the past has been replaced with the train line jump. The security kept it mainly under wraps. My highlight of the festival nearly went to seeing the guy who made intense eye contact with the guard for 30 seconds before doing the (short-lived) mad dash.

The brutal sun was the downfall of Mount Kimbie as well, with the sun sucking energy, and providing too harsh of an environment for this reviewer. Shade is found, festival buddies are made – they force me to write ‘too many bitties’ in my notes for the act (miss u Joc). With a set leaning towards more recent material, the crowd lapped it up, collectively losing their proverbial when King Krule came on stage then on top of the crowd, with the energy retaining for a droning, heavy rendition of Fields off their debut album Crooks and Lovers.

Earl Sweatshirt seems to outwardly dislike the audience, with much antagonising but it plays well in part of the Odd Future shtick. His set was mostly a whirlwind of verses from the guest-heavy Doris, with the obligatory Earl from his debut mixtape – setting the crowd off into a total frenzy. He might seem like a prick but goddamnit, this kid can rap. Last sighted Heinekin in hand with some randoms in a Footscray Apartment, living the dream.

Maybe because it was because I had listened to Float On five times in a row in the morning, or maybe it was because he had cracked the shits because of the blown out speakers that shortened his set by around 15 minutes, but there was a vibe that Detroit party boy Danny Brown he just didn’t want to be there, and he was putting on his jester act because he felt obligated to. His set lacked anything from side A of old, disregarding the darker side of his person. But hey, it’s a festival – his party game is strong and you cannot compete with how infectious he is live.

Cue a mad rush back down to catch the ambient rave of Four Tet, which could be summed up in one smiley  :’)

Nobody does an ambient rave like Kieran Hebden and he was a perfect way to finish off the day.

All in all, Laneway was a success – the people putting the festival know what they are doing, they know their audience, so there is well curated grounds, food, drink and lineup. It is possibly the only one day festival where the fact it’s a festival won’t stop me from going.

Review – James Maine

Photography-Aaron Webber

Mad Props: Great food and great drinks. Good festival grounds, great linneup, No Bogans!!!

Pick up your game: Five dollar bottles of water are bullshit, especially on a 36 degree day, some minor sound issue

Would I Return: If there was a good lineup, without a doubt. I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience.

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Singles Review 01/08/12

SINGLE OF THE WEEK
(Well, actually single of a couple of weeks ago, but it’s still great)
Menomena – Heavy Is As Heavy Does
The first taste of the Portland duo’s upcoming is a stark melancholic number, dealing with genetic pessimism. The deeply running heavy hearts of Justin Harris’ family evoke a stark lyricism and the theatrical piano combine to form a gorgeous, but heart-wrenching single.
“Heavy are the branches, hanging from my fucked up family tree” – Chills. Moms is out September 18.

Elton Versus Pnau – Good Morning To The Night
It shouldn’t work…and it doesn’t.
Elton John and Pnau collide and make something not quite as good as either of their originals.

The Shins – It’s Only Life
James Mercer’s output has never quite really done anything for me personally. This isn’t anything different to what The Shins have ever done, sweet, slightly melancholic and never really goes anywhere. If that’s your boat, go for it.

Bloc Party – Octopus
It seems the four piece have finally got it together. By got it together, I mean they got the experimenting with electronic music, via Kele Okereke’s solo project and Bloc Party’s second and third album’s A Weekend in The City and Intimacy. This is Silent Alarm but poppier. If you’re not excited for Four, you should be.

Deerhoof – The Trouble with Candyhands
Most of Deerhoof’s stuff whilst being incredibly catchy, leaves me scratching my head with a sense of ‘What did I just listen to?’
The Trouble with Candyhands is not different in the slightest, being a catchy brass driven number. The new album Breakup Song is out September 3.

Animal Collective – Today’s Supernatural
Another to file under ‘What did I just listen to?’, Animal Collective’s latest single takes the pop sensibilities of their breakout effort, Merriweather Post Pavilion, and turns it on it’s head, stepping back more towards their Strawberry Jam/Sung Tongs sound. Still not sure if it’s any good or not, but it’s unmistakeably Animal Collective.

Far East Movement – Turn Up The Love ft. Cover Drive
From those established geniuses of popular music, Far East Movement, who gave us Shakespearean hooks such as ‘Feeling so fly, like a G6’ comes the next big single, ‘Turn Up The Love’. From the chorus of “We are one tonight and we breathing in the same air, So turn up the love, Turn up the love, We turnin’ up the love” Far East Movement have constructed a deeply affecting piece of modern art.
But don’t believe what I have to say, look at this still from the accompanying video:
Far East Morons
Truly the voices of a generation.

Justice – New Lands
Normally, I’d advise avoiding, as it sounds like Daft Punk trying to make music for the evening sports program slow-mo montage music, but doesn’t quite work as those songs need to be exciting and not as dull as this is, but the video is brilliant. Put it on mute and put Eye of the Tiger over the top or something.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK
PSY – Gangnam Style

If you haven’t seen this video by now, it makes all other K-Pop videos pale in comparison with weirdness and is just a lot of fun.