Saturday, November 28, 2009

CD Review: THE STRAY - THE HOTTS FOR COLD PEOPLE

(Neika Records)

Despite being only four songs long, The Stray's debut EP The Hotts for Cold People manages to move from out-and-out sugary pop thrills (Birthday City) to a forlorn Motels-like relationship post mortem (Pretty From the Back), which unsurprisingly, has already picked up Triple J play. Produced with a bright fervour by the near-legendary Chris Scallan (The Avalanches, Cut Copy, John Farnham, David Bridie), the songs strike a balance of being insanely catchy while not wearing out their welcome. Vocalist Misty Fox has enough style and personality to fuel several girl groups, and that she's as good a singer as she is a model is no small compliment. By day a 'Dealette' on the TV show Deal or no Deal it should give her comfort to know that yes, she can give up the day job if this release is anything to go by. First song and single Chuck on the Mic kicks off with a burning riff and essentially a lot of nonsense lyrics which sound as if someone has taken a bunch of YouTube comments about a cheerleading routine, translated them into Japanese and back again, which gives you some idea of the Go! Team/Gossip style flavour of garage pop we have here. 
It won't appeal to everyone but there is enough going on to make any label pay attention. Musically, the high point comes with the aptly titled Pop and it's infectious complex beat and Fox's dreamy seductive tones. There is so much drive to have a good time that the style over substance argument is redundnat, as viewing hter filmclips should testify. Overall this is a bold debut and given time there is every reason to thnik that success awaits. Get hold of this now and be impressed.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Live Review: JENS LEKMAN, SLY HATS

Monday, January 14, 2008 
The Toff in Town

With The Toff setting seats in tight rows, resembling a school stage production, and the audience like anxious parents, the childlike melodies of Sly Hats seem perfectly set. There is enough frisson in the audience to make the outside temperature seem arctic tonight such is the word-of-mouth hype about this show. Leading this perfectly cast support act, Geoff O'Connor pulls off quite a feat maintaining the audience's attention for the duration of his brilliant set, so keen are we to get our first glimpse of Scan-indie-navian royalty.

Accompanied by Jess Venables on cello and Guy Blackman on Rhodes piano, the Sly Hats push warm, bubbling cocoons; amazingly rendering the songs even more intimate than their album versions. Terrified sees Jess duetting with Geoff to great effect, particularly during the closing line 'I want to be terrified of you', which sees her making a Susannah Hoffs-like doe-eyed sideways glance to Geoff as he gazes at his fingers on the guitar; pop heaven. As is their version of the title track from his album Liquorice Nights, seemingly tailored for this venue with this lineup at this time. After closing with a stellar double of Surely It's Good and I'm So Ready (To Fake it for You) in which O'Connor's obtuse and sincere lyrics have never been more discernible and his banter slightly less rushed, the trio leave to cheers and clapping that seem to humble the already humble O'Connor.

While The Left Banke's Too Much On My Mind plays over the PA, the red curtains part and Jens (JENS!) appears, singing along with violinist Nick and the welcome return of Jess behind her cello. After 20-odd seconds of rapturous applause he seamlessly breaks into Black Cab which samples The Left Banke's song, a trick he does masterfully again at the gig's close with The Opposite of Hallelujah and Chairmen Of The Board's Gimme Just A Little More Time. Between these high points (possibly only bettered by his opening salvo: "Nice to be here in Melbourne, where I live."which elicits huge cheers), we are treated to unparalleled charisma, masterful storytelling and songs embellished with further background stories and more Richman-esque repartee. Mercifully the sound is crystal clear and we don't miss a word of Jens' gorgeously illustrated stories. New song New Directions is a welcome and surprisingly upbeat ode to his recent departure from his native Gothenburg, as his is reluctant use of vocal looping that fleshes out several songs wonderfully. Postcard To Nina becomes a short story that happens to have a clap-backed chorus and some major 7th chords slipped underneath (as do most of Lekman's songs). Crowd involvement comes easily when he calls on us, and we gladly imitate his amplified heart during A Sweet Summer's Night On Hammer Hill. The disco of Sipping On The Sweet Nectar and the synth waves of Shirin aren't missed at all given their sensitive reinvention tonight thanks to the more than capable backing of the string duo. Maple Leaves is the gorgeously rendered Avalanches-esque encore and smiling faces are all that's left once the curtain finally falls. Welcome Jens. Stick around.


Live Review: THE ADULTS, MOE GRIZZLY, HATE CLUB, MIDNIGHT CALLER

Monday, January 14, 2008 
The Old Bar

This evening's lineup is a lesson in the power of broken rock and roll. With a glut of Tasmanians and ex-Tasmanians on the bill, it is telling just how many of the bands specialise in stripped-back discordant guitar squalls, how much they welcome uncontrolled feedback and the strong undercurrent of 'wrongness' and damaged will that there is in the song subjects. From the broken cymbal adorning Moe Grizzly's drum-kit, to the front of their guitar amp falling off part way through their set, to Hate Club's bottle-brush-to-the-brain screech and The Adults' jarring dynamic shifts, the feel of a relentless battle for assertion against a formidable world is palpable and in its way, a sorely-needed reminder that raw nerves are a powerful force.

Midnight Caller's primal energy comes as a blast of cleansing Nuggets-rock, pushing all those recently performing professionals out of short-term memory and replacing them with simple, burning drive. 'I feel like a parking meter on a Sunday afternoon' wails singer Pat Cross over brother Dan's killer bass riffing, bringing to mind all that was good about 90s underground rock. Much of the set is taken from their We Work The Shop album and serves to illustrate just how far out of touch JJJ are given that this is the sort of thing that ignited imaginations when they could still access them. Despite losing lyrics to the force of the music, the feel of salvation from ennui through the act of creation is there and closing song From The Start is a lesson in how to make a chugging mid-paced number rousing and not boring.

Hate Club follow and set about working a near Albini level of treble from the guitar, a level only matched by the bassist's phenomenal Bjelland-like screech. This band are all edge and adrenaline, with their guitarist appearing to be electrocuted with ever thrash of his instrument. "If you've tried killing yourself, try enjoying this song," he deadpans into the flopping mic. A gig this anti-melody and with songs only barely wrested back from feedback hell is exciting at first but soon becomes a bit samey, and, besides a promisingly Dinosaur Jr. start to a song Don't Go Anywhere soon brought to a close by a broken string, the indiscernible vocals meld the songs together. The energy however, is undeniable.

Self described Tasmanian blues-rock group Moe Grizzly exist on some unholy ground midway between Neu and ZZ Top and wallow in the filth therein. The primal garage howl of singer and (damn impressive) guitarist Reggie Morris - whose snail-paced imploring leaves you with little option but to go with him on these dark journeys - is a songwriter of oddly honest and effective force. With a guitar sound like breaking glass, Hannah Fitzgerald's swamp-beats and second guitarist Ben Consumer's muddy crunch, Moe Grizzly are a band unlikely to garner much attention but reward those who do seek them out. Dark and oddly groovy.

Last on the bill and playing their final gig come The Adults. The crowd are certainly on their side and their sound is a thing of awesome power, but here songs are secondary to the Almighty Riff. Noisy, screaming and full of dark spiky dissonance, what The Adults lack in subtlety they make up for in tightness, sounding twice as loud because of their occasional breaks to near silence, and driving lead guitar lines. It's hard to believe that these players aren't going to go onto something equally powerful and primal. Rock action was had.


Interview: BABY ANIMALS - ROARING BACK TO LIFE

Monday, January 14, 2008 

While Baby Animals might be irrevocably associated in the minds of most of us as being all over the radio 15 years ago, their recent reformation and release of an Unplugged-style album Il Grande Silencio is making steps to change that. Singer Suze DeMarchi, now living in sunny L.A, is taking the new album as more a sign the band's vitality than trumpeting past triumphs in a new genre, indeed, she was against the idea from the outset; "[Baby Animals' record label] Liberation approached me about four years ago about doing an acoustic record and I kept saying: 'Nah I'm not interested', I couldn't think of anything worse to be honest - I was thinking 'I don't want to do an acoustic record, I want to do a rock record, if we get back together we're going to do a rock record' - then I started talking more about who we could do with and I had a chat with [producer and friend] Justin Stanley and he made a couple of really great suggestions and I started getting more excited about it and I said 'alright, we'll do it'."

This about-face has resulted in an album that has garnered strong reviews full of praise at the musicianship of the band and the richness of DeMarchi's voice, though this seems already to be seen as a stepping stone for a band that is seeing a creative rebirth, and DeMarchi is already enthusiastic about their next release. Nowadays though, any enthusiasm has to be tempered with other responsibilities. "Getting back in the studio for me was a big sigh of relief, it was like: 'Ah NOW I know what I'm supposed to be doing'. I was initially reluctant for many reasons, but the main reason, to be honest with you, was that I was fearful of committing to something that is so time-consuming. If I'm going to do it I really want to be able to do it at a million miles an hour. I've got two kids now and I didn't want to leave them while I went on tour and I didn't want to bring them with me because it's expensive and it's hard on them. My little girl is at school and my little boy has just started school...it's hard. I spent a long time deliberating with myself: 'How do I do this?', 'What am I doing?', 'Am I crazy?'.

Since taking the plunge back into the world of rock, things have been moving fast for DeMarchi and the band who fell back into their roles with surprising ease. "It felt so great, it literally took us a week to record the album. A lot of the stuff we did all in one take, one song in the morning and another in the afternoon. Dave [Leslie, guitarist] played so well, he's been playing constantly, all over the place and it was really nice for him to slow down and play mandolin and some bluegrass. He's just a brilliant guitarist and I think we just need to make more records to ensure he gets the recognition he deserves."

That DeMarchi is not daunted by the idea of getting back on the road after this time away speaks volumes about her confidence and comfort in performing. "We got together a couple of months ago in Perth and had a week of playing together. It was really fun and that's when we decided to book some shows and get together again. I haven't played for years, literally, and I'm not nervous about playing at all, I'm just really excited and feel like it's a really good time for us to start playing together again because it's been a long time coming."
Those intervening years have seen her writing and singing constantly though in a far more domestic capacity, or, as she puts it: 'I sing around the house all the time, annoying everybody'. Her confidence as a performer and writer has remained undimmed despite more experience with shopping lists than setlists, but she isn't interested in trying to sound or write like she did when she first made her name; "I'm not trying to sound like anything, I'm just trying to hit the notes." she laughs. "I think it will take a few shows to get my voice back, hopefully not too many, but it's like riding a bike; you never forget. There are probably different things that motivate me to write now, you just have different experiences I guess, but it still comes from the same place, it still fills that need to put something down on paper if you see something that inspires you. I think the songs come from the same place they used to, but I don't know where that place is."
Wherever that place is it has supplied the band with songs that have become Australian jukebox standards. Just how good the songs the band wrote in their infancy are was a revelation to DeMarchi, the band and many who have heard Il Grande Silencio - surviving a genre shift is often deemed a hallmark of a well-written tune. "I was very surprised at how much we could do with them once we took them apart. I really wanted to reinvent them, so when Justin came up with the idea of doing One Word like a chain-gang song that's when I thought 'Wow, we can really do this'."

One of the lesser-known songs that stands out is Stitch, a song DeMarchi wrote long ago but never recorded, "Don't look for me now / I'm safe where I am / Happy and listed under another name." Boasting a nursery-rhyme melody that is built into a jangling country-ish ode to rebuilding your identity, you could hear it perfectly soundtracking a road movie. Satellite, a track from DeMarchi's solo album Telelove too shows a flair for arrangement and harmonies that indicates the attention to detail there beneath the accelerated rock that typifies much of her more famous output. DeMarchi puts this down to the influence of writing away from the band and with her husband, guitarist-extraordinaire Nuno Bettencourt. "He has a real harmonic sense and uses a lot of vocal harmonies in his music so that probably rubbed off on me. We've got a few songs we're working on now with the new record that we're really excited to do. It's just logistics that have been stopping and now we're all prepared to make it work because we want to do it so much and that's really coming through in the music. I can't wait."


Live Review: THE GO! TEAM, THE CRAYON FIELDS

Monday, January 14, 2008 
The Hi Fi Bar

Holy shit. Seriously, if you weren't there and you're reading this, know better for next time because this was THE most incredibly draining and exciting, spectacularly energetic and exuberant show since the last Go! Team gig in January 2006. If you can recall the experience of going on a rollercoaster as a child and feeling a little overexcited and nauseous at the end but wanting desperately to go again, only being forced to go 16 times, this gig is something like that. Hotter than a five-day sweat lodge in the outback, the crowd was rendered one tightly bound sea of sweat with some people floating in it - happy faces, waving arms and bouncing feet. The Go! Team marshal every youthful energetic urge present in the room and channel it directly back at us, 16 times over. Singer/rapper/aerobic-obsessive Ninja (though an acquired taste to some, particularly those who miss the unreproducible textures of their modern-classic debut Thunder Lightning Strike) is on form throughout the show, never missing a beat - even when using the microphone lead as a skipping rope or faking a broken leg. Her energy is matched by every member, though drummer Chi Fukami Taylor's occasional gentle lead-vocal forays are essential respites from the breakneck pace of the set and her A Version Of Myself is a crowd favourite. Guitarist Kaori Tsuchida can barely keep from smiling the entire set, mirroring many audience members as she hoes into her guitar. It was interesting to note an increased presence of Go! Team inventor Ian Parton, who has never seemed to be having more fun. Double kit action ensures the beats are upfront, upfront of the stage being the place the guys in the band love to dramatically jump to with dynamic shifts. Huddle Formation, Grip Like A Vice and the closing Keys To The City edge above other songs to become a highlight through sheer intensity, the last wringing all skerrick of energy from aching muscles in already spent bodies and ensuring THIS is the new yardstick by which exclamation marks in band names are measured.

So well do they achieve what they set out to do, exceed expectations and then flatten any hope of objective assessment through sheer force of positive will, funk beats, bouncing melodies and guitar squalls, this would already one of the best gigs of recent years, but what puts this show over the line and makes it such a resounding winner is the support set from The Crayon Fields. Like the proverbial calm before the storm and featuring almost entirely new songs (one, Birds Of Paradise hearteningly dedicated to Guy Blackman) The Crayon Fields quietly enthrall what should have been a very tough crowd. With a lot more lead guitar lines, less woodwind and xylophone, this set shows their new material is less likely to float by you as grab your attention and keep it, the songs sounding less adorned and more focussed and arresting because of it. An exciting set from one of our very finest bands and a great choice for opening act at a gig that will likely only be topped by the next Go! Team show.


Live review: THE ZEBRAS, SUMMER CATS, TREVOR LUDLOW AND THE HELLRAISERS

Saturday, January 05, 2008 
The Evelyn

Sweltering in the heat outside, melting inside, it's a wonder that the bands find the reserve to play the gig at all. Still, with 30-odd in the room, the Brisbane-based Trevor Ludlow and his Hellraisers keep things more lukewarm than fiery inferno. Mid-paced, major-chord folky-rock numbers that slip in one ear and out the other are countered well by the ironic and self-depreciating banter between songs - giving the band some sorely-needed individuality; "This is our first gig in Melbourne, go easy on us". We go easy on them, they go easy on us. The bass playing of The Zebras' Edwina Ewins boosts many otherwise forgettable tunes, though the last song, Another Face in The Crowd does contain some wry observations that indicate Ludlow's capacity to put some of his easy charm into his songs to great effect.

Following this, the bar is raised courtesy of one of Melbourne's more unappreciated bands, Summer Cats. With a one month old EP Scratching Post that sees only two songs taken from it, their profile is gradually growing and tonight they show they have a lot of quality material tucked away. The first thing that hits you live (or on CD) is singer Scott Stevens' voice, piercingly clear and effortlessly rising above the surging jangly cacophony. During their opening 'seamless segue' (as they call it) of three tracks, the personalities of each member become apparent. Scott Brewer's bookish guitar, Hugh Owens' nimble basslines, Julia Nesbit's almost invisible drumming so well does it blend into the songs, and Irene Drossinos' punching and simple bell-clear Korg melodies. The band peak on a thrilling version of first single Hush Puppy, new song Mystified and EP track Discotheque. Though the heat is pinning people to their chairs, the band rail on and finish with a storming Let's Go which alone would make these guys a band to get shares in.

The reason most are here though is for the long-running Zebras who tonight barely seem to be trying at all, yet unfailingly deliver quality tune after memorable melody. Beginning with Science Competition the tone is set and doesn't alter for the rest of the gig, and nor should it. The three-guitar texturing, spearheaded by singer Jeremy Cole's heavenly Rickenbacker arpeggios, are, along with the restraint displayed by the the band (and lack of restraint from drummer Matt Budan), turned into priceless assets here, and work terrifically well to propel songs like I Have Decided, Miss World and the almost Strokes-like driving throb of You Look Ready - hiring a limo for the hooks rather than driving them home. Despite the songs becoming a little formulaic about three-quarters of the way through, tonight's gig is still a lesson in concise and effective songwriting that people will be discovering for years to come; when you've got this formula, who's complaining?


Live Review: DEVASTATIONS, ROWLAND S. HOWARD

Wednesday, January 02, 2008 
The Toff in Town

Tonight's show is, unlike tonight's performers, a sell out. Rowland S. Howard's sporadic performances are no less compelling for their rarity and tonight he is on mesmerizing form with many in the crowd clearly agreeing. "Legend." yells one audience member after a sterling version of Shut Me Down "Legends are not here," he animatedly responds. "Legends are somewhere else. You can put your hand through them". "You're still really good." says another, eliciting a bashful smile from the dapper gentleman, "Well, with that in mind..." and so begins Undone. Taking most of the set from 2000's Teenage Snuff Film album, Howard still resembles a coathanger that just happens to have a lucid-dreaming guitarist hanging from it. There is a (literal and metaphorical) lightness about him when he's away from the microphone, and a resemblance to being mid-fix when singing his vivid accounts of spectacular journeys: "Into the dark darkness / I gave away myself / Tripped on the spiral stairs / Tumbling down the well / I fell on a soft spot / I'm white heat, I'm white hot" he sings on the truly galvanising closer Autoluminescent. Some might find him monotonous and dull given the absence of dynamics, his loose chording and accidental muting of some strings when hacking at his white Fender Jaguar, and frequent mumbling of lyrics, but his is a honest and rugged account of survival and many feel lucky to witness it, some came from afar as Japan to see this and were not disappointed.

The Devastations however, do not possess such authority, yet. When the curtains part it seems the bogan chic offspring of Hall and Oates have taken to the stage - the latest look for these chameleons. This appropriation of style extends to almost everything The Devs do, and with calculated aplomb they proceed to dispatch nine finely-tuned songs and a well-judged encore in under an hour, highlighting all three albums. Opening with Oh Me, Oh My, a song that seems to divide people into the 'hate it' and 'used to hate it, now I love it' camp (indeed most of the Devs songs sit somewhere between the artful sleaze of Sir and the hot noise of Jesus and Mary Chain which is an acquired taste), followed by the sinister and low-key Mistakes, the surging Take You Home and cold but compelling Previous Crimes. Overall though, while they do rely more on pedals and effects than most three-pieces, it's not to their detriment, it's the way they do what they do that may alienate some: a hint of "fuck we're cool" permeates their error-free show. New song Moves, Moves is disco-lite and seems lighter still for being followed by the long and Suicide-like The Pest which dazzles emptily. With a minimal encouragement (hey, we're cool too, we know the score) they return for the encore of What's A Place Like This Doing In A Girl Like You? and it's here that singer/bassist Conrad Standish graduates from the Dave Graney school of lounge-lizard charm and The Devs, despite their coldness and reliance on black humour, succeed.


Live Review: RICHARD IN YOUR MIND, OH MERCY

Friday, December 21, 2007 
Wesley Anne

Despite the relatively low turnout, it doesn't take much to get a warm feeling generated in The Empress, particularly when you're as engaging and amiable as the frontmen of these two bands. Oh Mercy seem to be doing little to draw attention to themselves of late but continue to pull out rip-roaring live performances such as tonight's. Even if most of the lyrics are lost to the bare-brick reverberation of the Wesley Anne's walls, there is clearly much to appreciate about Oh Mercy. Alexander Gow's presence is an absorbing one and the band more-than-ably back his lyrical forays into what is increasingly seeming like intelligent power pop on tracks like the blissful rush of Too Far To Please and swells and sighs of That's The Point. Expect their profile to take them up another notch come the release of their album. I am getting tired of saying these guys are ones to watch but there, I've said it again.

Richard In Your Mind play only their second ever Melbourne show (previous show the night before) and seem genuinely happy to be here. Winners of a slot on this 2007's BDO stage and riding on the back of their new (and very feted) CD The Future Prehistoric, there was a genuine joy at playing that showed no hint of the lethargy that some Sydney band's have after the 10-hour drive down. Opening with single The New Sun, their tightly reined psychedelic pop is as arresting as you could hope with singer Richard Cartwright's vital and buoyant lyrics channeling a near Perry Farrell- clarity that effortlessly propels the song toward it's jubilant finish. It's a warm, imaginatively original and positive start which the rest of the set maintains. Following song The Boat is Rocking is a more rhythmic number whose highlight is the detonation of a confetti cannon by remote control and flashes from a low-level strobe light that suddenly takes us the UFO club circa 1968. Nice.
The subtle use of samples and effects adds another edge to this already prodigious four-piece but never detracts from the plethora of ideas RIYM bring. Skeletons ends with a harrowing echoed scream, The Green Sun is fleshed out by some glorious delay guitar and bubbly synth work from Joel Werner and Conrad Richters respecitvely, Dark Energy with it's lyrics Cartwright laughingly admits were cribbed from a documentary (It seems / That dark energy / Will defeat gravity / And succeed in stretching the universe / Into oblivion) yet makes it into a gorgeous near-lament at the nature of physics are all high points. It's a short but dynamite set, and one that acts as a taster for their next shows here in April.


Interview: LOW - TALKING QUIET, SAYING SOMETHING

Tuesday, December 18, 2007 

Sitting in his garage by a small heater with 14 inches of snow outside, Alan Sparhawk is a man keen to arrive in Australia. "I wish I wasn't so white right now." he laughs. "I'm really excited about going to the beach but I know my skin type, I'll burn in 20 minutes and then I won't be able to go out in the sun again. I've been jogging for the last couple of years and I'm excited by the challenge of running trails in the heat there."
Sparhawk, singer and guitarist with minimalist indie-rock group Low - including his wife Mimi Parker and bassist Matt Livingston - has fond memories of their last show in 2006. Back in town to showcase two different albums over two consecutive nights, Sparhawk elaborates on performing shows. "Different cultures respond differently, you can't count on claps or cheers or requests. For a band like us if we're playing and there is a moment in a song which is still or quiet and you know that there are three or four hundred people there, and can hear the music still getting to the back of the room, bouncing off people's ears - that's the clearest indicator. It's only every third or fourth gig where these moments happen; you can't expect silence in all of the places we play." Surely there can't be too many other bands that measure gig success by an absence of response? But then Low have always gone their own way. Starting out as a joke band based on seeing how quiet the members could play, they soon became a welcome respite from a grunge-weary college scene, and by the time their fifth album Things We Lost in The Fire was released in 2001, Low had broken out from critics' Top 10s and into Gap ads, movie soundtracks and regular international tours. "When that one came out the British press and radio really grabbed it and that became the first record for lot of our fans. It makes sense to me that we're playing that one. At that time we were experimenting a lot and we were just naive enough and just adventurous enough to make that record...I never thought of it that way before but I think we were. We had a moment where we completely took the lid off and used whatever instruments we wanted to. We were working with Albini who had worked with us before, he was really sharp and we were able to work fast so we could try all kind of ideas."

Already having played Things We Lost In The Fire live several times in Britain, Sparhawk sees the intervening years as being necessary to play some of the songs they'd never tried before. "The British shows were fun. There were a few songs we had to go back and re-learn the second verse of and figure out what that guitar part was...but at least half the record we would pull out from time to time anyway. Right when it came out there were a bunch of songs we decided not to play live at all, we just couldn't figure out how to play them live or we weren't comfortable with them. But now they feel better now than they ever did, the distance can change that sometimes, I guess we were just to close to the process of creating them. It was never an uncomfortable thing to go back and revisit something and not be tied down to what it was at that point in time."

Maintaining the graceful intensity and slowness for which they're renown is something that would drain lesser bands. "There is certainly some second nature to it now, we've toured a lot and we've played this way a long time so it's really developed. I know that our perception of time going by is probably really off from a normal person's," he sheepishly suggests. "But at the same time there is this tendency for everything to have a weight to it so that when we play you have to be still and right on the edge of pushing yourself there for that to happen. Over time we've found different ways of doing that."
The idea of reinvention is something fans have become familiar with as Low have shifted sounds and themes over their last two releases. The Great Destroyer introduced a sonic heaviness, while Drums And Guns brings loops, electronics and, most notably, with finely judged lyrics like "All I can do is fight, even if I know you're right", a foray into the murky world of political commentary. Or does it?
"Without necessarily admitting to it being a political record, I certainly think the American situation has become more and more desperate and ridiculous; I can feel it boiling over." says Sparhawk with studied seriousness. "I've always grappled with 'how do I deal with this anger or this tension musically and lyrically' and always really shied away from that, mostly because the words you use to talk about politics in music are very cliche. We have to rewrite the language again and a new language has to be able to wake people up. The things we look at as cliche and anti-political from the 60s or whatnot, those things at their time were very powerful because that was the language that did move a certain amount of mass change. That was the last time America was capable of going out into the streets and getting pissed about something because man you cannot do that crap now. No way."

For hope, something that no change of US political leader can bring him, Sparhawk turns to Africa, and more specifically a Kenyan school which he raised the money to build (two Low Christmas gigs = one school) and then recently visited. While this might not be discernible in Low's music, it is certainly affecting Sparhawk as a person. "It was one of the most intense experiences I've ever had...I imagine if I ever meet Jesus it will be something like that. Going there has made me more unafraid. After having been there it was very easy to be bold, and to do things that were extreme and not hide behind things, on this record. Mainly that was from meeting the people, being inspired by them and seeing lives that are so much more positive and yet on the edge of what you and I think means security and balance. How much more fragile we are than these people living in mud huts, and how completely different their perception of continuity and time is." Possibly, you'd guess, closer to Low's than anyone else's.


Live Review: DR DOG, THE SMALLGOODS

Monday, December 17, 2007 
Northcote Social Club

There is a palpable sense of exhausted happiness tonight at the No So. With The Smallgoods' Lachlan Franklin establishing early on that some had made the trip from Meredith to catch the show (both bands also having made the trip today) and it being at the end of a long warm day, people are content to flollop on the floor to the spacey country swing of The Smallgoods. Sometimes sounding like a reigned-in No Other-era Gram Parsons while looking like five guys from Port Fairy who just happen to be able to throw together glorious homespun tunes, it's like lying in a field after a hard day's work staring at early stars. Opening with City Of Sky and winding through other highlights of their recent and recommended Down On The Farm album (including a languid and mighty South Of The River), The Smallgoods seem as comfortable and as familiar as their songs. The closing Traipse Through The Valley wins the "most appropriate song to listen to after Meredith" award and, were it not followed by one of the better gigs of recent memory, would have made a perfectly-judged closing song on tonight's entertainment.

As it stands though, the Doctor is IN. With the No So about half filled by some clued-in folk and recent converts, a cluster of dancing girls at the front and members of various bands making informed heckles throughout, Dr Dog put on one of the year's most ferverently played and warmly-received gigs. Occupying their own middle ground of soul, indie rock, yacht rock harmonies and with a nice line in in-jokes ('we're the American Cold Chisel' deadpans bassist and vocalist Toby Leaman) the energy levels never dip below nine as they spread smiles further and further across the faces of the rapt punters with each twisting turn of their never conventionally structured yet instantly familiar-sounding songs. Kicking off with My Old Ways track two from their new album We All Belong, Dr Dog set a revived 'woo-hoo'-ing and wildly applauding crowd into action. More fuel is given in the form of dynamite twin-lead guitar lines in Ain't It Strange the surging Keep A Friend proving that they are one tightly wound band and this is going to be one thrilling ride. With a soul-searing wail Leaman gives us their 'golden moldy' The World May Never Know which reveals their songwriting chops and ability to wring a positively Redding-like energy and conviction from the lyrics. Songs that sound mid-paced and worthy on CD are rendered phenomenal live due to their tight harmonising and sheer vitality; sweat pouring from their faces, actually making rivulets over Leaman's bass and their occasional resemblance to a ska band with their jumping and careering. When Architecture In Helsinki join them for their cover of Heart It Races (which is both indicative of Dr Dog's idiosyncratic approach to genre and totally misguiding as to what to expect from this gig) it becomes a good-natured shambles that still pulses with the fun that both bands bring to the song making it very hard not to smile along with them, but it's the force and unforced catchiness of the closing two tracks Say Something and Wake Up that inspires further noising of the crowd and excuses encores. A truly amazing show.


Live Review: LATERRA FESTIVAL

Monday, December 17, 2007 
Laterra Cafe, Johnson St. Collingwood

Intended to be the first of many more festivals of this kind, The Laterra Festival is a series of acoustic performers setting up in the middle of a cafe and doing their thing in a very appropriately back-to-basics way. Running from 2-9PM over two days, it's a grassroots effort like the Undercover Music Lover group simultaneously begun by organiser Peter Uhlenbruch whereby performers help each other overcome geography with reciprocal assistance when organising gigs. Given the minimal changeover times and the closeness of the performers to the punters, unlike other festivals there is little time to actually chat to pals or be too distracted by the many artworks and ramshackled make up of this place.

As for the festival itself, it's easy to imagine being in a post-Woodstock San Francisco cafe with dapper intellectuals, endearingly eccentric service and good coffee, particular if you're watching James and Paul from The Tea Leaves who channel early 70s singer-songwriter sounds and songs like you couldn't believe possible. Deft harmonies, plaintive honesty and a penchant for story-telling songs show these guys as masters of their humble craft, especially on songs like Slowly Fading Portrait and new track The Little Ones. Should James Taylor be planning a comeback, these guys should be writing his songs.

Fee Brown follows and makes the afternoon feel like late evening with her sultry, breathy voice and low-slung strumming. Her song Closer concerning an owl visiting her in dreams showcases her skewered lyrics and fluid guitar well while her other songs may work well with a band, it seems she's not all here today and a brave take on Cohen's Hallelujah reveals that once she gets out of husky range Brown's voice is really quite something.

From Geelong come The Boy Who Spoke Clouds who play more sacred music than folk music and provide a change of pace. With a drum, clarinet, banjo, guitar TBWSC succeed wonderfully in creating an atmosphere of soporific splendour. That singer Adam Casey is blessed with an affecting baritone and an infectious choking laugh sends their off-kilter paenes that seem to mainly concern physical decay and transcendence, into unthreatening but vaguely disturbing territory, particularly on A Hammer Hung To Hit Us and An Ending. A real find, especially if you like the soundtrack to The Wicker Man.

Owls Of The Swamp, AKA organiser Peter Uhlenbruch, plays a wonderfully languid and evocative set, with lyrics full of images of Iceland and stories between the songs giving us their context. Gorgeous versions of Meet Me At The BSI and a vocal and piano backed Heart Of The Mountain are highlights. The good-natured and chatty troubadour is on form, no question.

Chris Seagull is up next and in a league of his own from the off. Lyrics, rambling left hand on the guitar, trapped right hand, strong Ozzie accent and lyrics that twist and turn. "I don't feel bad for the city / Because bright flowers bloom from the burning ash". Droning chords, urbane couplets and a unfaltering honesty are his strong suits. "Do you want to hear a song about putting out the washing or the end of the world?" inquires Seagull of the people sitting near him. Luckily we get both. Closing with the apocalyptic End Could Come (sample lyric: "20 minute showers / I love the sound of falling bells and towers") he is a true maverick and could only be in the here and now.

Here and now is where you have to remind yourself you are when watching recent J-award nominee and Missy Higgins-showcased 'Next Big Thing' Leroy Lee. A formidably talented guitarist and songwriter, sounding and writing at least twice his years, with his Levi-ad looks and gentle Elliot Smith-esque voice and lyrics like "Time hung like an open chord," it all seems a bit too good to be true. On Her Way, Them Bad Apples and the closing Drawing Slow and Night Night, both with their skillful and minimal use of the delay pedal show that this is one guy who 2008 is likely to be very kind to and who radio is sure to love.

"Man, it blew me away when I walked in here." Says Young Werther "Everyone was good, and they all probably live around the corner.' Young Werther soon adds to this trend with his richly detailed pictures of people in nature and alone. Come On Here and Cornish Green show the tug between mind and land wonderfully, and the bell-voiced guitar backs it well.

Closing act of the evening, Jona Byron of The Boats is a man who is well versed in how to make an epic of the ordinary. His lengthy songs and lyrically evocative tales swell slowly and captivate what should be a drained audience, but we all listen rapt. The New Sad Song ("Fill my cup with sand / You'll bury my eyes / I won't see you my friend / Turn blood to water") shows a mind keen at work and with the upbeat closing All My Days Are Mad a broad pallet is proven and another talented individual joins the fold of Laterra. Here's to many more.


Live Review: OLD MAN RIVER, SPECIAL PATROL, SKIPPING GIRL VINEGAR

Wednesday, December 05, 2007 
East Brunswick Club

Despite a scant crowd who refuse to occupy the front half of the venue, Skipping Girl Vinegar manage a dynamite set fueled by sleep deprivation and unerring songwriting nous. Frontman Mark Lang is rapidly proving himself to be a name to watch, in fact you can happily predict that 2008 will be their biggest year given their steady rise in 07 and tonight's preview of some of their debut album. Their unpolished tightness, energetic conviction and raffish charm works wonders in the room tonight, from the moment drummer Chris Helm kicks off opener Wandered, SKV rule the East Brunswick in a way later bands will be hard-pressed to match. Lang's lightness of touch belies an sureness that urges current single One Chance and future single Sift The Noise on, etching them in the minds of the slowly swelling crowd. Taking a brief break to plug their Postal Revolution movement (extolling the virtues of writing and receiving letters over texts and emails), we're then rounded into a campfire sing-along of River Road and pounded with the very rock tribute to the Corner Hotel, Getting Wasted. A smashing set, particularly given their combined 11 hours of sleep.

The quality level doesn't slip for Adelaide's latest up-and-comers Special Patrol. With a wry sense of humour and a batch of ace tunes off last year's critically heralded Handy Hints From The Undertaker album, their upbeat warmth offsets the tough slide riffs, sawing cello and wry lyrics which set them apart from other bands in this well-populated field. Hey Good Try is a remarkable tune and an unusual one to pick up as much JJJ play as it has with it's gentle, insistent chords and slow building sing-along choruses, it clearly wins them new fans tonight, as does The Secret Chord (David) a (sorely needed) pastiche of sorts of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. It's an intriguing track and signifies a sharply honed mind and dark humour at work. Closing track and new song Ordinary Life is another exceptional song with a pop/northern soul undercurrent, something always hard to resist. Clearly a band to catch.

If the ever-genial Old Man River could learn a thing or two from his support bands (and he could) it's a) how to write a song that is based around more than an extended vowel sound, repeated over some 'buoyant' major chords, b) The lesson of conciseness and c) how to be more than the sum of your obvious influences. With a backing band of competent session musos, Ohad Rein seems to love his job, and lets us know straight away with yet another revamp of the ever-appealing Sunshine; this time to a percussion-heavy funk workout with the first of many extended-psycho-jam-wigouts thrust in the middle of a breezy pop tune like a luke-warm flabby hot-dog in an fresh organic wholemeal bun. No sauce. For the most part the rest of the gig involves songs that have a scrabbley sustain-heavy guitar break (curiously all played without a pick) and those self-indulgent middle sections that allow the rest of the band to repeat a riff while the Old Man heads back to 1968. One notable omission to this brash generalisation is Wedding Song for which he and co-singer Megan Washington depart the stage and position themselves in the centre of the crowd to sing a pin-drop-quiet ode to Rein's wife; a highlight of the night. Soon enough it's back into effects-pedal territory and a sharp drop in interest. Table For Two may get all country-stomp and Trousers an extended dub interlude for no discernible reason but it's all very sub-Ben Harper feel-good fun and not a patch on his work with Nations By The River. Current radio and TV hit La leaves the crowd satisfied (you wouldn't go to an Old Man River show unless you wanted a mainline of Carefree Aussie Summer--) and happily singing along, something it's very easy to do to his songs, once he gets to the point.


Interview: BARRY HOGAN, ORGANISER OF ’DON’T LOOK BACK’ FESTIVALS

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 

Five acts, five albums one killer idea; play them live, song by song. Since it's 2005 debut with The Stooges playing Funhouse, Don't Look Back has been making waves in an already saturated northern hemisphere summer festival calender. The accounts that have filtered back from blogs, websites and lucky friends only serve to inflame jealousies of those who did get to see Mudhoney resurrect Superfuzz Bigmuff and Slint meander through Spiderland. Who'd want to see an album canonised and further alienated from modern music like some soulless artifact anyway? Uh, me and anyone with a passing interest in music for starters.

When the news hit a month ago speculation was rife and imaginations sent into overdrive. A fortnight later when the lineup was announced, arms were flung high, tickets hurriedly purchased and all were impressed at the bands pulled for the February shows, many of which will have sold out by the time you read this. This, says organiser Barry Hogan of the mega lineup of Sonic Youth, Low, The Scientists, Died Pretty and Ed Kuepper, is just a sampler. "We're really just testing the waters and just introducing it to Australians, we're definitely looking at it becoming an annual event. There is already talk of more shows later next year." Though playing albums live is certainly not a new idea, to turn it into a traveling festival and bring it to Australia is something new and given the five albums on offer, it's hard to picture this coming summer without touching on at least one of these shows.

Founder of the legendary All Tomorrows Parties festival, Hogan is no stranger to Melbourne (his wife being from here), so for him it was just time till Don't Look Back would reach our shores. "It was a matter of finding the right partners to host the shows. Tim Pittman and Steve Castan from Feel Presents - we seem cut from the same cloth really, and the bands they'd worked with like Mogwai and Yo La Tengo are artists we promote in the UK, plus we wanted to come down with something quite special, and there's no doubt that the show that's coming is really amazing. You can be into Sonic Youth and stuff - but this will really blow you away," he enthuses like the fan he clearly is, sentiments backed up by those lucky sods mentioned earlier.

From walking up to your album rack, pulling some albums out and throwing them on the floor saying 'I want to see these played live'  (his account of coming up with the idea for Don't Look Back) to now, Hogan still speaks like a giddy teen, happily arrested in the first flush of love for the bands he talks about. "Tim approached most of the Australian bands because he's based there. We'd already worked with Low and Sonic Youth so we just put that out there and anyone in their right mind would be up for summer in Australia compared to the winter in America or in the UK." he laughs. Sonic Youth, were initially reticent, but according to Hogan, "They were really happy that they did join. As the tour progressed they were like: 'oh, I wish this wasn't ending,' it was like a book you couldn't put down."

"The Australian one will probably develop into something as strong as the UK one where there will be 10 or 12 acts per season, and it's really great to represent Australian bands like Died Pretty, Ed Kuepper and The Scientists and all genres of music really - hip-hop, electronica, avant garde, folk - I don't think there should be any boundaries there because the scope is endless. What we're trying to do is say 'these are great records and it's a celebration of the album'. People tend to ignore albums as an art form now with modern convenience of downloading single tracks. The gaps in between songs can make or break an album," he laughs, "no, seriously!"

Seriously is also how Hogan thinks some are taking the idea of Don't Look Back. "Some people do see it as sacrilegious, and whenever you do anything you're always opening yourself up to criticism. I think if you're into the record then come to the show, I think it's easy to take it too seriously, at the end of the day it's just music for people to enjoy."
Given that Hogan's personal musical passions play a huge part in Don't Look Back, what would he love to see in the future? "Pavement and Neil Young," he muses. "I'd love to see Pavement do one of their records, but the argument everyone has is 'pick Slanted And Enchanted' but I quite like Brighten The Corners (laughs) so everyone has their favourite album. Boards of Canada as well because they don't really play that often. We're really fortunate to have just reformed My Bloody Valentine and got them to play their first tour in 16 years, so if Australia wants it we could try and make that happen." I assure him, in no uncertain terms, that we would.


Interview: ARCHIE ROACH - ANOTHER JOURNEY

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 

"It's that Liyarn; the inner spirit, it's your being..that warmth and that depth...a richness and management of the pain, it's so clear. It can't be articulated through an orator, it has to be an artist that does it, that's why I find it so easy to feel at one with him when he sings." - Pat Dodson from the film "Liyarn Ngarn"

Archie Roach has quietly and boldly written his name across the Australian musical landscape with a humble integrity few can match, a journey he describes as being "incredibly blessed and lucky". His trademark cracked vibrato and unadorned writing style struts rich themes of love, racism, strength, history, injustice and most notably, the land. With his fifth album Journey, Roach reaches new heights of rendering hope and tireless resilience to acoustic balladry. That these songs might, through the album's accompanying DVD, reach a new audience overseas, is another hopeful thought. The sort of hopeful thought that represents another step in his songs' own journeys and their collective journey of giving a closer encounter with his Australia to the listener.

The DVD is a documentary entitled Liyarn Ngarn, meaning 'The Coming Together of Spirits'. Liyarn Ngarn concerns several journeys, the primary one being that of English actor Pete Postlethwaite's incidental meeting with old schoolmate Bill Johnson in Perth and the story surrounding the death of Bill's adopted Aboriginal son Louis. This takes Postlethwaite deeper into the marked injustices that colour recent Aboriginal/White Fella relations; deaths in custody, attempts at reconciliation and the role of the land in Aboriginal culture. At times harrowing in its stories, it's acutely judged in its tone, often beautiful given the locations, and huge in it's cultural significance, much the way Roach's songs are. "We're hoping for a cinema release if not then TV for sure" he says of its future.
Roach accompanies Postlethwaite throughout the film, providing a musical foil to his trailing of Louis Johnson's journey, a journey that has tight parallels with Roach's own; fostered by a first generation British family, a long, difficult and futile quest to meet his birth parents, finding and exploring their art, but from there, markedly different paths fork.

"Of course there were parallels between Louis and me, and I identify with him for sure. Certain situations aren't too good for Aboriginal communities, which you know...but when you go back and see it again, even as an Aboriginal person, it's hard to take in. There are some beautiful people out there and they made a lot of the places really welcoming, people were happy to share their stories, it's always great to go. They slap me on the back and call me Old Man or Grandfather in Alice Springs (laughs) that's the sort of respect that really matters."

Roach has never sounded as world-weary as during his interpretation of John Davis' poem John Pat, sung with Paul Kelly and perfectly depicting the senseless killing of it's character and Pat's role in the long line of deaths that occurred in custody. That said, there is much that is life-affirming on the album, as there is about Archie Roach in conversation.
"Out there, the old people they just sit, they just sit and observe nature. This is where all the dances and the songs come from, they were formed by the land and the culture and the language. Because of my background I would still probably look from that perspective at the landscape if I lived in the outback all the time instead of being an urban Aboriginal and there would probably be more songs of creation and praise. I do like having this perspective." Of home though, Roach finds himself spending more time in a quite different place. "Lately, as I get a bit older I feel more comfortable down south in Victoria, where I was taken from, down that way, that's where part of this album began too. Most places I go I make connections and meet people and they become family and then I'm happy being there."

At the moment Archie is in Adelaide, fresh from seven days straight of gigging including two sold out nights at The Powerhouse in Brisbane, shows he's very pleased with. "What I've found is that there is a great mix of people at our shows, young to elderly people, and the response has been great. Same with the response to Journey, that's been very well received though it's only been out a week or so."
What it is that bonds audiences to Roach comes down to the open expression and the stories he tells, his most well-known, Took The Children Away, Beautiful Child and Charcoal Lane. A term he uses to describe Journey's co-producer Nash Chambers, "a no-nonsense bloke from good musical stock", could be used to describe him too. There is an unexpected lightness in Roach's conversation when talking about writing songs, and he readily answers difficult topics, like his reaction to playing Never Blood for poet and songwriter Robbie Walker by the jail cell where he was killed in Fremantle -"Robbie Walker was like a frightened kid playing his song in that jail (Linyarn Ngarn has wrenching footage of Walker playing OK Let's Be Honest). It was hard in the prison in Freo where he died, I just sort of couldn't talk, it was so hard to play."

For his own songs, Roach reaches back to the land that inspires him, singing from it and to it. "When I was a kid if anything every happened to me in school, or I got hurt in the heart from racial abuse - and this is before the areas around Melbourne were built up - I'd go to the bush. I didn't know why that just what it always was. I wasn't really aware that I would go into the bush, that's where I felt comfortable with the land and that's the way I feel today. If I'm feeling a bit low or lacking in energy I'll go out in nature somewhere. I suppose everybody must get that feeling if you stand somewhere on your own sometimes, its a feeling that just comes to you. This is Australia, this is an old country and it's a part of each and every one of us. My one great wish is to endear people to this country, that 's all I can do. I believe that the more we start sharing the more we open up, and we've been pretty quiet for a while."


Interview: ARCHITECTURE IN HELSINKI - A Bird In The Hand

Friday, November 02, 2007 

With the release of Places Like This another chapter has been firmly opened, the spine creased and pages dog-eared, in the long and increasingly rambling book of AIH. A story that via the band's unique personal tales and skewed kindergarten-pop tunes, has taken the band from sharehouse beginnings to far-flung corners of the earth and the heights of independent charts the world over. There are, however, no twee-pop odes to dancing like whirlwinds or shyly sung songs about firewood in this chapter - that sequence has already shone brightly and burned out. Things are a bit more Prisoner of Azkabhan these days. AiH, now spread three continents wide, are currently in Portland, part-way through their sixth US tour in three years. "It's been going for a long time, but it's been fantastic." says chief songwriter and honorary Yankee Cameron Bird, with a hint of well-earned tiredness in his voice. "It's strange to know so many cities so well now, I kind of like that. Because we've done what we've done off our own backs, it's been incredibly satisfying to see that things have grown with each tour, the crowds are so exciting now."

The popularity and esteem in which AiH are held overseas is something that isn't trumpeted much in the media here, but the extent of their fanbase is something worth considering. Currently AiH are the most listened to Australian band on last.fm (with more listeners than Elvis and 50 Cent), had over 2 million listens on their MySpace page and play to bigger crowds with every show, so missing out on their fourth ARIA nomination last week isn't bothering Bird one bit. "No. We thought it was comedy gold that we were even nominated," he laughs. "Looking at our name amongst all those other bands we were like 'what the hell are we doing there?'"

This bemusement is echoed by the people Bird meets in his new homeland upon discovering his nationality. A place he moved to incidentally when a friend offered a rent-controlled flat in New York which was cheaper than his own in Melbourne. "I guess we're a band that fell into playing overseas a lot, much more than we anticipated doing. Someone offered to put our record out overseas so we thought we should play a tour and it went really well. It facilitates touring overseas to actually be there, but we're all still totally Australian; we always get excited when the Grand Final is on. People know, but the world is such a small place now that it doesn't really matter. It's a novelty to some, but Australians are everywhere and Australian culture is getting bigger all the time. Australia is still seen as somewhere to take the piss out of, to not take seriously, but it's definitely better than being from a country renowned for being arseholes."

Given that most of the songs on Places Like This were composed in Bird's apartment and eschewed the traditional band-jam formation for the tools that they had and were into at the time - electronic equipment and a white-hot broadband connection – the record has struck some as being heavy on references but lacking heart; an album made in airport lounges. Bird however sees its haphazard creation as having far more emotional depth than most have given it credit for. "Anyone who has seen us play in the last two years could see the inclination we were taking; the way we played our old songs was incredibly different to how they sounded on record. In a way Feather in a Baseball Cap was a catalyst for that, we took that old song and played it in the way we were playing at the time and that's how it came out. That was a kind of an awakening for us and we started moving more in that direction. I'm very much an advocate of bands that are constantly changing and doing new things, I look at way a band sounds as being an album-by-album thing. I know that with our next album our approach and the way that it sounds is going to be infinitely different to where we're at now. I like the idea of an album being a snapshot of the way a band is at a time. I'm not one for being sentimental about what was and what could have been, I'm a live-in-the-now kind of guy."

It comes as no surprise then that Places Like This is a snapshot of the now in which Bird is living. "For me lyrically and musically it's about living in New York." he enthuses. "That's a huge influence on the way the songs came out; they wouldn't be the same if we were all living in Melbourne or Byron Bay or wherever. It was a direct correlation between the songs and the city. For me when I hear the songs, it reminds me so much of the feeling of being there, and the instantaneous chemistry that came when we learned and recorded the songs; it's all about that two to three month period of our lives. In the past we've written and recorded albums and it's been a much more drawn-out process, this was just really intense and really physical and much more heartfelt and deep than things we've done in the past."

This living-in-the-now attitude, perhaps accentuated by moving cities, may have shortened Bird's musical attention span, but it's given him the ability to impose limits that focus the band in ways that recording in their own studio and being their own engineers didn't. "To be honest, we could still be working on In Case We Die now, we could have been like The Avalanches and taken six years to make an album that was a complete masterpiece, but we just had to say to ourselves 'we have to stop now'. I guess it goes back to what I was saying earlier about an album being a snapshot in time. It kills me that people expect us to play songs that we wrote six years ago. I understand that when I see bands that I love I want to see them play songs I loved off the record they released 15 years ago. But by playing in a band, my appreciation of that has definitely changed, when I see bands now I'm not going to be bummed if they don't play anything off older albums."

Seeing the band recently, it would seem out of place for older, gentler songs to feature in their furious free-form-aerobics-class of instrument-swapping AKA an AiH gig. One of the components of their writing precluded the band sharing a city and building songs together, something Bird is not averse to. "I'm sure we will all be in the same city again at some point. This album was born in the urban/I.T./information superhighway world, and the next album will be much more like a hippy thing where we'll probably go to the forest and live in the mountains or something like that." Like The Band recording Songs From The Big Pink?" Yeah! I'm definitely channeling their spirits at the moment." And so begins the next chapter for AiH; just don't pick this story up expecting toothless cuteness.


Live Review: BACHELORETTE, FABULOUS DIAMONDS, ACTOR/MODEL, FLYING SCRIBBLE

Friday, November 02, 2007 
East Brunswick Club

Severe fringes and sharp hem-lines are in. At least tonight among fans of the Kiwi girl wonder that is Bachelorette. With another dynamite line-up assured to capitalise on kids recently released from their exams, Switchblade Sisters are proving they're becoming promoters par excellence, and tonight is another jauntily placed feather in their cap. Opening to the dozen or so early-comers, Flying Scribble play a joyously upbeat set. With a near giddy sense of fun and abandon, it was a revelation to hear them through a decent PA and to see the crowd transformed from interested onlookers to shameless dancers and grinning accomplices. Honed from their recent overseas busking trip, there is a kind of loose telepathy between the two that belies the tight control they wield. This makes songs like Tree To Tree (with it's gorgeous vocal harmonies and roughshod beat), the near-calypso crowd pleasing Puzzlemind and the catchy closer Concrete Feet excitingly unpredictable yet oddly familiar; a rare combination indeed.

Actor/Model follow and seem to channel their Faint-esque bravado through the awkward charisma of a first time bingo caller. Though songs are a stellar blend of pop and noise, they do tend to follow the pattern of starting off with an excitingly smart beat, bringing in a fantastic guitar or keyboard melody then wigging out in a way that sounds as if someone had briefly cut the band's sound and put on side 4 of Daydream Nation for a few minutes before returning to the aforementioned killer beats and catchy hooks. Bar these (not entirely unwelcome) recurring moments of Nostalgia 87', Actor/Model do have sounds that are genuinely exciting and there is no reason a decent release shouldn't see JJJ loving the pants off them, maybe in a few years when this era gets the almighty going over in the way 1982 is now.

The same cannot be said for Fabulous Diamonds, a band pushing a very different barrow. Though some seem to think of this duo as virtual revolutionaries, tonight they are tedious as only a guy mucking around with a delay pedal and girl playing beats that sound like they are can be. Their unengaging presence and near identical song structures can't hide the obvious talent here though. Singer and drummer Nisa Venerosa's voice is commanding in a way few other performer's are and her occasional lyrics are intriguing ("Cities on cities on cities" x 8) before being worn down with repetition. Songs sound as if they're crying out for another layer, or at least some warmth, but all we get is a pretentious coldness that seems out of place on tonight's bill followed by a terse "goodnight".

At last, taking up the whole stage with her guitar and amp, laptop and projector and bank of keyboards comes Bachelorette. Following a false start, 10 minutes of technical problems (admirably covered by stilted improvisations that reveal her humble and humourous fluster - and the good natured patience of her fans), we get the 60s cyber girl-group sounds of Doo Wop followed by the sublime glistening pop of A Lifetime. Backed by projections of moonscapes and soundwaves, "Bichilorit" (as she calls herself) seems to take a little while to ease into he show after the initial difficulties. Allowing herself a few wry smiles at the enthusiastic dancers that I Want To Be Your Girlfriend brings out, she is soon joking and 'apologising for needing something to apologise for'. She needn't apologise for anything though, the sound is fantastic and her meticulously crafted and wonderfully dorky songs are warmly rendered and evern more warmly received. The closing canon of My Electric Husband, On The Four and The End Of Things makes the perfect ending to a great gig, and the best place to escape to on this rainy night.


Interview: BOYS NIGHT OUT - NO QUIET NIGHT IN

Tuesday, October 30, 2007 

With a tour schedule that would decimate many lesser bands, 5-piece Canadian group Boys Night Out are, thankfully, all about maintaining an energetic expression of their truth. Upfront and loud, they epitomise the tradition of grabbing an instrument, a bunch of friends who share ideals, making your own rules and revolting into style. Despite this, Davis claims that people of all ages come to the shows, some of which are, in fact All Ages. "We get anything from 13 year old boys and girls up to husbands and wives in their 40s. I always love talking to older people at shows and hearing how they appreciate what we're doing, that means the most. Obviously it's mainly kids and we love playing to the kids because they bring the energy and that's what makes the concerts fun, but hearing from people who've got diverse taste and who have been seeing music for decades, that really hits home for me. There are some places that don't know us that well, but most places in Canada we play we've been to a lot so the kids are really into it and have a lot of fun."

This recent relentless touring is to introduce their new, self-titled album, which the band call a 'bare-knuckled declaration' and a 'definitive statement', and when compared to their previous effort, it most definitely is. "Our last record Trainwreck was a concept album." Davis says matter-of-factly. "The idea behind the record was based on a short-story I had written, which I altered so we could write the album around it. That in itself created a whole new type of music and way of looking at what we were doing. That's very different from the way we made this record which was done more on a song-by-song basis. Musically we wanted to have more fun with it, and make more of a straightforward rock record, Trainwreck did have to follow a concept, it was moody, and kind of like a musical rollercoaster at times - varying genres, heavy music with poppier stuff and synths and acoustic guitars, it was really a medley of different styles, whereas with the new record we wanted to a more concentrated approach."

This change in subject matter, sound and pace - if not in intensity and energy - is indicative of the new songs that Davis is impelled to pen, making Boys Night Out a vastly different beast. "It was definitely very different to write," offers Davis. "One of the reasons our new record is self-titled is because it is a very personal one for us, it was really a chance to get back to singing about ourselves, about us as a band, whereas Trainwreck was completely stepping away and writing from a new point of view which was awesome and a healthy thing for us to do, but I think with this record we needed the opportunity to get back to ourselves and write about something different, something more realistic for us."

That fans of the band were as passionate about Boys Night Out being the conveyors of an existential story of mortality, isolation, murder and insanity as they were about hearing their in-yr-face aggressive melodies and mile-a-minute anthems of valour, violence and self-abuse is testament to Davis's ability to tell a story. "Getting with the lyrics is always a big part of why fans connect with the music they like, but it's a bit bizarre at times. With Trainwreck, which is a dark and abstract concept album, the number of people who contacted us and told us how much they connected with the story and how much this record helped them through dark times...man...it doesn't necessarily matter how weird what you're saying is, people will always find their own meaning in the words and connect with it." The sleek riffs and beats give Davis a lyrical freedom he uses in a trademarked way; catchphrases of imagery underpinned by strong ethics.

Borne from a passion for early Victory Records and 80s hardcore, Boys Night Out have gone from resilience through denial and focus to being the life of the party. "To be totally honest with you, me and [lead singer] Connor [Lovat-Fraser] were straight edge for most of our teenage years, I was straight edge for 8 years and he for 10. We've been in straight edge and hardcore bands since we were really young. Boys Night Out from the get go was embracing the darker and dirtier side of things; violence, self-abuse, alcohol and everything else. When I say this new record is a personal record I mean it's a chance for us to talk about these issues. With songs like Get Your Head Straight and Up With Me it's a chance to look at the other side of things, we're trying to offer the possibility that there is a way out. We're not saying we're perfect or that we've found that way out, that we're clean or anything else, but that there is hopefully light at the end of the tunnel."
Something that Davis knows all about, though in his case this light can take many forms, in his case, breaking edge. "I was about 19 or 20. It was something that I needed to have in my life, I don't regret anything. I don't regret the time I was straight edge and I don't regret breaking as it shaped me and I wouldn't change any of my life experiences at all," Davis claims with all the zeal you can imagine him embracing it with in the first place.

For a band so build on values and a muscular expression of them, what happens if someone opposes them? Like hardline straight edgers who reject people who take the sounds but not the attitudes? "Then we've found someone who's not going to want to listen to our music. We're definitely not writing to appeal to the masses or the lowest common denominator, we're writing for us. We write music that means a lot us and to help us feel better and the goal is to have at least some people relate to that. We're definitely not out to try and influence someone's lifestyle or tell anyone this is how they ought to live, we're entirely just putting music out there, if they can get on board with what we're saying and they can find some meaning in it for them that can make them happy then great, but if not then hey, there is a whole lot of other music out there and they definitely don't have to listen to us."


Interview: I'M FROM BARCELONA - A BLUR OF BALLOONS, GOOD TIMES AND CONFETTI

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 

Emanuel Lundgren is a gentle, gregarious and gingery guy. Describing himself as being fueled by love and vacations, the composer of such giddily joyful brilliance as We're From Barcelona, Collection of Stamps and Treehouse is well-known to many indie-pop aficionados as the ringleader of the 29-piece circus of infectious pop I'm From Barcelona, a band whose live shows are rapidly becoming stuff of legend. They're also getting known outside the indie-pop world via the use of their song Oversleeping in a recent episode of Grey's Anatomy, but despite this and the reams of positive press 2006's Let Me Introduce My Friends album garnered, Emanuel is ambivalent about their heady rise to prominence. "It's always warming to read nice words about our music, but sometimes the power of the media scares me a bit. I think it's important that everybody decides for themselves what's good music or not."

Fresh off the bus from converting thousands of Americans and Europeans during their most recent tour, Emanuel is clearly in a good space, and so he should be. "The summer has been amazing. Going to Lollapalooza in Chicago was a really big project. There was 20 of us, and we nearly had to cancel the show because the plane was canceled. But we made it... half the band had to fly to Houston and the other half to Cleveland, then we met up one hour before the gig. There has been a lot of crazy moments like this and my head is a blur of balloons, good times and confetti. Frida [co-singer, AKA The Observer] has hundreds of hours of film material and she's aiming to do a personal documentary out of it."

Though he denies he'd be able to manage a kindergarten should he ever tire of the road, Emanuel does admit that touring can be both a nightmare and a beautiful thing. "Sometimes people have forgotten their passports... that's sad. But touring is actually not as hard as many people seem to believe, I guess it's harder when it's just four guys in a van hating each other. Actually everybody in the band is very easy to deal with. Sometimes in my nightmares I think of how things would have turned out if we toured as 17year-olds... aaargh!" Given that, is there anything that the band all actually agree on, apart from the songs. "(laughs) Well we all like The River by Bruce, we sing it on the bus all the time. We also like alot of the bands we play with, I like the guys in Herman Düne. They´re the definition of cool. Also Yo La Tengo and Flaming Lips are bands I don't think people should miss."

Given that IFB is more a collective of like-minded human beings some of whom just happen to play instruments than a standard rock band (including a sign-language translator "That's Marcus. He's damn good at that, but I don't understand half of it"), what is it that glues IFB together? "I made a list of people I wanted to invite to the happening, and sometimes I improvised and invited people late nights hanging out... Everything was very coincidental, and I'm amazed today when I see how everybody in the band really enjoys hanging out with each other. I had the idea of the sound pretty clear at the beginning, and had so little time (it was meant to last for 4 weeks during my vacation) so I had to plan everything in detail to make it happen. I wanted to break a lot of musical rules compared to the bands I've been in before..."

One of those rules seems to be where the stage ends and the audience begins. People have been known to join the band for a gig without Emanuel actually noticing. Online competitions offer the prize of being able to join the band for a concert and, unlike some more style-conscious (and often Stockholm-based) Swedish bands, there is no chance of not fitting in at an IFB gig. "We're not as good looking as the Concretes," lies Emanuel. "A lot of concerts ends with half the audience up on stage and I love that!"

Inclusion seems to be a great characteristic of Emanuel's songs, and a robust shamelessness is the part of the uniting force that glues the songs with the audience, and audience with band. "I don't know if it's true that I turn into a 12-year old. I think I'm 12 years most of the time. I'm not that good at being a grown up, I pretend most of the time. But I don't know if I'm any good at being a 12-year old either." For the most part the subject matter of the songs concern an open-eyed and honest child relating experiences. For example, treehouses; "When I built treehouses with my friends as a kid it wasn't very ambitious. We just needed a place for ourselves where we could hang out and make our own laws and languages." Stamp collecting: "What inspired me to write that song was a list I found when I went to my parents house to get some old boxes of mine. I now keep it on my bathroom wall. And I still love traveling. Brasil, Iceland, Japan and Australia is where I would especially like to go." "And bed-wetting? "You have to ask my mother about that." comes the taciturn reply.

Other Swedish bands are a constant source of wonder to people outside Sweden. Is it worth hypothesizing that warmer places have more bass-heavy sounds because bass carries better in humid air, and drier, colder places higher pitches carry well so the Swedes would be more more melody-minded people? Emanuel thinks not. "I think we're bored. Maybe there's not a lot to do here, so we end up with a guitar and a bunch of melodies. There is of course a lot of good Swedish bands, but I haven't tried being anything else but Swedish so I don't know if we're especially proud to be from here. There might be some rivalry between bands, but since we don't live in Stockholm we're not a part of that. It's calmer here in Jönköping, most part of the band live in Jönköping because they grew up around here."

Given that Emanuel is keen to travel to Australia, what is it that he pictures? "It seems kind of warm, dry and huge. I watched the TV series The Flying Doctors a lot as a kid, so I guess my imagination of Australia is based upon that. Aren't Architecture in Helsinki from Australia? I'm working on making the CDs available there. It feels kind of bad when I know there's a lot of you guys listening to us and you haven't got a chance to buy the album... Of course we would love to come, and I hope we will someday. Unfortunately it's kind of expensive for us to fly. If we work hard on it maybe we could swim?"

Though the forthcoming album is also in it's infancy, Emanuel tells us that there should be a single coming out around March/April, as well as Christmas single for an American TV show, which of course, necessitates a Christmas party in the studio for it's recording. "It depends on what week you ask me." he says of the new album's sound. "I've been playing around with a lot of ideas but I think I found something this week. A new path. And it will be exciting!"


Live Review: ANGIE HART, CHARLES JENKINS AND THE SWEDISH COWBOYS

Tuesday, October 23, 2007 
The Toff In Town

Tonight the Toff is packed with myopic couples from Northcote, no one is under 25 and the sense of excited reverence at the prospect of seeing an intimate performance by one of the icons of Australian indie is palpable. With the tables away and friends chattering, it's the perfect place for Angie Hart to reassert her reign as indie-pop princess over our hearts and minds.

First up the audience are regaled by Ice Cream Hand frontman Charles Jenkins, who has assembled a crack band of cowboys over which to stretch his country-tinged indie-rock tunes. With a nice line in understated, obtuse lyrics ("with my hair piled high / and my capsicum spray") and an easy-going demeanor, Jenkins, with his golden voice and 'stadium rock' sound mix, lets the music drive home the words. Entirely used to critics raving and few listening, he hopefully wins over some more shy, retiring types tonight. Making a quietly convincing point with each song, Rayon Factory, Open Road and one perhaps called Every Week I Put Your Pension in a Frame are all masterfully written and performed. That it seems Jenkins' has never listened to music after 1987 is no bad thing.

It has also been a long and curious road for Miss Hart, and tonight is a homecoming of sorts with mutual respect blooming from her face and our mouths and hands. Opening with Grounded Bird's opening track Asleep, she adopts the expression she maintains for most of the night: eyes closed, slightly inclining up to the microphone with her hands at her sides. The band (including Cam Butler on guitar and Patrick Bourke on bass), look like they're the last four people left in the library at closing time, and all play with admirable restraint, never letting Hart's voice leave front and centre. With her knee-high socks, patterned dress and great toothy grin, she looks all the world like you would hope her to look, and nothing like that Sarah Jessica-Parker-esque promo shot that has been floating around. "I'm so jazzed!" she squeaks, before setting off into Feel What You Don't. The centerpiece of the set - and album - Kiwi, and First Time are very effective in their use of dynamics (frankly any excuse for Butler being let loose with a guitar for a few minutes is a good thing), particularly the former, which offers the ever-appealing charm of Hart's face when reaching high notes. The subject matter is pretty hard to miss, My Year of Drinking and the less successful Sand ("I kissed a frog / Looking for God / Is that the craziest thing you've ever heard?") are both giveaways as to why we have this album and this gig now. Closing with Stop Buying Things ("After this, I'm going to get very drunk" she laughs), which is another tour de force of clipped verses and richly textured, higher-pitcher choruses, she encores with single Cold Heart Killer, and a old-time singalong of Bizarre Love Triangle. It's good to have her back and see her on such impressive form.


Interview: FIELDS - CATCHING THE BREEZE

Thursday, October 11, 2007 

The rapid ascension to the international stage for British shoegaze-influenced group Fields is the stuff of dreams. The whole story becomes more remarkable when you consider this is a band who claim to "exist in a world where it is permanently 6PM on a summers day, and the sun is about to go down over the village hedgerow." Singer and guitarist Nick Peill explains the whirlwind ride in a typically un-flashy style of someone whose dreams are being realised but whose feet have never left the ground. "I've been doing stuff on my own for quite a while and been friends with Jamie (Putnam, guitarist) for 12 years; we were maybe going to do things the pair of us. As we started to rehearse I met the other three through some friends in London and we all just hit it off really quickly. It was quite crazy really because in a matter of months we went from being strangers to being signed - almost like a dream. It was all a matter of right place right time."

2007 has already seen Fields play several tours and festivals including CMJ and Coachella (the latter an 'incendiary' experience), though Peill's personal favourite is the rapidly-becoming-legendary Bestival. "It's such a brilliant festival. Everyone wears fancy dress on the middle day of the festival, and it's the last one of the summer so there is sublime feel to it." Happily enough, there have been no bust ups or fall outs between this newly thrown together band. "No we're a really a tight group of friends, I wasn't sure what it would be like going on tour, you know, being shut in together for weeks, but almost the reverse happened." It seems the same with writing the songs. "On the first album most of the songs evolved really from the hands of all 5 of us, though I'm still the principal songwriter. We all have a shared vision for the band so we never argue musically, which is why I think it's so harmonious out on the road."

This traveling also saw them take in Dublin, where they recorded the album. "That was mostly down to Michael Beinhorn [Korn, Marilyn Manson, RHCP, Hole - essentially alot of bands that sound nothing like Fields] who produced the album. It's a strange studio, kind of a brick cellar thing with a weird arched ceiling. He thought it had a great drum sound and convinced us to go there to record. It actually backfired a little as the studio got damp, there was no natural light and we kind of ended up regretting using it." The resulting album Everything Last Winter did strike some as an unusually grand-sounding album given the more winsome preceding EP 7 From The Village, but it has still garnered great reviews.

Across all of Fields' work there is an attention to detail that could only have come from having a clear concept of the band's visual aspect. "Fine art was my original creative outlet," says Peill. "When the band began I really wanted to have a strong visual aesthetic. I wanted to draw out the more folky side to the band, and that carried through to the websites, fliers and posters. It is important to me that if you bought the record you should have a nice piece of art in your hand to accompany the music. I wanted to push the folk element because a lot of those songs were written just on an acoustic guitar. It was an appealing world to imagine ourselves within; a slightly dark, rural, very idyllic scenario. There is something to do with the simplicity of it, the handmade-ness of it, more lovingly crafted, more back to basics and honest. I used to make CDs that I would give to friends and I would do little line drawings of trees and birds and rural scenes attached to the lyrics, there were subconscious links between them, something I never intended, but looking at it afterwards there was an obvious connection."

Another connection that seems obvious to some is to the early-90s shoegaze band movement, many of whom started from the same part of England as Peill hails from - a connection he happily endorses, to a point. "I was a huge fan of all of those bands and that was the sort of music I grew up with; Slowdive, MBV, Ride; I think that music really allowed itself to have alot of beautiful, unashamedly pretty melodies, though it could still have darkness and volume too. There are so many other influences in my music as well though, Robert Smith is a huge inspiration to me, the way he was able to write romantic pop songs, ambient epics and all manner of different styles within the band. That is something we intend to do."

Though he may share Smith's elliptical subjects and frequent natural imagery, songwriting for Peill seems like an exercise in being channelled. "It's quite random. Lyrics for me are always a bit of a mystery, I don't really know where they come from. A lot of them are deeply personal but often I won't know what I've written about until long after I've finished writing. I'll write at a computer, be recording a guitar bit say, and within almost no time at all it will have just fallen out. It's those ones that come without any effort at all that seem to be the best ones, and the ones that connect the most with people are the easiest ones to write. I feel like I have a certain number of songs inside me, like I'm constantly chasing the perfect song and they're all sections of the same giant one."

Songs aside, the band themselves are a curious bunch. Bassist Matty Durham is a hairdresser and school friend of Bloc Party through whom he is responsible for clipping the coifs of most of the bands featured in NME at any given week. "He still cuts the hair of alot of bands that we tour with," laughs Peill. Fellow singer and keyboardist Þórunn Antonía is an Icelandic songwriter whose father composed the Icelandic national anthem. Clearly, randomness plays a big part in Fields: "When we were in Ireland I was given an antique book by someone in the studio, and as a joke I said to Jamie "give me an album title" and the end of the sentence he read out was 'Everything Last Winter', and it seemed to fit. This sense of melancholy tied in with alot of the lyrics purely by chance. We'd made a list of potential album titles, but that was one we kept coming back to."


CD Review: OWLS OF THE SWAMP - SMOKY BAY (Independent)

Tuesday, October 02, 2007 

Musically and lyrically interpreting the environment around you is a favourite subject of songwriters, and there is nothing like a new environment to heighten perceptions, particularly one that confronts you in the ways immersing yourself in Iceland will. So it is that Owls of the Swamp AKA Pete Uhlenbruch, decamps to Reykjavik, (the literal translation of which makes up this album's title) and returns with a swag of ruminations on the elemental forces of nature, it's effects on the humans, and some songs that may be about a girl. Interpretations of these subjects will inevitably be personal, and as such this is an intimate record, with Uhlenbruch's unblinkered vision an omnipotent, honest and welcome guide. Having more in common with W.H Auden's book 'Letters From Iceland' than any current recent releases, you can feel a loving attention to detail in this record that befits a man intoxicated by it's subject. Songs like Meet Me At The BSI and the instrumental Death By Waterfall are delicately measured, the mixture of electronic squeaks, vocal harmonies and simple instrumentation gorgeous and illuminating; the arrangements on the all-to-brief opening Midnight would prick even Richard Kirby's ears.

Playing almost all of the instruments himself, though never sounding like it, Smoky Bay could be said to have echoes of Mugison or early Decemberists at a stretch, certainly Uhlenbruch has an ear for combining sounds (which Simon Moro has done a fine job of capturing), and like both of those pioneers, he communicates with an efficacy belying his years, unafraid to reveal his own frailty in the lyrics, the sense of which is beautifully underscored by lingering piano melodies and softly strummed acoustic guitars, especially in songs like Storm In The Sea.

With appropriately homely artwork by Luci Everett, this is a record not shouting to be heard, but seducing those who happen upon it, with it's warm, sleepy tones and expansive scope yet intimate delivery. Unfortunately this is likely to be heard by few people in it's entirety given it's small run and lack of label, though given the number of international listeners online it may be that this will be more celebrated overseas than here. How much this would bother Uhlenbruch is hard to say since these seem such personal songs - all of them first-person narratives - you feel this is more a record (as in a recording of events) than a release. It is possible to hear a long-term career beginning here, certainly the skill and individual voice is forming fast, though it remains to be seen what happens when he turns his attention from the inspiration of exotic locales. But as the Owl asks himself on the swaddling Heart Of The Mountain: "How far down this path do you think you can go? All of the way..."