Back in 2003, Yeah Yeah Yeahs burst out of seemingly nowhere. They got played a lot on alternative radio and I thought they were better than OK. But there was a feeling of gimmick to them. The silly name, the lack of bass player, the cartoony Karen O on vocals. Something just seemed a little loo calculated about it. Like the look of the band had been more thought out than the sound. More than a decade and several more albums later, and I’ve heard enough from these guys to know that they’re more than just a gimmick. Definitely more than a gimmick enough for me to have listened to their debut album a lot more than I have. Which is why I’m giving Fever to Tell another, more than deserved spin.
In my limited experience with this band, I’ve always known that it’s the vocals of Karen O that are responsible for that quintessential sound. The way she can seamlessly go from sultry vixen, to bratty pop girl, to punk rock attitude, to brassy blues broad, to countless other sounds, means every song has the possibility to go anywhere. And Fever to Tell showcases that vocal versatility right out of the gate with Rich, three and a half minutes of O showing off what she can do in a way that never seems like showing off. (more…)
My whole life, I’ve had to listen to my dad bang on about the Easybeats. “George Young and Harry Vander from the Easybeats are the only reason there’s an AC/DC”. “They sold more albums in Australian than The Beatles”. “Your mother’s a terrible cook.” I’m not sure what the third one has to do with the Easybeats, but I just felt like I needed to round out his top 3 topics of conversation.
Reading an AC/DC biography, I learned that the first statement is absolutely true. Without the guiding hand of their big brother George, Angus and Malcolm Young would never have had the business brains to make their band one of the biggest in rock history. I still have no idea if the Easybeats really sold more records in Australian than the Beatles and this is no forum to discuss my mum’s culinary skills. So, if for no other reason than to maybe have a fresh response next time my dad insists on talk about this band, I listened to Good Friday.(more…)
Discovering old music isn’t hard, but what is hard, is discovering the alternative, underground older music. Well, technically, the internet makes it a piece of piss, but it still requires some active looking. The old music that’s easy to discover is the mainstream successes that were also good. Not shitty number ones from shitty bands with no shelf life, but legit, great bands. Then there are the legit great bands who never quite cracked the mainstream. They’re the bands I tend to love at the time. So I’ve decided to seek out those kinds of bands from before my time. Starting with a band that certain dudes a few years older than me seem to revere, while I couldn’t name single song. The band is Sunnyboys, and the album is Sunnyboys.
Straight away, I can hear why these guys have stuck around in the minds fans from back in the day. They were pretty ahead of their time. I Can’t Talk to You and My Only Friend don’t sound like 1981 to me. They sound like the jangled guitars of the post punk 80s. They sound like an early step towards the gentle rock of the shoegazing British 90s. They sound like the singer / songwriters of the years since, who traded in their acoustic guitars for full backing bands. (more…)
Sometime in the mid 90s, I remember it being huge news that Radio Birdman were reuniting and headlining the Big Day Out. That meant nothing to me, but Triple J and its older listeners got very excited. While that went completely over my 14 or 15 year old head then, the reaction from the people I thought were the cool, alternative, rock taste makers, was too big to ignore. So I picked through a few of the more well known Radio Birdman singles and liked them.
Ever since, they’ve been filed away in the back of my brain as an important band in Aussie rock history. But now, Aussie Week 2 has given me the boot in the ass neeed to give that importance enough respect to actually listen to Radio Birdman and Radios Appear.(more…)
Growing up and living in Australia, the music of Paul Kelly goes beyond something that’s just always there and taken for granted. It’s seemingly part of the fabric of the country. I imagine it’s similar for Americans and Bruce Springsteen. Plenty of people love the music of Kelly, no one ever seems to hate it, and it’s perfect for when a crowd of different generations, lifestyles and general persuasions get together.
Having a barbecue where your yobbo mates, conservative grandparents, weird neighbours and everyone in between will be in attendance? Whack on a Paul Kelly 2-disc Best Of, and everyone will be happy. And while he’s been there for my entire life, so easy to take for granted, I’ve never once gone beyond those Kelly 2-disc Best Ofs. Which is what makes Paul Kelly’s Post such a perfect candidate for Aussie Week 2. (more…)
Even with no real prior knowledge of a band’s output, you can usually make a kind of educated guess about what to expect. From a band’s legacy, to the kinds of people who still talk about them, to bands seen as their influences, contemporaries and descendants, to the era of their active years. Not only did I have none of that to form an expectation of with The Triffids and Born Sandy Devotional, but even after hearing opening track The Seabirds, I’m still not sure what I’m in for.
Because, I can’t really describe or quantify Seabirds. I guess you can hear its 80s vintage through the instruments and technology on display, but the way they use those instruments and technology is like no other mid 80s band I’ve heard before. (more…)
When LA punk rock ass kickers The Bronx first announced their mariachi based side project a few years ago, I was a little worried. It seemed like such an indulgence. At best, I thought it might just be a way for them to let off steam before getting back into their punk rock ass kickery. Then I heard Mariachi El Bronx (I), and it was more serious and more complete than I ever thought it would be. Another two albums and several international tours later under the moniker, and it’s obvious that Mariachi El Bronx is more than an indulgence or tossed of side project. I’ve liked the previous albums and given them a spin or two, but now that they’re back with Mariachi El Bronx (III), I realised I need to take Mariachi El Bronx more seriously.
To say that all mariachi music sounds the same to me, would probably be over stating the sensitivity of my mariachi pallet. But I don’t think it stops me from appreciating it on a certain level. It also leads me to focusing more on lyrics than I usually would. Musically, New Beat and Wildfires sound pretty much the same to me, but I do enjoy the story telling aspect of the lyrics. It borders on corny and pastiche, but the band commits more than enough to pull it off. (more…)
I’d never heard of Zac Brown Band until they appeared on the Foo Fighters Sonic Highways series. But according to that, Zac Brown is massive in America, playing to massive crowds in massive, sold out venues. That got me a little interested. But it took a tweet from Jason Isbell about them covering one of his songs that made me know I needed to give Zac Brown Band a go. Which is exactly what I did with Uncaged.
Things start on shaky ground. With a weird combination of calypso rhythms, country fiddles and impeccable harmonies, Jump RightIn sounds like the worst kind of middle of the road, corporate, safe music in existence. But Uncaged immediately improves with the title track. It’s just as polished and impeccable, but it has so much more life to it. While Jump Right In sounds like it was written by a computer, you can actually hear real people with heartbeats behind Uncaged.(more…)
When I wrote about PJ Harvey’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, I opened by saying, “I’ve never given PJ Harvey a chance. But that hasn’t stopped me talking shit about her music”. But I also wrote, “I also admit that I’m not nearly informed enough to dislike her music as much as I do.” At the closing of that album, my attitude had changed to, “I haven’t done a complete 180 and come to love her music, but I’ve definitely softened.” Softened enough to give her another go. This time with something a little more revered and something a little more representative of where she’s at today. This time with Let England Shake.
The title track and The Last Living Rose definitely sound like I’m dealing with a more thoughtful Polly Jean. Everything I liked about Stories From the City came from the louder, rockier numbers. But here, she’s figured out how to get the most from a little restraint. Where that came off as boring on the older album, Let England Shake sounds more deliberate and smouldering. (more…)
I’d never heard of Bobby Bare before. Then I watched an episode of Better Call Saul and a song played that grabbed so immediately, I had to pause the show and google the lyrics straight away to find out what it was. What it was, was Bobby Bare with Find Out What’s Happening. It was the kind of classic, storytelling country music of Hank Williams that sounds so simple and pure. I love the outlaw country guys like Waylon Jennings, but there’s something quaint about the Jesus lovin’, wholesome blokes of the generations before that. And that’s what I was hoping to get with Bobby Bare and Detroit City and Other Hits.
You’ve gotta love the hubris of a dude who releases an album of ‘hits’ the same year as his debut. Is he playing other people’s hits, or declaring these new songs as inevitable future hits? Either way, I love the balls of it. And with Detroit City,Is it Wrong (For Loving You) and Lorina, I think that cockiness is warranted. It’s the epitome of ‘country’ music in the most clichéd sense. (more…)
What happened to rock and roll? I know, that’s a very old man, out of touch thing to ask. But what happened that audiences seem content with watered down, soft, wet music with no guts to it? Until now, I would have lazily blamed it on Mumford and Sons, just because they have a high enough profile that I’ve actually heard of them. But now I have a new target for my aging rock fan anger. Now, I have Fleet Foxes and their oh so creatively titled album, Fleet Foxes.
Look, opening an album with bearded white guys in their 20s busting out some gospel style harmonies isn’t the most promising start, but I’m trying to keep an open mind and give the album the benefit of the doubt, at least for the first few songs. But Sun it Rises is kind of a perfect amalgamation of everything I was fearing Fleet Foxes might be. Put on heart and soul, stretching to sound earned, that just seems very calculated to me. (more…)
When I decided to listen to and write about Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.Ad city, it was totally based on the barrage of amazing reviews and word of mouth I’d read and heard for this year’s follow up. I can’t remember the last time an album generated so much praise and unsolicited conversation with people I know. And that lead to an awesome, belated discovery with good kid, m.A.Ad city. So now it’s time to see if that praise and unsolicited conversation starter lives up to that praise and unsolicited conversation, as well as the high precedent set by its predecessor. It’s time to dive into To Pimp a Butterfly
With its wahed out, synth bass line, and disco-like falsetto vocals, Wesley’s Theory immediately throws a level of funk and groove at me that I don’t remember hearing much of on good kid. But, when you collaborate with George Clinton, funk and groove are inevitable. Too bad it’s followed up by one of the most inessential, tossed off songs I have ever heard in my life. For Free? is as gimmicky lyrically as it is masturbatory in its free form jazz instrumentation. (more…)
Having your thing down to a science can sometimes mean having your thing down to a set of predictable and sterile tricks and tropes. But in the case of Dwight Yoakam and Second Hand Heart, you get the kind of expert hand that makes the masterful look effortless.
If The Great Wave’s intentions could be summed up in a single song, it’s Punch This Heart of Mine. Almost like Skipping Girl Vinegar are daring you to be in a bad mood and not smile while listening to this album.
Describing themselves as a country rock band from Melbourne is a claim that The Bitter Sweethearts obviously don’t take lightly. Everybody Wants to Be Free wears its American country influence proudly on its sleeve, while adding a distinctly Aussie twang. READ FULL REVIEW
When Kendrick Lamar surprisingly dropped his album To Pimp a Butterfly a few weeks ago, a hip hop fan friend of mine called it the greatest hip hop album since Lamar’s last release. That’s the kind of hyperbole that makes me immediately suspicious of any album. But as the weeks have past, too many reviews have appeared saying basically the same thing. Even Patterson Hood of Drive-By Truckers felt compelled to chime in and sing its praises. That was when I knew it was an album I needed to hear. But before that, I thought I should get some context and Lamar history, by listening to his previous record, good kid, m.A.Ad city.
Immediately, Sherane AKA Master Splinter’s Daughter, makes me realise that the hype around Lamar might be more than just hype. The beats and production are pretty cool, but it’s Lamar’s work on the mic that stands out. It sounds like you could whack this dude’s voice on any old beat, or no beat at all, and it would be impossible to ignore. Even the super annoying, robotic chorus refrain of Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe can take away from the awesome flow of Lamar in the verses.
Comparing himself to Martin Luther King Jr might not be the most sensitive or intelligent thing for Lamar to do, but I do know that it’s pretty ballsy. And I also know that it’s just one small part of a whole lot of awesome that is Backstreet Freestyle. And while that track is all about the herky jerky visceral edge, The Art of Peer Pressure delivers just as much impact through its silky smooth rhythms and liquid feel.
With good kid, Lamar piles on absolutely everything. Amazing verses of passion, an irresistible vocal hook in the chorus, and the most accessible beats on the album up to this point. While everything before it is challenging (in a great way), this is the kind of track that would make sense to me if it blew up the charts. Which is what makes it the perfect match to its evil twin, m.A.A.d city. And while I usually think hip albums rely too much on collaborations in general, MC Eiht totally kills this song in the second half, making it one of the albums real highlights.
While I could do with a little less of the dodgy effects on the vocals whenever Lamar sings instead of raps, that’s one very small downside amidst a shit load of upsides. good kid, m.A.Ad city makes my friend’s hyperbolic praise seem kind of on the money. It also makes me officially pumped to hear what Kendrick Lamar has done with To Pimp a Butterfly, an album that what I’m told is greatest hip hop album since good kid, m.A.Ad city.
When the whole Odd Future crew started to blow up a few years ago, I was determined to like them. I needed to know why the kids liked ‘em so damn much, and convince myself that my own tastes were still relevant. I listened to Tyler the Creator, he was young, dumb, homophobic, too cocky and his rhymes were awkward. I tried to listen to Earl Sweatshirt, but the shitty sound of his mix tape stuff was too much for me to still give a shit when he finally made a real, studio album.
So by the time Frank Ocean broke, and broke big, I was over the whole Odd Future thing in general. No matter how many times I read someone declare Channel Orange one of the greatest albums of 2012, the Odd Future stank was too much for me to get past. Now, that stank has wafted away, and it’s time to find out why so many music writers declared Channel Orange one of the great albums of 2012. (more…)