Stomping blues.

Dallas Frasca, “All My Love”

Sound Painter, 2012

There is nothing better than a stomping blues song, I think we all agree. And Dallas Frasca delivers stomp like it’s shots of whiskey at a rodeo.

Get a wooden floor, pull on your boots and turn this up loud. Perhaps not if you’re renting, because we all want to get our bond back eventually.

Hailing from Melbourne, Frasca has been doing her thing for a while now (if you have a chance to ever see her live-take it, and bring a stomping board), and this is the first taste of her second album, Sound Painter, recorded in Brooklyn with Australian music producer Andy Baldwin.

It starts off quite tame, Frasca’s raspy vocals are soft over fiddly guitar. But, thankfully, we’re soon equipped with a heavy beat, kicking drum and bass thumping. Don’t forget the tambourine as well.

The verse is full of choppy upstrokes, a rock reggae beat that’s infectious. It’s more accessible than her earlier stuff (which was so blues heavy it bulldozed your brain); it’s a lot softer in the verse. Which just works to make the return to the crazy pulse in the chorus all the more forceful.

Frasca’s vocals are strong and affected, she sings through megaphone towards the end, just making everything that little more raw and guttural- not that it needs it, this song has grit and anger in spades. Dallas churns out:

“All my love is gone/ And it feels so good to be free again”

Compared to some of her tracks (I Like You Better When You’re Straight is as dense as a blues song that you can get), this is quite restrained. It’s more ‘mainstream’ (whatever the hell that word actually means…), but still infected with Frasca’s raw power. It smacks at your chest and grips you by the throat.

Really, really good stuff.

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Good old days.

 

Jack White, “Sixteen Saltines”

Blunderbuss, 2012

If you don’t have a pair of boots to rip on and smash in a car window, get some. Because from the very first power chord that punches into your brain, it’s all on for young and old.

The second single from his forthcoming solo debut, Blunderbuss (to be released on 23 April), this is a return to the salty, ragged rock that he’s best at.

Cranking electric guitar, shrouded in reverb opens it all. It’s garage rock to the extreme, White’s vocals twisted and doubled up. Result: it’s a shouting ode to punk days past.

The drums are heavy on the cymbals, the organ and guitar thump along. It’s smokey and rough but held together by the heavy pulse. As in all Jack White’s songs, influences are aplenty here: The Ramones particularly. The spectre of Meg White also lingers on through the drums. There’s a sharp blues tinge to this as well, but really this is just rock…the way it’s supposed to be.

White’s vocals are intriguing, they swirl around the melody, chopping and changing- but constantly screaming, they never let up.

There are some really, REALLY cool parts to this song. Note the chorus about 50 seconds in. The organ and guitar hammer out a thick riff, whilst White wails his vocals up and down the register. It’s not long though, until we’re dragged back in to the the chaos that is the verse.

The outro throws up a standard guitar breakdown and solo. It screeches up into the top notes over the swelling backing and White’s falsetto harmonies.

Watch out for the album, people. It’s going to be good.

 

Temper Trap does Radiohead, kind of….

 

The Temper Trap, “Rabbit Hole”

The Temper Trap, 2012 (To be released 18th May)

I double checked, triple checked and quadruple checked to see if this was a cover of a Radiohead song, such was my conviction that it was. But alas, no it wasn’t- it was just The Temper Trap attempting to be Radiohead.

Released as a precursor to the ‘official’ single (Need Your Love), this track is pretty unassuming. Not uninteresting by a long shot- it builds to a spacey, alt-rock crescendo by the end- but it is lacking in musical ideas.

The tortured, feminine vocals open the track, over a soft acoustic guitar. It’s gentle and quite relaxing, but the disadvantage is that anyone hearing it will immediately think of Ok Computer, so strong is the similarity. The Temper Trap are trying to model themselves as the younger Radiohead, that much is blatantly obvious.

The vocals are drenched in reverb, and strengthen considerably when he opens up and starts to belt out a few notes. If only we could actually decipher what we’re actually hearing.

Screeching guitars start off the chorus, a wailing echoed, rock affair. It’s airy and ethereal, following the lifted vocals up into the clouds. Lasting for over a minute, it’s a fulfilling chorus, a prime red hunk of meat for ravenous fans who have been bereft since Sweet Disposition.It’s reminiscent of that track also, in terms of the epic, soaring crescendo.

It’s a satisfying end to what started out as a fairly simple song, and it’s a good taster of their highly anticipated album.

Hobbit land’s jazzy songstress.

Kimbra, “Cameo Lover”

Vows, 2011

New Zealand is a bit like Iceland. You don’t really hear much from them musically, then all of a sudden an artist bursts forth from their fertile lands and stuns the rest of the world. Think Bjork, Sigur Ros, and now Kimbra.

Cameo Lover was one of three charting singles from her debut album Vows (the other two being Settle Down and Two Way Street), and it displays Kimbra’s obsession with vocal experimentation and jazzy back beats.

Weaving her elastic vocals above percussive beats and stabs of synth and glockenspiel, the effect is part pop/soul mashup, part Alice in Wonderland dinner party.

The chorus throws up a motown beat, overlapped by string pads running up and down the melodic line, along with Kimbra’s own soaring, twisted vocals.  The piano then steps up and thuds out the ascending line, which punches through as Kimbra belts:

“Open up your heart and let me pull you out of here”

What’s brilliant about Kimbra’s songwriting is her ability to take a song to a completely new level (tempo, instruments, pulse, everything) and still manage to hold it together coherently. The verse and the chorus are pretty well opposite ends of the spectrum, and yet somehow she manages to steer through the melee and deliver an incredibly catchy song. She obviously paid attention in song writing college.

The constantly changing nature of the song (watch the transition from second chorus to the bridge, it will slap you well and good) means that we are given no opportunity to get even the slightest bit bored.

The last 30 seconds build and build and then drop off entirely, leaving us with cute harmonies, some strings and a tambourine. It feels abrupt even though it fades away softly- like we’ve just been shaken and then smoothed down.

It’s a year to the day that this song was released, and the song gets better with every play. One of the best written tracks of the year, by an incredibly talented lady.

Beware, Bieber is back again.

Justin Bieber, “Boyfriend”

Believe, 2012

To ignore the fact that this single has just launched would meaning burying yourself under a pile of rocks in the deepest part of the Mariana Trench. Basically, you’re going to hear it sometime soon, and that’s probably not a good thing for most of us.

Boyfriend is the usual Bieber affair, an RnB/pop mash up with criminal over-production and auto-tune. Oh, and it’s also got Justin Timberlake.

The thing with Bieber is that it really isn’t about the music anymore, which let’s face it, is not that great (I know that may come as a shock). Justin Bieber isn’t an artist, he’s a phenomenon, the perfect combination of marketing and teenage obsession. His songs are catchy, boppy and contain absolutely no musical talent whatsoever. At least he’s gotten rid of that ridiculous hair.

Boyfriendstarts like thousands of other pop RnB songs before it, a digitalised drum track, a synthesised eagle sound swooping in and out. Timberlake’s vocals enter, half singing/rapping in his breathy low register, his usual “I’m so sexy and slightly asleep” thing.

A second drum beat comes in, picking up the pace a little bit, but things only really get going when the acoustic guitar enters (sounding so fake it could almost be a synth), and Bieber himself enters the arena. His vocals are…you know. Perfectly in tune in the upper octaves, a bit strained in a “I’ve got so many feelings” kind of way, the ultimate pop boy sound.

The chorus is utterly predictable, a good hook, some electronic back-beats, digital sounding harmonies. The added bonus is JT scatting about in the background, dropping a ‘sweet line’ in every now and then. This song really does sound like a JT standard revamped a little. The lyrics, on the other hang, are hilarious:

“Chillin by the fire why we eatin’ fondue”

“I could be your Buzz Lightyear fly across the globe”

C’mon people!! This is pure genius! Leonard Cohen couldn’t have put it better himself.

This production is super slick (thanks JT), and in terms of the genre, is pretty much formulaic. If you’re one of the millions of fans, you will love it (mind you, Bieber could put out an album of hand clapping and they’ll still love him). If you’re not a fan, then perhaps cover your ears for the next six months.

Getting her groove on.

 

Feist, “How Come You Never Go There”

Metals, 2011

Feist’s easy, creaky croon of voice returns with this track off her new record,Metals. The Canadian has given us a ballad infused with soul-blues vibes hanging off Feist’s own, piercing voice.

Soul-esque harmonies open the track, above a punchy drum sound that hiccups behind. The piano keeps the chordal accompaniment in order whilst the guitar enters, messy and muted. The beat jumps up on the first and falls on the last, creating a swaying and popping beat. When Feist’s voice begins, heavily affected by reverb, her diction is clipped- a technique mirroring the drums- she seems to hop from one note to another, touching all corners of the octave. She sounds but the lyrics are icy:

“How come you never go there?/ How come I’m so alone there?”

It establishes a groove through the swaying piano and hopping drums and bass, and it has you tapping your feet and bobbing your head. There’s a blues edge to her voice and the piano that makes the track even more intriguing.

The surging horns enter half-way through, creating long, rising notes to undercut the raggedy electric guitar that scampers over the top.

It slows a bit with the bridge, which falls back to some muted, acoustic guitar chords and synth notes, a low drone of a horn can be heard distantly. It then jumps up quite a bit at the end, the drums start bashing a little more and the horns rise and rise. The harmonies are there, and join in at the last to issue the final few beats, a high, wavering note that slows the song and drops it down.

It’s irresistibly groovy, calming and warm. Listen with a coffee, leaning against a tree trunk.

 

A letter to indie bands.

San Cisco, “Awkward”

Awkward, 2012

Dear indie bands,

Just because you are young and have possession of a guitar and tight jeans does not necessarily mean you should release an EP….or actually, a song. Or really any sort of musical sequence of notes. Please, just…don’t. Because I don’t know how much more repetitive, cutesy indie pop the Australian music industry can handle.

Awkward is the debut single from Perth band San Cisco, from the EP of the same name, and it’s the pinnacle of Australian indie pop. It’s not a bad debut, really, but the single itself is drearily repetitive, bouncy and lacking in any sort of musical dynamics.

It starts with the obligatory bright, clear guitar, strumming high chords at an upbeat tempo. The drums are also predictably plain, a simple beat being played with no life whatsoever. They’re just meant to hum along whilst the vocals come in and do their thing, but unfortunately, the vocals offer up nothing interesting at all, resorting to the semi -talking, heavily accented style that has dominated the indie world for far too long.

The vocals are a conversation between a boy and a girl, and are so lacking in inspiration it’s slightly embarrassing. Not to mention the chorus, which goes like this:

“da da da da da da da da da
da da da da da da da da da da da da”
(x3)

Yep. That’s it.

The one asset this song has is that it’s incredibly catchy, no doubt because at no point during the song does the sound change; it’s impossible for it not to get stuck in your head.

There’s one huge problem with this type of song, and it’s this: it doesn’t go anywhere. There’s no bridge to speak of, there’s no key change, there’s absolutely nothing to interest the ear beyond the inane lyrics.

No doubt San Cisco will become indie heroes, but whether that actually involves having any sort of musical knowledge is yet to be seen.