Janelle Monae- Live at the Sydney Opera House

In between the swarms of women dressed in black tuxedo’s, a young man was dancing to the warm up music. As a woman glanced at him, he suddenly pulled her in and shoved a glass of champagne in her hands.

‘Before we were strangers, now we are friends!’ He shouted gaily to the young lady, looking quite aghast but happy with her free alcohol.The doors opened behind him and he danced away into the concert hall at the Sydney Opera House.

A stack of percussion, a myriad of synthesizers and four chairs were washed in lurid red light on the stage. Janelle Monae’s scene of android madness was set, pictures of her alter-ego flashed behind the stage as speakers blared James Brown’s Sex Machine at an ever-increasing volume.

A delicate string overture and a top hatted man’s introduction later, and the lady herself spun from behind a black cloak to piercing screams from the crowd. She burned through opener Dance or Die , drums scatting behind her. Rapping and throwing her voice around, she tap danced her way across the stage and conducted a frantic audience. Funky death eaters swarmed and danced around a backing band who were in sync with every note and dance move. They melted into Faster and doubled the pace before Monae broke out in a fit of dancing and freezes and stops. Hopping quickly from one section to another, it became a freight train of jiving madness before suddenly it plunged into black and the audience collapsed with exhaustion.

Guiding the audience through a fusion gumbo of motown rhythms, soul vocals, jazz hooks and RnB vibes, Monae was a vortex of charisma- sucking the energy from the audience and rolling it back out. It was not as much as gig as a exhibition of creative arts, she painted the image of the android whilst singing, staged a mock fight between the cloaked dancers before shooting them all, and strutted and tap danced her way through standouts Cold War, and Tightrope. Showing off her pipes, she purred and roared her way through a stripped back Smile, unleashing a devastatingly perfected voice.

Peppering her set with blinding covers of Goldfinger and I Want You Back, before finishing with single We Are Young, Monae’s gig was a non stop, epileptic fit of dance goodness for 2 hours. A strikingly talented performer.

Ladyhawke- “Anxiety” Review

Ladyhawke

Anxiety

2012

Returning after a long break, Ladyhawke has slammed together some crunchy guitars and heavy eighties riffs and produced her second album.

There’s a lot to like about this record, the first half is full of deliciously catchy riffs (the opener- Girls Like Me– is a heartbeat slow dirty dance track, and a standout on the album), and cleverly crafted songs from a lady that knows her way a composition. Sunday Drive is a sci-fi sprayed pop song whilst Vaccine is a thundering ode to drum kits everywhere.

The single, Black, White & Blue continues the pounding with a killer hook and icy vocals. Affected and produced down to the last half-note, it’s electro pop with a rock heart.

But somewhere along the line (after Vaccine), the record falls decidedly flat, the synths are still boring into your brain but the songs don’t contain enough melody to hold them up. It doesn’t progress beyond the foot tapping, and after the 7th song a keyboard induced headache starts to appear.

Cool tracks, but a slightly disappointing whole.

Tracks to hear: “Vaccine”, “Girl Like Me”

Yeasayer get a little weird

 

Yeasayer, “Henrietta”

Fragrant World, 2012

Taking a bizarrely screwed beat and twisting it up with some futuristic effects, Yeasayer have crafted their new single as an ode to Henrietta Lacks (the cancer patient in the 1950s whose cells were used for the polio vaccine).

Music and story fit weirdly well together, as the song plunges along with splutters of fiddly keyboard over a molten bass line. It’s undeniably creepy and disturbing, at times sounding like something from the Blade Runner soundtrack.

It’s another spaced soul track from Brooklyn’s band of sci-fi fanatics.

John Mayer- “Born and Raised” Review

John Mayer

Born and Raised

2012

John Mayer reportedly said he wanted his fifth studio album to evoke a cowboy sitting on the open range, strumming his guitar by the fire. Luckily for him, this album does exactly that- it’s a gently rocking ode to country blues and Americana, a confessional and somewhat apologetic record.

Born and Raised is like car ride through the American outback, and Mayer has even picked up a few hitchhikers along the way, such as David Crosby and Graham Nash, who lend their distinctive brand of harmonies to the title track.

It opens with the sunny acoustic lick of Queen of California, which layers pedal steel guitars with pianos in a swelling country rock number. It’s a comfortable beginning, but things soon get flipped with the strange tones of Age of Worry– an orchestral ode to self-acceptance.

Shadow Days brings it back to the ranch with tangy slide guitar sequences and Mayer begging forgiveness and telling us that he’s: “Had a tough time/ Got a rough start/ But I’ve finally learned to let it go”. Switching from self-reflection to social commentary, Speak For Me is this albums Who Says(from last record, Battle Studies), with Mayer wishing for better songs on the radio and more rock stars.

Continuing with his self-examination, the title track rings with unexpected melancholy as Mayer sings about his dreams that “Don’t fly as high as they used to”. The initial hook soon builds with a warbling harmonica solo and the dense harmonies of Crosby and Nash. The sad cowboy then sways forward with If I Ever Get Around To Living, a curious country song with elevator music undertones.

The back end of the album drifts off, the later songs not quite living up to their predecessor’s. The final track, Fool to Love You, shows that the blues is still part of his soul, a rolling wave to carry the cowboy away.

He’s done a lot of thinking in making these songs, and it shows. Recorded prior to his vocal surgery last year, his voice has a husky edge that’s not unpleasant. It’s the sentiment, and not the sound that defines these songs. The feeling of loneliness and acceptance carries through it all, as Mayer faces up to his shortcomings with his most honest and open record to date.

Alanis Morissette is still Ironic

Alanis Morissette, “Guardian”

Havoc and Bright Lights, 2012

For all those that have been hankering for some sweet Canadian angst: it’s okay now, because Alanis Morissette has returned.

Now officially a US citizen, Morissette jumped back in the studio in October 2011 and started recording like a woman possessed- by the end of the following month she had cut 31 tracks.

Guardian is the first of these new tracks that she has released in the lead up to her eighth studio album, due in August. As a single, it’s vintage Morissette- a sumptuous pop rock effort that brings her penchant for snappy chorus hooks and crunchy guitars to the fore.

Produced by Guy Sigsworth (who has worked with Madonna and Britney Spears), the track rings with slick harmonies and synths. Luckily though, Morissette retains that bitter anger that personified her earlier records- the song hangs off her voice as she thunders over the heavy backing.

A great track. Head over to ‘Listen In’ to check it out.

Sigur Ros- Valtari

Sigur Ros

Valtari

2012

It’s fitting that the album cover is what it is- a ship floating above a calm sea. Because that’s exactly what listening to this latest record by Sigur Ros sounds like; flying vocals and piano ride above soft lapping waves of sound.

The sixth full length studio album from the Icelandic group hasn’t departed much from their earlier efforts. Ambient and epic post rock soundtracks evoking their misty homeland.

From start to finish, Valtari (meaning ‘roller’) is a icy trip of droning synths, ethereal voices and a low thundering bass. Jonsi’s falsetto skates over the top of dense and layered backing. It drowns you in sound, and can get a bit overwhelming; the songs hold up much better when there’s a melody (however slight) to hang on to.
The standout track, Varuo, is an ambitious orchestral sweep with shimmering strings and piano, and it builds to a heavy crash of drums and phased guitar. The bowed guitar (a feature of Sigur Ros) has remained, fans will be happy to know, and its sound can be heard peppered throughout the album.
In terms of standing against their earlier records, it hasn’t quite lived up to the splendour of fourth album, Takk, but it’s still a solid undertaking, showcasing their crazy musicianship and vision.
Bizarre and completely arresting.

Janelle Monae’s crazy mind

 

Janelle Monae, “Cold War”

The ArchAndroid (Suites II and III), 2010

In light of her upcoming performance at Sydney’s Vivid Festival, it’s worth having a listen to the art rock/ tuxedo wearing madness that is Janelle Monae.

Released as a concept album back in 2010, The ArchAndroid was a psychedelic trip of orchestral sweeps and pop/jazz fusion, showcasing Monae’s ability to craft not only an individual song, but an entire record.

Cold War is a perfect slice of Monae artistry, a catchy hook overriding layer upon layer of complex backing. The opening keyboard tinkling soon opens into a bounding drum beat, echoed guitar and constant vocal harmonies. Monae’s vocals barely seem to be holding on as the track picks up behind her and snowballs into an guitar heavy jam of jazz fusion. The end sees her throwing her voice above a synth dominated outro of trippy electro beats.

It’s ambitious, bold and brash. And totally cool.