ALBUM REVIEW: Abbe May – Kiss My Apocalypse

640x640-cAbbe May

Kiss My Apocalypse 

– (Independent/MGM) –

By the sound of her guitar slashing 2011 debut, Design Desire, Abbe May seemed ready to unleash 70’s rock/sex hell on the world. Influential blog Popmatters declared that she was “ready to destroy the rock world”, and she snatched up a nomination for the Australian Music Prize. She seemed ready to take up the mantle of modern rock heroine.

Which makes the screeching U-turn of her followup intriguing. Or perhaps not to her, at least: “I’m bored with standard rock”, May states in the press release, “I’m bored with the standard cool.” That probably explains why Kiss My Apocalypse eschews rock in favour of minimalist, pulsing R&B and laptop driven synth-pop.

Produced by May and Sam Ford, It’s an oddly incoherent collection – tracks are stitched together with quiet interludes that often only contain a throbbing drum machine (opener ‘Hurricane Heartbeat’), or screwed up vocal harmonies (the aptly named ‘Cyberpunk Choir’).

When the songs do take form, often they’re more like imprints than actual structures, ‘T.R.O.U.B.L.E’ exists on a pumped up vocal hum with some doomsday synths providing the backbone, and ‘Want Want Want’ doesn’t go much beyond the same formula.

May described her new style as ‘doom-pop’, and even beyond the world-is-ending song titles it’s a curious description. May revels in darkness and sensuality, the lyrics full of post-coital cigarettes and sexual imagery. Singing of betrayal and heartbreak, May definitely resembles the victor, and the songs burn with a distinct ‘screw you’ mentality.

The better cuts on the record play to this strength: single ‘Karmageddon’ is built on a hellish synth shudder and thick vocal lines, and the title track is a slow, sonic kick in the teeth to her foes.

As a slinking pop experiment, it excels, the songs belonging to the kind of late night meet ups that it so describes. As a contemporary pop release, it’s also interesting, owing as much to The xx as it does to Frank Ocean. Whether or not it’s the successful genre cross over that May desires may remain to be seen.

Rating: 6.5/10

Kiss My Apocalypse is in stores now.

ALBUM REVIEW: Half Moon Run- Dark Eyes

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Half Moon Run

Dark Eyes

What goes on up there in Canada?? For such a polite, chilly country they’ve managed to turn out some of the most prolific and successful artists of the last 50 years (Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Alanis Morisette, Tegan and Sara…), completely altering the musical landscape in a thoroughly unreserved and un-Canadian way.

From this great bed of influences, it’s not surprising that Canada still cultivates some of the most interesting music around. Emerging from Montreal with debut record Dark Eyes, indie rock outfit Half Moon Run have created one of the most impressive albums of recent years. In just under 40 minutes, the group have cut 11 tracks that balance skittered percussion with dreamy vocals, intricate guitar lines with bouncing keyboards, and three part harmonies that the Dixie Chicks would kill for.

It’s this profound ear for balance that gets the mind humming. Songs that manage to hold down atmospheric soundscapes with danceable grooves at their base work so well you wonder why nobody does this all the time. As a bewitching case in point, opener ‘Full Circle’ is a cold piece of folk – a thumping percussive beat with Devon Portielje slip sliding his way through the lyrics atop a crisp acoustic. On the jittery ‘Call Me In The Afternoon’, the harmonies touch down momentarily before leaping to the next line, spurred on by the clacking drum sticks.

They’re alright on the slower stuff as well. ‘Need It’ is perhaps the obligatory love song, but luckily the pillow soft harmonies will get you through. ‘Nerve’ may just be the standout, a twisting mid-tempo groove with a softly pawing hook. Sure, they may shamelessly channel Radiohead on cruisers ‘Drug You’ and ‘Give Up’, but it’s still viewed through their own prism. And it’s that distinct, complicated prism that make Dark Eyes such a sonically arresting record.

Rating: 9.0/10 

ALBUM REVIEW: Sticky Fingers – “Caress Your Soul”

Sticky Fingers - Caress Your Soul Album Art

Sticky Fingers 

Caress Your Soul 

(MGM)

Some sounds are made for warm afternoons spent lying on grass, chewing on a stem of wheat, watching clouds roll across the big blue. Rage Against The Machine and Pendulum don’t fit this bill, but Sticky Fingers sure do.

Having firmly established themselves as one of the hardest-touring acts in the country, the question remained of whether the Sydney band could translate their brand of supple psyche reggae into studio magic.

With production overseen by Dann Hume (the go-to indie guy behind Lisa Mitchell, Alpine and Gossling), Caress Your Soul is a mellow fusion of lo-fi reggae jams with killer hooks hidden beneath its loping gait. The bouncing, interlocking rhythms supplied by the drums and bass skilfully avoid any downtempo quagmires that dub music often becomes ensnared in.

There are handy flashes of experimentation too – opener “How To Fly” stretches out some washy keyboard drones before the bass thumps in and everything is hosed down with reverb. “Freddy Crabs” goes one further with shimmering synths, looped vocals and a hefty psychedelic bent.

Most of the time though, Caress Your Soul deals in warm, languid reggae. Standout cut “Bootleg Rascal” sways heavily atop a thick bassline and delivers a sleek, liquidy guitar solo. The title track (which snagged number 61 in the Hottest 100), comes straight after and goes for the pop jugular, upping the beat and abandoning the laid back pulse for a frenzied jam. Likewise, “Clouds And Cream” seems ready made for the stoner dance floor. “Australia Street” and “These Girls” come off a little half-baked, lacking the vibrant array of colours of the surrounding tracks.

Light and dreamy but with considerable depth, Caress Your Soul reads like a Sunday afternoon – full of warmth and soul.

Caress Your Soul is out now.

13 Albums To Look Out For In 2013

We’re staring down the barrel of another great year for music, so to give you a preview, here are 13 of the most highly anticipated albums set to hit the shelves this year. 

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Atoms for Peace – Amok- February 26

Featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and world class percussionists Maruo Refosco and Joey Waronker, as well as Radiohead producer Nigel Goodrich, Thom Yorke’s new project Atoms for Peace is set to release their debut LP this February. Previous singles ‘Default’ and ‘Judge, Jury and Executioner’ hint that Yorke’s brand of glitchy electronica has evolved to the truly mind-bending, thanks largely to the sleek, angular bass lines supplied by master Flea.

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Beyoncé -Title TBA- Date Unknown

After kicking off the year with a fiery performance at the Superbowl, Beyoncé Knowles is tipped to be releasing her fifth record sometime this year. It’s all very hush-hush though, with reports coming in that she has recorded as many as fifty songs for the album, and that the guest list features the likes of Pharrell, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake.

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David Bowie The Next Day- March 12

He dropped mellow first single “Where Are We Now” out of the blue earlier this year, and now the Thin White Duke is set to release his first record in a decade. It’s an album that was 2 and a half years in the making, recorded under the utmost secrecy (people at the New York Magic Shop Studios referred to the Bowie sessions as “the Secret”). Whilst the first single was a restrained, piano ballad, Bowie has since let slip that the other tracks are funky, mid tempo rockers.

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Vampire Weekend -Modern Vampires of the City – May 7

They cheekily revealed the name of their third LP via a classified ad in the New York Times, and now Vampire Weekend are releasing the highly anticipated follow-up to Contra in May. First single “Unbelievers”, recalls previous favourite “Cousins” – a high energy pop cut ready for heavy airplay. Taking nearly 2 years to write and record, the album is set to be big.

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Paramore– Paramore – April 9

They may have gone through a drastic line up change (guitarist Josh Farro and drummer Zac Farro left in late 2010 after angrily claiming the band had sold out), but the Tennessee band patched themselves up and headed into the studio with big name producer Justin Meldal-Johnson (of Beck and Garbage fame). 2009’s Brand New Eyes was packed full of muscular rock riffs, but guitarist Taylor York has now hinted that the new cuts are more poppy and dance-oriented.

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Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito- April 16 

Lead singer Karen O has mentioned that psychedelia and roots reggae may appear on the bands fourth LP, and that the album contains “more moodier and tripped-out songs than you’ve ever heard from us” she said recently. Recording took place mainly in Tornillo, Texas, with the tracks demoed beforehand in a basement in New York on a drum machine and an old keyboard. They then enlisted produced Nick Launay (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) and James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) to help beef up the tracks on what will be one of the years biggest releases.

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Bernard Fanning – TBA- May/June 

Now that Powderfinger are well and truly in the past, Fanning settled down in L.A.’s Sunset Sound Studios to record his long awaited follow-up to 2005’s Tea & Sympathy. A few co-writes are slated to be appearing, most notably a track written with Beck drummer (and Atoms for Peace member) Joey Waronker.

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Arcade Fire TBD- Date Unknown 

They sailed to indie stardom with 2010’s The Suburbs, and now the follow-up from Montreal band Arcade Fire is scheduled for release sometime later this year. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy has been tagged as the producer, and although details are thin on the ground about the release, it’s set to be one of the biggest of the year.

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The Black Keys – TBD- Date Unknown

They may have only just wrapped up touring on El Camino and snapped up a Grammy for it, but a new record from The Black Keys is set to drop late 2013. Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach told Uncut magazine that the band were going back in the studio in January, hoping to finish the record before the end of March. Drummer Patrick Carney confirmed this in a later interview, adding that they could even be back on the road by the end of the year. It will be the bands eighth album.

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Emma Louise Vs Head vs Heart- March 22

She’s garnered a fair amount of airplay and attention off the back of two big singles: 2011’s “Jungle” and 2012’s “Boy”, but now the Brisbane singer has announced her debut LP is due to appear late March. New single “Freedom” is already on heavy rotation on the radio, and tickets to her album preview shows sold out lighting fast. All signs point to a big record.

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Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience – March 19

He’s now added ‘Actor’ to his extensive resumé, but Timberlake is back on track to drop his comeback LP in March. First single “Suit and Tie” was a slow, swerving RnB cut produced by longtime pal Timbaland, who will no doubt feature prominently on the rest of the record.
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Matt Corby – TBD- Date Unknown
Arguably the most anticipated Australian album of the year, Matt Corby’s debut LP should be released late 2013. After the mega success of his EP Into The Flame (which went five times platinum in Australia), and single ‘Brother’ nabbing the No. 3 spot in the Hottest 100 of 2011, Corby fled to London where he holed up with longtime collaborator Bree Tranter to record the album.
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Tool  TBD- Date Unknown 
Not a band to do things quickly (it’s been seven years since their last release, 10,000 Days), Tool have confirmed that 2013 will see them drop their fifth studio album. Drummer Danny Carney confirmed the band had begun work on the album last July, and that the album was set for a 2013 release (this was later denied by bandmate Maynard James Keenan, and then a few days after that it was confirmed again). Pieces of information have leaked out, like the fact the record apparently contains a 20 minute song.

Album Review: Tegan and Sara take a giant leap with “Heartthrob”

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Tegan And Sara

Heartthrob

(Warner Bros.)

There are usually only two scenarios that emerge when a band dramatically changes their sound. One, they are widely criticised, their fans flee and they get dropped from their label. Two, they are widely criticised, their fans flee, but they somehow manage to barrel through and pick up other fans, thereby attaining the rare status: the ‘crossover band’.

On Heartthrob, Canadian duo Tegan and Sara’s seventh studio record, the seismic shift towards bombastic synth pop seems, at first, to place them in the former category. Luckily, their penchant for clever hooks and silky harmonies pulls them through. Enlisting mega producer Greg Kurstin (whose clients include Ke$ha and Kelly Clarkson), they’ve touched up the indie angst and readied it for the dance floor.

Radio friendly tracks like lead single “Closer”, “I’m Not Your Hero” and “Drove Me Wild” gleam with eighties synths riding the thumping drum track. Huge, lush, and unashamedly pop, they land somewhere between the madness of Passion Pit and the coolness of La Roux. Despite lyrics about crushing heartbreak, self-loathing and regret, the songs feel and sound amazingly euphoric. It’s the change from the maudlin to the joyous that asks the question: who would rather cry when you can dance?

When they try to go down tempo, though, the fun quickly dries up. “How Come You Don’t Want Me” contains a killer hook, but lacks the necessary churn. “Love They Say” works much better, layering up the harmonies well and good. The structure rarely varies from “Closer”, except on “Now I’m All Messed Up”, where they opt for a glitchy, slow jam.

What anchors every song (and by extension, the whole record) is their overwhelming ability to craft a catchy hook. They are the Taylor Swifts of indie pop, every note expertly placed and timed and ready for the screaming sing -a-long. And when you’re dealing with intense, gut punching emotional baggage, sometimes a massive chorus is just the remedy. If only every band’s angst was this fun.

Heartthrob is released today.

Lisa Mitchell stretches out on second record

Lisa Mitchell

Bless This Mess

(Warner)

Lisa Mitchell’s sophomore album was never going to be an easy one to make. Her debut, 2009’s Wonder, defied all expectations, and turned the Australian Idol contestant into a certified indie darling, nabbing the No. 7 position for “Coin Laundry” in the Triple J Hottest 100 and more impressively, taking home the Australian Music Prize.

The formula which made Wonder so successful was simple: sunny, blissed out pop tunes that were easy on the ears but intelligent enough to keep you listening. Bless This Mess takes a different road, with Mitchell stretching her musical muscles and stripping back the quirkiness.

The openers, “Providence” and “So Much To Say”, rely heavily on the piano with strange orchestral flourishes and vocal chants emerging at odd times. The strength lies in Mitchell’s songwriting, with enough minor falls and major lifts and pop hooks to hit the spot. Things get a little messy on “The Story of the Raven and the Mushroom Man”, where Mitchell tries a little bit of everything and winds up sounding trite. Likewise the sitar raga of “The Present” aims for George Harrison but gets Rebecca Black instead. The sunny bubbles are still here though with the single “Spiritus” racing along with calypso drums and threatening to explode with cheerfulness.

Slower tracks such as “The Land Beyond the Front Door” are throwbacks to Wonder days, with Mitchell’s fragile voice wafted over a simple backing. It rubs up against the title track, a huge power ballad threaded with earworm hooks that’s bound to become a festival staple.

“Diamond In the Rough” and “I Know You’re Somewhere” are beautiful gems that come at the end of the record, with Mitchell’s vocals gentle against a piano and guitar. The raga returns with an 8 minute dub outro which fares a lot better than her previous attempt.

With so many ideas mashed together in a single record, Bless This Mess comes off a bit untidy, the result of Mitchell doing too much with too little time. There are enough glimpses of Mitchell’s formidable talent though, to make this a solid record and a steady platform for the future.

Key Tunes: “I Know You’re Somewhere”, “Bless This Mess”, “Spiritus”

San Cisco- Album Review

San Cisco

San Cisco

MGM

Since their single “Awkward” was released last year and landed at No. 7 in Triple J’s Hottest 100, Perth’s bubble of indie cuteness known as San Cisco have been riding a high.

Recorded over the winter, their self titled debut record attempts to distill their adorkable hipster image, with fairly mixed results. Featuring the vocals of both Jordi Davieson and Scarlett Stevens, the record bounces between the energetic and the confused.

Opening track “Beach” thrums along with thick synths under Jordi Davieson’s gentle croon, but disintegrates into an incongruous chanting chorus, clearly aimed at festival crowds but missing the crucial hook.

Tracks like “Fred Astaire” and “No Friends” work better, when San Cisco lighten up and remember the formula that made “Awkward” so damn catchy. Bright guitars, easy vocal melodies and child-like excitement make for a awfully fun song. Single “Wild Things” is the best of the slower songs, bound to be a radio summer staple.

Other songs don’t fare so well. “Hunter” never gets past the lilting, dreamy vocals and “Lyall” tries a little bit of everything and ends up in a mess. Different musical ideas pop up all over the place, and are often left hanging and clashing instead of being sculpted and restrained.

Davieson’s vocals, usually a playful yelp, fall into a whiny heap on “Stella”, and Scarlett Stevens doesn’t get much time to exhibit outside of the chorus chants.

San Cisco is a sophisticated piece of indie pop to be sure, but San Cisco promised us such a chaotic, joyous, summer lovin’ album. Unfortunately, this isn’t it.

Key Tunes: “No Friends”, “Wild Things”

San Cisco is released on November 23.