ALBUM REVIEW: This Year – Ask

This Year

Ask 

The fact that this is an old school blues album recorded in the middle of the flower farm just makes it that much cooler, really. And it really is old school too – the ringing strums of electric guitar, the solid and curling vocals set above the popping bass – it’s all a bit early 70’s.

 

Written, recorded, mixed, mastered, produced – whatever else goes in there – by the band themselves, Ask is a surprisingly smooth release for being recorded in a shed. The songs are carefully constructed, rarely stepping a toe out of line, except for the occasional swerving guitar solos. This is in many ways an old record, but recorded with a new ear.  

 

Even more than that, there are some great tracks here: opener ‘Ask’ jumps out of the gate with a hopping drum line and a nice chorus hook. ‘What’s In A Name’ relies on a swaying backbeat and low, thrumming bass line to take things down a notch. “Eliza Jane” goes a bit California Americana, and ‘I’ll Be Back Someday’ has probably the sweetest opening lick of the album. There are only a couple of misses – ‘Angel’ doesn’t have the kick of the others, and ‘You’re On A Ride’ only really gets going at the solo.  

 

The lyrics, whilst pretty simplistic, do the job – and who really listens to a blues/rock album for the lyrics anyway? What really kicks about this is that it’s easy – it doesn’t demand much in the way of a cerebral workout to listen to it, and it shouldn’t. 

Probably more than anything, Ask, is just a great listen, brimming with musicianship and some thoroughly good sounds.  

 Rating: 7.0/10 

BREAKING BAND: Haim

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Haim

Falling

The leather wearing, guitar slinging, California slacker sisters Haim* may look like they’ve just broken out of St. Trinians, but at least they can craft one hell of a tune.

Courting a median age of 23, sisters Alana, Danielle and Este topped the BBC Sound of 2013 list – a huge indicator of impending world domination (Adele topped 2008’s list, for example.) Single “Falling” name checks everyone from Fleetwood Mac to Destiny’s Child, chopping up wistful harmonies over some heavy, scattered percussion. It’s a big single that may just be worth the hype.

haim

 

Haim will play Splendour In The Grass in July.

*Pronounced ‘Hime’ not ‘Haym’

 

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: Atoms For Peace- AMOK

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Atoms For Peace

Amok

Thom Yorke has never gone for the emotional jugular. Ever since Radiohead launched into the stratosphere with Ok Computer in 1997, his aim was for the cerebral, not emotional.

The debut from Atoms For Peace is like James Joyce in a world of Stephanie Meyer. Lose attention for a moment and the skittered rhythms and swooping bass lines will dissolve and shift into something else. Thom Yorke’s laptop science is brought to life and given legs and arms to flail.

Far from being Yorke’s solo debut under a different name, Amok is clearly the creation of a band. Loose and spontaneous, the melodies cartwheel around Flea’s driving grooves and the percussive power of Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco. Chopped and flipped by keyboardist and producer Nigel Goodrich, the end result is a psychedelic mix of African rhythms and Blade Runner technology.

The ride isn’t always easy – the out of key spike notes in “Before Your Very Eyes” are fingers down a chalkboard and the intricate cross rhythms can be clawing instead of caressing your throat. Often it sounds as if everyone is on a separate tangent, like they recorded deaf and blind in different rooms. It’s not a ‘sum of its parts’ situation though: tracks such as “Judge, Jury and Executioner” flow around the central Flea bass line and “Reverse Running” has an unusual focus – on Yorke’s often hidden vocals.

Unlike Radiohead’s beat driven and coldly distant The King Of LimbsAmok is warm- the sound of Thom Yorke starting to finally ease into the sound and enjoy the rave.

Amok is released February 25

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.