Category Archives: Reviews

Mogwai – Gig Review, The Tivoli, Brisbane March 4th 2015

Artist: Mogwai

Venue: The Tivoli, Brisbane Australia

Date: March 4th 2015

Rating: 10/10

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Awesome, ear pummelling fantastic, no other description necessary. Mogwai are as good live as you would hope, and after 20 years together, it’s fantastic to see a band not only evolving their sound but thoroughly enjoying what they do.

Theirs is no internal angst driven machine. Rather, they appear to draw on each other’s abilities to extend themselves further on stage and you get the feeling that this complimentary comradery extends to the studio also. Stuart Braithwaite, Mogwai guitarist and sometime vocalist alludes to not enjoying the travelling but loving the chance to play live to people who love their music.

At many times during the gig, Mogwai would unabashedly smile at each other, share an inside laugh and generally just loving being able to do what they love for a living. A six piece band on tour, they play at an uncompromising volume without sacrificing their precision of form, something laid bare at their sound check, nothing was left sounding good enough.

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By the time they get around to playing their newest release, Teenage Exorcist, it is obvious that tonight’s gig is about blowing minds, not melting hearts, and the vocals are deep in the mix, hidden within a wall of noise that threatens to never let up. Hexen Bogon and other tracks from Rave Tapes wash over a very appreciative though not sold out crowd who sway and rock with each ebb and swell of the dynamic live set and when they break out into the opening notes from Hunted by a Freak, the crowd erupts in cheers.

So commanding was their presence and so receptive of it was the crowd, that I only heard one shout out for a song and that only occurred during the encore. Further testimony to their on stage power was that even when they did break, chit chat among the crowd was limited to topics such as “how good was that!” not the minutiae of life you overhear at some concerts.

Maybe it was because the Brisbane gig was the last in Australia, maybe that’s just how they approach every gig, but to my ear they played with abandon, loose, loud and loving it! I could have stood for a few more hours of live Mogwai, but all good things must end and I am left wondering when they’ll be back and how I will get there.

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Review – Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders

Artist: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders

Album: Playmates

Label: Self Portrait / Inertia

Date: November 7th, 2014

Rating: 70/100

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Ok this guy has a deep, relentless voice, so this album may be difficult to consume in one sitting for some. However, if your ears are favourable to such baritone crooning, you will want to drown in Jack Ladder’s (Tim Rogers) vocals.

This is the fourth outing from Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders, the first on Self Portrait and from what I’ve read, the first to be produced by Kim Moyes (of Sydney-based electronica duo, The Presets). It’s a nice combination of skill sets here made tastier by the fact the Dreamlanders are no ordinary backing ensemble.

Kirin J. Callinan & Donny Benet both have burgeoning solo careers, plus Callinan has roots in Sydney Indie Rockers, Mercy Arms, Kim Moyes, mentioned above and drums handled deftly by Laurenz Pike better known by some through his group PVT (formerly Pivot) the first Australian artist signed to the Warp label. It therefor goes without saying that the musicianship here is top notch first class and tight. They play like they’ve been together since birth.

The lyrical talent of Jack Ladder needs to be highlighted here as well because in some ways, the lyrics are the unnamed band member on the album. In an age where literate lyrics are almost an impediment to success, the songs on this album have no need of video clips, so richly described is each track, you only need a modicum of imagination for these tracks to play out large behind closed eyes.

Another added bonus for the ears is a guest appearance by Sharon Van Etten, on opener Come On Back This Way & To Keep And To Be Kept, though I think her voice is best utilized on the latter track. Ironically, it’s the one song where the lovers win out. It’s a depressingly dark outlook on love detailed fastidiously and delivered dark and deep down from our Jack, knockdowns shutouts putdowns and letdowns, worldly and personal all at once. Great stuff if you’re right there with him.

For my ears, it’s the first six tracks that stand out on repetition. I guess this would be one of those albums I would have hailed as a brilliant EP if had been so. Having said that, this album is well worth buying, there is beauty here for the ears to be sure and one day, love might just dump on you and you’ll know where to go to find sonic solace. I imagine this album is best served with a nice red, aired of course.

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Review: The Occupants – Hindsight EP

Artist: The Occupants

Album: Hindsight EP

Label: Pavement Records

Date: November 2014

Rating: 71/100

 

 

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Fantastic opening salvo from a promising Aussie three piece featuring former Cogs.

I’m a fan of the EP format, has to be said straight up, and this one joins a long distinguished list of stunning Aussie EPs released this year from bands like Lunatics on Pogostics, Fox & Fowl, Orphans Orphans & Little May.

 

The combination of Flynn & Luke Gower (ex Cog) with now permanent Occupant Leigh Davies (ex Sleep Parade) has sparked a new creative step. Returning to the hills of Byron Bay to record with producer Forrester Savell, where they first recorded under the Occupants moniker for their 2013 single and EP closer, the band obviously works well together.

 

The EP opener and title track Hindsight opens with the stunning voice of Gower, Strong, bold, singular and backed by a building indie rock track with a great hook chorus that leaves you humming long after the track has spun. To me on this track more than the others Gowers voice is remarkable, reminiscent at times of Mandawuy Yunupingu from Yothu Yindi.

 

Momentum lets up a touch on Streets, but it’s still a great slowburner of a track. Wonderland is just blissful anthemic indie electro rock with Banjo! & EP closer I’ve Been Thinking is another corker of a track worthy of being their first single. A few spins of this EP has me enthralled with the voice this guy has, like a composite of ten or so great voices compressed into the one throat.

 

Yep, for sure you can hear a smidge of Cog here, a sniff of a progressive riff there. But brimming under the surface of these tracks is also an undercurrent of post rock gone large with a grunge pop sentiment. Personally if you listen to an album and start to wonder and hope what will come on the next album, the band has done well.

 

 

Links –

 

www.theoccupantsmusic.com/

 

https://www.facebook.com/TheOccupantsMusic

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Review – Mazes – Wooden Aquarium

Artist: Mazes
Album: Wooden Aquarium
Label: Fatcat / The Planet Company
Date:   October 3 2014
Rating: 79/100

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This is my first foray into the world of British band Mazes, but judging by what I’ve heard online, they have matured brilliantly on their third outing.

For whatever reason, the band found themselves in New York, recording with Parquet Courts producer, Jonathan Schenke. It was winter, they had some of their gear stolen on day one, they had to dig through snow to get to the studio and it was all done in two weeks.

You wouldn’t know it. What they have produced is shiny, snarly psychedelic pop of a high calibre. Guitarist Jack Cooper, drummer Neil Robinson and bassist Conan Roberts do well in a studio environment, creating an album that wears its Krautrock & Psychedelic influences like great big smiley face badges while delivering Indie rock and fuzz straight to your face.

There’s a sense of relentlessness’ about this one, like the trip’s running out, or maybe hasn’t kicked in yet. Either way, tracks like openers Astigmatism & Salford and later in the album, The Letters Between U & V (album stand out track for my money) and Mineral Springs give you the feeling this is a band that is hound like in hunting down the sounds they want, then onto the next scent. They don’t linger.

They still manage time to throw in some Britpop era bliss via Stamford hill and an uncanny channelling of Egyptians era Robyn Hitchcock on Vapour Trails and while they let their wig out most on RIPP, tracks like Explode Into Colours and The Third Ridge still have enough residue to pique the interest of Leary’s ghost.

Overall I found this album hard to take out of the CD drawer, the best slice of psychedelic pie I’ve had this year. My biggest gripe with the album, we didn’t get a big enough slice. Let’s face it, at 32 minutes, it’s a bloody fast high.

 

 

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Review: Mairi Morrison & Alasdair Roberts – Urstan

Artist: Mairi Morrison & Alasdair Roberts

Album: Urstan

Label: Drag City

Date: 2012

Rating: 83 / 100

 

Get your Gaelic out and dance.

 

This is a wonderful collaboration between these two artists, backed by members of  various Alasdair Roberts outings. Stemming from what was to be a one off collaboration at Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts, Ceol’s Craic (music and banter). It also marked the first time Alasdair had sung in Gaelic in public and in front of a Gaelic speaking audience.

 

The album is splattered with songs in Gaelic and English, some upbeat ‘kilts flying’ moments (Mile Marbhphaisg Air A Ghaol & Fiullaigean,), some tracks that sound like they came from a Scottish hollow in the 16th century ( The Laird o’ the Drum, Ailein Duinn & The Tri-Coloured House) and some more contemplative pipe toting numbers (E Ho Leigein, Am Faca sibh Lilidh Tha Mise Ri Lorg & Leanabh an Oir)

 

I came to this album with a scattered knowledge of the musical output of Alasdair Roberts, both solo and in groups such as Appendix Out, but Mairi Morrison was a delightful find to the ear and one can only hope that she will release more music hopefully to a now wider audience.

 

Overall, this would have to be my favourite world music release of 2012. Tastefully elegant and surprising, a fantastic pairing of two mutually beneficial talents caught in the same tangent. This is an album that doesn’t become flaccid after repeated listening and makes you long to be in a dingy Scottish dive awaiting their next set.

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Review: Jezabels – The Brink

Artist: Jezabels

Album: The Brink

Label: Self Release / MGM

Date: 2014

Rating: 77 / 100

Sophomore releases by bands whose first albums become successful beyond expectations are generally confronted by reviewers with a raised bar. Couple that with the fact that The Brink is like a new pillow that takes a while to sink in and feel right and a quick review becomes a hazy mirage in the distance.

That being said (or written, for the pedantics) there are only two bars that need to be cleared. Does it step forward from the first release and does it artistically presage a third?

The Brink delivers on both fronts and although the immediacy of their first album (Prisoner – 2011) is missing here, we find the Jezabels in a more slow burning and at times smouldering mood. Their expanded soundscape perhaps in parts as a result of finding themselves in depressed limbo after a gruelling year of touring and recording in London with producer Don Grech-Marguerat whose resume includes Radiohead, Kooks and Lana Del Ray.

Brooding vocals and at times almost sinister soft instrumentation give way to scowling indie pop – rock, the type that forces your feet to tap and makes people who don’t like dance music get up and dance. The Brink, Look of Love, The End and Got Velvet exemplify this while tracks like No Country and Psychotherapy trickle down and rumble on like distant thunder heading your way.

“I felt I was on the brink of a lot of things on this album,” vocalist Hayley Mary explains. “Youth and age, alternative and pop, giving up and pushing through.”  This crossroads in sound is most evident in Beat to Beat where thumping drums give way to a pure pop melody and even Mary’s vocals (a dynamic force of range and depth) invoke the pop aesthetic.

Intentional or not, a signature sound is evident through the evolution of their recorded output and this album should equally satisfy old fans and convert new ones. As The Jezabels mature into their expanding sound and they find a workable equilibrium between touring, creating and recording, their future should be shiny.

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Review: Emily Jane White – Ode to Sentience

Artist: Emily Jane White
Album: Ode to Sentience
Label: Antenna Farm
Date: June 12, 2012
Rating: 68 / 100

There is magical gothic beauty to be found on this, White’s 3rd album. The opener Oh Katherine sets the tone for the best tracks of the album, from the delightful finger picking embellishing tracks throughout Ode to Sentience to her tasteful and economic use of string and piano accompaniment providing just the right amount of flesh to tracks like The Black Oak and Requiem Waltz. Of course, the skeleton of the album is the strength and fragility of Emily’s vocals. When a singer-songwriter (or band for that matter) is blessed with a quality voice, it is a pleasure to hear it shine through the production, rather than be drowned out in the instrumentation.

My only problem with this recording is the descent into what I’ll call ‘count-your-fingers country’ such as tracks The Cliff & Broken Words. When the ear starts to hear fiddle instead of violin; stop. When slide guitar impels you to put a grass stalk in your mouth; stop.

Having said that; there is so much more to admire on this album than to fear. There’s a wonderful foreboding quality to some of the tracks, providing a real atmosphere for the ears. This is mature composition, not the result of some fly by nighter given the keys to the orchestra by a new label. Looking forward to the next release, hopefully recorded in a run down gothic looking castle or a haunted old prison overlooking a rough ocean.

Links –
http://www.emilyjanewhite.com/
http://antennafarm.bigcartel.com/artist/emily-jane-white

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Review: Elliott Smith – Elliott Smith: an Introduction

Artist: Elliott Smith

Album: Elliott Smith: an Introduction

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Date: 2010

Rating: 74 / 100

 

Elliott Smith’s life was a troubled and murky pool even to the end, having died under circumstances still unresolved at age 34 in 2003. Under the surface of his gentle finger-picking guitar style, hushed vocals and Beatlesesque melodies lies a lyrically turbulent battle with relationships, mental issues and addiction. You will undoubtedly never have heard a rock singer swear so sweetly that it almost takes the venom from the words.

 

His recording career started with post-punk rock band Heatmiser, before a solo home-recorded tape reached a pair of ears that mattered at music label Cavity Search and his solo career was born. Unfortunately, if you are a fan, that solo career only saw five albums of material before his death. This compilation draws from all those albums plus the post-humus released album ‘From a Basement on a Hill’ (2004) and the ‘New Moon’ (2007) outtakes compilation.

 

That all being said, what’s it sound like? A beautiful introduction to his music if you are new to Elliott Smith, the only flaw being that it relies too heavily on the ‘Either/Or’ (1998) album. There are also no unreleased tracks here, just remixed or new mixes of Last Call, Angel in the Snow & a single version of Happiness from ‘Figure 8’ (2000), so if you’ve got it all you don’t need this. One gets the feeling though that the family trust has omitted some equally pretty and compelling tracks due to their adult content and this compilation has suffered to some extent for it.

 

Standout tracks; Waltz #2, Between the Bars, Pretty (Ugly Before) and Miss Misery.

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Review: Dodos – Carrier

Artist: Dodos

Album: Carrier

Label: Polyvinyl

Date: 2013

Rating: 65 / 100

 

Fifth album adrift of the drive and focus of their last.

I have followed the output of the Dodos since Visiter (released 2009) and I may be a victim of expectations but I can’t see this release as progressing from the last in any way. At best this album could be described as putting your foot down with a disengaged clutch.

In fact disengaged is how my ears felt after a few listens. The barrelling rock of their last release (No Color – 2011) that bounced from track to track and made the album such an awesome driving CD, is mostly missing here. The album was recorded in the band’s hometown of San Francisco, CA at John Vanderslice’s iconic Tiny Telephone Studios and with no line up changes,(though touring guitarist Reimer died in 2012, and this had an impact), his departure seems to have set the template.

Tracks like Substance and Confidence remind one of where their sound seemed to be travelling but these tracks are isolated amongst other less engaging numbers. I still think Dodos are a promising band and there are some solid tracks on the album but at the moment they seem to be indie minstrels who have misplaced their muse.

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Review: Dead Can Dance – Anastasis

Artist: Dead Can Dance

Album: Anastasis

Label: PIAS

Date: 2012

Rating: 72 / 100

 

The opening track tells you everything you need to know, DCD are back like they never left.

 

It’s been 16 years since Lisa Gerrard & Brendan Perry entered a studio together and the result is something their fans have known since their first albums, their sum is far greater than their parts. During that 16 year hiatus Gerrard released a few collaborative albums and some soundtrack work, including the Grammy winning Gladiator soundtrack with Hans Zimmer, while Perry released what may well be the saddest solo release ever, 1999’s Eye of the Beholder

Designed on purpose to sound like a continuation of the DCD musical canon which ended with the 1996 release Spiritchaser, Anastasis (Greek for resurrection) holds up well, blending their newest muses (Morroco and Greece) to the core of the DCD sound, European folk and Middle Eastern fusion.

To my ear, the candy in this album is hidden in the centre. While the album as a whole is a fitting continuation of the DCD canon, it’s stand out tracks like Agape, Amnesia and Opium that best exemplify their new direction in sound.

Brendan Perry’s soulful baritone returns as does Lisa Gerrard’s wordless glossolalia (or language that is yet to be spoken – take your pick). Maybe these are the reasons that this album is not as compelling as it should be on multiple hearings. While there has been a progression in the instrumentation, the vocals haven’t grown or been influenced to the same extent.

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