As the nights draw a little longer in Australia and the nights grow tepid to world standards, Europe strips off the layers of long worn winter clothes to welcome the summer months of festivals and good times. The wandering lamb struggles to deal with the abundant festival mayhem that takes place through the UK, Spain, Iceland, Scotland and as far as California. Luckily we have Splendour in the Grass and more importantly the side shows that it brings, so happy days to us too. So with the rush to get our hands on some great upcoming gigs we are also bearing our ears to some great New Borns this week that ties in a bit of spanish flamenico inspired sounds from Rodirigo y Gabriela to the manically globally influenced and slightly neurotically brilliant sounds from tUnE yArDs debut album. Much loved Pixies return with the release of 3 EPs under the collective Indie Cindy and those who show some influence of their early work, The Horrors again take their dark sounds into dance territory with their fourth release Luminous. We finally take a listen to a uniquely delivered album by new-combers Elephant and their new release Sky Swimming, an album of gentle rhythms and luscious vocals that take us to the early 90s. It’s another good week in reviews, so we urge you to read and take a listen.
Artist_ tUne yArD
Album Title_ Nikk Nak
Genre_ Alt. Dance, Alt. Hip Hop, Electronica, Experimental, Synth Pop
Moments Of_ Architecture in Helsinki, Nina Simone, Peaches, Dirty Projectors
Stand Out_ Real Thing
Merrill Garbus, AKA tUnE yArDs pulls out all the stops with her third album and it’s a quirky, terrifying mess of artistic brilliance. For this project Garbus really did her homework it seems; drum and dance studies in Haiti, voice lessons, new producers (Malay, John Hill), and its paid off. Nikki Nack is an eclectic and powerful mix of ideas and sounds. Read and listen on if you want a the bombast of Peaches and the girl power of Pussy Riot mixed in with a little what-the-heck-did-I-just-listen-to?
“Hey Life, why do you keep me around?” Garbus dives into the important stuff it seems. And amidst what at first seems like a garble of children’s rhymes and nonsense frantically spat out by Nina Simone on speed, Garbus gets into some heavy topics. Feminism, the purpose of life, love, infanticide, corrupt policemen, it’s all in here, mixed in amongst the electronica, ethnic beats and vocal layering and distortion that Garbus plays with, but overall it’s an interesting end result. A whacked end result that makes you dance like a retarded chicken chasing a sock strapped to its own head, but incredibly interesting.
“Find A New Way” is a fantastic opener, it slams into your ears, regardless of how much you’re paying attention and twists them into listening even more. Garbus spits, wails, croons, and chants her way around African-inspired rhythms that are evident throughout the album, hand claps and call-and-response. It has the potential to be all Paul Simon-white-appropriating-black-don’t-go-there-man, but instead she uses her inspirations in a way that doesn’t wholly cannibalize other musical cultures. Instead they are an appealing idea among other musical concepts, an expressive nod to her drum and dance experiences in Haiti.
“Real Thing” is the standout on the album; the lyrics almost make the song reminiscent of a Delta Goodrem-esque self-love-I-am-me ballad and screw it all up, but then it so isn’t. Garbus’s many layered voices slice through each other impressively, meek “lalala”s intertwine with call-response and coarse raps on fat –shaming; “Girls, while you worry about dress size six, they’re winning those tricks, those dicks!” – classic.
Garbus slows it down and tones it down on songs like “Look Around”, but instead of mediocrity it’s more tUnE yArDs virtuosity, giving you time to catch your breath before the next tirade. “Rocking Chair” is a great song, definitely African-inspired, and totally from the left-field. But really, if you want excellent lyrics, “Manchild” is fantastic, condescending, a sharp message to abusive boyfriends (ex-boyfriends I’m hoping).
“Wait for a Minute” is a mournful (as mournful as Garbus can be) tune on empty days. At first her voice seems jarring, but again she showcases what she can do; and she can do quite a bit. Full and wistful – very Nina Simone – clashes with layers of yelps and chants, all Garbus. A whole tUnE yArDs choir made up of one woman, and it’s good.
Nikki Nack is an urgent, scattered album, but still melodic and enjoyable. Garbus flexes her musical and lyrical muscles without going overboard, though I hate to think what that actually is, it would be way too much for me. What she’s created here is just the right amount of crazy.
Album Title_ Indie Cindy
Genre_ Prog Rock, Psychedelic, Grunge, Folk Rock, Indie Rock, Shoegaze
Moments Of_ Husker Du, My Bloody Valentine, The Velvet Underground
Rock alt veterans the Pixies have released their 6th album, Indie Cindy. With a repertoire that spans over two decades the Boston formed collective have influenced countless artists (Dave Grohl attesting to that), their initial forming, disbanding then reforming (not necessarily in that order) with more to follow, a rather public dialogue of discord between Black Francis and Kim Deal and her subsequent departure from the band. Admittedly it’s been a colorful history, but this week I had the opportunity for a geez of their latest over a cup of Joe and a bikkie.
What did I find you ask. Yikes. Dreadful? Not entirely. But frankly, I was at odds with this one. It goes without saying that no one could dispute the potentially harrowing task of following – up such a significant and thoroughly scrutinized body of work. Although, I don’t think front man Black Francis was particularly perplexed, and it certainly hasn’t hindered his love of bizarre subject matter or quirky turns of phrase. Despite originals Joey Santiago and David Lovering remaining put, lest we forget the well documented disparity and consequent fall – out between Francis and co – founding member, bassist and lone dame Kim Deal; their artistic discrepancies serving as a cautionary tale and a ‘how to’ in an ongoing battle of inflated, bumbling egos (or maybe just Francis’ attempts at being a colossal tool bag, still undecided).
Or perhaps a reluctant Francis was just not prepared to relinquish much of the creative responsibility. Still, through that drudgery came some very significant contributions to popular music, the Pixies often being cited as major influence to artists such as Thom Yorke, PJ Harvey and perhaps most famously, Kurt Cobain. Their formula simple, a three to one man/woman ratio, innocuous muted verses preceding searing, primal choruses and a good dose of the peculiar lyrical styling’s of Francis; infamous for his curious fascination with surrealism and his fragmented commentaries on religion, extraterrestrials, love and sex.
So Indie Cindy is the first album to come from the Pixies cannon in a very long time, twenty-two odd years. So much hype and hopeful anticipation for this release, was it inexplicably destined to be a disappointment? I think in part yes, naturally that was always going to be a potential issue. Part of me also thinks that it was kind of a bad omen to incorporate the name Cindy in the mix too. But in all seriousness, Indie Cindy is by no means a return to the hey day of Pixies glory, much less a mish – mash of slighted EPs and regrettable attempts to emulate traces of the frenetic rawness of Surfer Rosa, the mass appeal of Doolittle or the seductive weirdness of Trompe Le Monde.
I’m not really sure why but for some reason I find the material on this album confusing. Essentially all the main ingredients are there. After all, it does appear to have all the signature trappings of a Pixies album (Vaughn Oliver cover art to seal the deal). Perhaps it was the uncharacteristically polished production on here, I really just was not sold. Something felt a little well, off. Opening track What Goes Boom provides a hearty yet explosive introduction, whilst Greens and Blues and Jamie Bravo are less committal, politely passable and Andro Queen a personal highlight for its gutsy, militant percussion. There is some redeemable fare on here, to be fair.
Yet somehow, there’s still malaise – it just all feels quite safe. And possibly what could be the most resounding of all the sounds on here may very well be the absence of Kim Deal’s steady and reliable bass and backing vocal. So in short? Expectations were high, granted. Unfortunately I was left pretty underwhelmed, with an uncharacteristically diluted, version of the Pixies presented here. Major fans especially may feel a little short changed or wanting for the goods of yester – year. Love or hate their newest, it will most definitely make an impression.
Album Title_ Sky Swimming
Label_ Memphis Industries Ltd
Genre_ Ambient, Dream Pop, Indie Pop
Moments Of_ Beach House, Foxygen, Toro Y Moi
Stand Out_ TV Dinner, Shapeshifter
Breakups are one of those human occurrences that can lead to a number of varied outcomes. In the case of Amelia Rivas and Christian Pinchbeck, the boy-girl duo behind the moniker of Elephant, falling in and out of love again during the period of writing and recording this debut album has acted as a catalyst of musical inspiration. Hailing from France and England respectively, this duo have crafted an album reflective of a turbulent times spent getting drunk and staying up all night; a whimsical, enchanting and diverse mix of electro-dream pop gems.
This debut album from the duo is a solid first effort, despite wandering in the territory of what many other two piece outfits are doing right now. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean that the album’s ideas and sounds are not unique. Elephant remind us that it doesn’t always take a huge presence to conjure a mesmerising listen.
Setting a good foot forward and appropriately introducing the album is the first song ‘Assembly’, with a solid backbeat, bouncy bass and an introduction to Rivas’ breathy but smooth vocal. The use of synthesisers in this song, an indeed throughout the album, is and random mixed bag of tones, melodies and atmosphere, ensuring that there is always something different to hold the ear. Also are the general styles and structure of the songs, from the forward pop of the opener to the doo-wop swing of ‘Skyscraper’, the song of which was the title track for the EP released last year.
The steady pace of the album breaks down with the soothing ‘Shipwrecked’, a perfectly delightful number (despite the slightly irritating electronic vocal stutters) however nothing that hasn’t been heard before.
Swinging back to 60’s tinged pop in TV Dinners and R&B beats in the title track, a final highlight comes with the album closer Shapeshifter which really gives Rivas a chance to show off a charismatic side to her vocal, accompanied by a classic pop number with a building chorus, piano twinkles and vocal ensemble backing.
Sky Swimming as a whole would be a totally appropriate soundtrack for a sunny summer drive, a chill evening at home or whilst drinking coffee at the cutesy local cafe. While it does move back and forth from interesting stylistic moves and reliable indie-dream-pop areas, the general feel of the album doesn’t really tread any new ground. If you at content with or are a fan of these ideas, then Elephant provides decent fodder. If you are searching for ‘the new sound’ then you mind find yourself falling slightly short.
In saying that, this duo still know how to construct a delightful listen. It would also be interesting to see how they bring these sounds to a live perspective, given the obvious short comings of being a two piece band. Also, how they have progressed as a group given that the EP of last year was primarily recorded using a cheap Casio keyboard that Rivas bought at a second hand shop in France. In essence this is a creative representation of their last three unstable years of knowing each other, fuelled by cheap alcohol, bad food and the frustrations of cramp London living. And as we all know, breaking up is hard to do.
Artist_ The Horrors
Album Title_ Luminous
Genre_Electronic Rock, Psychedelic, Shoegaze, Epic Rock
Moments Of_ My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Echo & The Bunnymen, Simple Minds, Primal Scream
Stand Out_Chasing Shadows, Jealous Sun
Never has a band diversified their sound as much as The Horrors, since grinding their way to musical attention on the release of their debut album Strange House. An album full of intensity, moodiness and angst that suited perfectly to their excellent band name. With its release in 2007, it was an album that shook the English music scene in comparison to what other bands were doing at the time, but it wasn’t until the release of Primary Colours did NME and the like take notice. Keeping to their soundscape guitar sounds played against a defined groove rhythms the band received great recognition for their intense live performance, so when the band release Skying in 2011, they finally hit their stride. So with equal excitement wrapped around the release of their fourth album Luminous, have the Horrors reached their peaked?
Well it’s been going on three years, if not more, since the release of Skying and having won me over with such a splendid album that was track after track of belting rhythms, layered synths and grinding soundscapes of peaking guitar frequencies, I was anticipating another great album. Did they deliver? Well I am still in two minds but if you take the opening track Chasing Shadows with its 3 minute slow build of circling sounds before the band let rip with such force, it had me smiling from left to right ear. This is the sound of a band that mean serious shit and want to be heard, even after four albums in.
Faris Badwan’s voice has tamed massively since the early days, becoming melodic, gentle and almost sweet. I would be hated by die-hard early fans for saying that. Anyhow, the opening track is full of indie-manchester inspired beats (Primal Scream/ Happy Mondays) and forgetting what the band used to be and have become, this is a blinding track.
Not much changes with First Day of Spring but when second single So Now You Know fades in through more swirling guitars did I get a sense that this album sounds like a band who now prefer to be in a studio then ripping it up on stage. It is completely produced, with clear bass, quirky synth’s and the subtle flurry of guitar soundscapes in the background where once they were at the forefront and gave the band the intensity that matched their then mad gothic punk-ster look. They have mellowed way too much. In saying that, I didn’t much rate their early stuff, it sounded young and slightly naïve.
Jealous Sun holds the album together and is the perfect hump track, with distorted guitars barging their way to the front like any good My Bloody Valentine sounding track would ask for. The comparisons are completely obvious but The Horrors have never shied away from their loves, and it sure does show on this. Either way, it is a great track and a stand out on the album, bringing together the sounds of their early days that made everyone pay attention.
First single release I See You was a clever first release as it pretty much prepared their fans for the direction the album would take, going beyond the production of Skying and getting all dance-like and hip-swaying while still maintain the sound of “The Horrors”. Change Your Mind has the band going all ballad and reflective and sees Badwan getting lyrically personal. “Hey, I am still burning, do you look at him, the way she looks at me.” Gone are the guitar effects, gone are the big drums and gone is the early sound. It took a few listens to get used to the fact the band have changed but this is not necessarily a bad thing, it just is quite unexpected.
The album slowly grinds to a well-earned end with Sleepwalk, that kind of brings together all the sounds and emotions of the Luminous and holds firm that The Horrors still have a lot to conquer in their musical path, but where it is heading, I am not sure anybody knows.
Artist_ Sonic Avenues
Album Title_ Mistakes
Label_ Dirtnap Records
Genre_ Punk, Garage Pop
Moments Of_ Cheap Times, The Drums
Stand Out_ Lost and Found
Sonic Avenues have produced their newest album Mistakes, which was released on the 15th of April. The four guys from Canada have stuck with their contemporary garage pop/punk genre, which is evident when listening to the 11 tracks on this album. After their last album release ‘Television Youth’, in 2012, Mistakes has been on the books for Sonic Avenues for some time now.
Jumping right into it, 35 seconds into the first track Waiting For A Change sounds the classic guitar, drums and raw tinny sound of the garage/pop rock genre. When the vocals/lyrics chime in at around the 54 second mark, my initial thought was “…Okay, Alrighty, I’ll give them a chance…”, I didn’t hate them, but I certainly was not overly in love with them either. I wish I could have anticipated that this album would include some goodies, but sadly, after the first song ended and the second track ‘Automatic’ begun, I made some strong judgments on what was to come.
The first four songs featured on Mistakes, have very very similar guitar riffs and the overall sound of each track seems to somewhat blend into each other. This repetitive and slightly immature sound got very tiring, especially when listening to the tracks back to back. That being said, for some bizarre reason that I cannot try to explain to you, Sonic Avenues kind of remind me of the successful Brooklyn band The Drums. Both bands share handclaps, some full-throated multi-tracked harmonies and the feeling of a rebellious or careless time. The Drums, being more in the indie pop genre have created a large fan base and commercial success story, which I am sorry to say, I don’t see will be happening to Sonic Avenues.
All criticism aside though, Sonic Avenues, having quite a small following across the various social media platforms, have done surprisingly well to release this album. Mistakes, self-produced in singer Max’s apartment, was written over a seven-month period and produced in less than three. As Max has said himself, the band did not put too much thought into the songwriting aspect of the record. He has also said that they didn’t have a specific sound in mind, ”…we just wanted to play what made us happy”. You can certainly admire their passion for their music in that regard. Though the album is raw and self-produced, Sonic fans (personally not my cup of tea), seem to be loving it.
After struggling through this album, I am going to stick by my description of their sound being repetitive and musically immature. Harsh, I know, but I honestly felt like I was listening to a raw high school pop/punk garage band.
You can give Mistakes a listen to on the bandcamp link below, or if you’re feeling particularly crazy or looking for some background noise, you can purchase it for $7USD.
Artist: Rodrigo y Gabriela
Album Title: 9 Dead Alive
Genre: Acoustic, Alternate Rock, Melodic
Moments Of: Strunz and Farah, Robert Michaels, Caribou
Stand Out: The Soundmaker, Fram
Rodrigo y Gabriela’s are a powerful Mexican guitar duo with a Curriculum Vitale that lists them as once playing in a South American Heavy Metal band before realizing that their combined passion inevitably would go back to their love for Flamenco and Folk. The talented duo packed in their amplifiers and electric guitars, strapped on their acoustics and set out on the road, busking their way across Europe. Today they are recognised for their fast paced rhythmic and acoustic sound that molds alternate rock, acoustic and melodic genres.
Each track tells a rhythmic story celebrating the lives of individuals who have influenced them but now passed away and also reflect their combined passion for human rights, animal rights, literature and history and philosophy.
To be honest, R y G play a style of music I am not familiar with however the first track immediately grabbed my attention, it’s pretty clear they are passionate and talented musicians with a unique sound and tight performance. Opening track The Soundmaker reminded me of Bee’s’ by electronic DJ and outfit Caribou, while Sunday Neurosis sounded something like The Avalanches with their familiar eerie voiceovers. To draw comparisons a little more for you, The Soundmaker has this catchy melody and consistent rhythm, however where Caribou is smooth and “cool”, Rodrigo Y Gabriela comes across all exciting with its rough and edgy riffs.
To me, most tracks on the album shared a generic sound with a lot of repetition and plenty of drama and ths made me feel on edge. The momentary relief from this fast paced and ferocious strumming, came with tracks Sunday Neurosis and Megalopolis The soothing chords of these tracks that were played effortlessly helped break up the albums intensity and were the much needed moments that allowed me to enjoy the album a little more.
There are obvious merits in this album with the sheer talent of this duo but beyond this I would struggle to find the moment or time to enjoy this album. Perhaps they are one of those artists that are best enjoyed live where you can engage with then as they perform live and witness their quick fingered performance and feel their melodic energy.