Well it was a quiet week of New Born, perhaps independent bands and record labels decided it was time to take a European Summer Break. But not for the Lamb, we still managed to catch four new (ish) albums to give a spin with a somewhat mixed bag of guitar driven music of sorts. We like to consider The Lamb an international flyer, reviewing albums from every part of this crazy world, however this week we thought it was time to bring it all back “home” and take the time to listen to a bit of Australian music. From a wonderfully quiet city called Adelaide comes The Spooks, an experimental and textured orbital of guitar sound with their first independently released album. Coming back up the South Eastern Coast of Australia back to where live music continues to simmer and thrive (Melbourne) live a quintet band called Total Control, releasing an intriguing album that has gained more recognition abroad but now doubt win over here too. The album of the week this week goes to A Sunny Day In Glasgow, returning from a considerably long 4 year break to return with a powerful shoegaze inspired album that earned itself 8.5 happy lambs. Finally, we try to refocus from their brilliant trippy album cover and perk our ears to The Vacant Lots, a psychedelic duo from Vermont who worked with Pete Kimber (Sonic Boom), and those in the know pretty much would know what to expect. Over to you!
Artist_ A Sunny Day In Glasgow
Album Title_ Sea When Absent
Label_ Lefse Records
Genre_ Shoegaze, Post-Punk, Dream Pop
Moments Of_ Mazzy Star, Hole, The Breeders, My Bloody Valentine, Spiderbait
Stand Out_ Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)
A Sunny Day In Glasgow disappeared somewhere after the release of their 2010 Autumn, Again, and whatever they were doing in their hiatus was pretty nourishing for their sound. Reappearing again with Sea When Absent, the band are back; big and beautiful – a gritty, fuzzy dirty kind of beautiful. This album’s name suggests a metaphor of the overall sound – a melodic glimmer of happiness amidst rain fog and gloom of fuzzy shoegaze.
As first my ears are assaulted. It’s early Wednesday morning, and its cold, and I’m tired and grumpy, so when the opening bars of Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End) slam into my headphones, I’m so irritated I almost jerk them off and sulk. It’s too cold and early for this shit. Why the fuck do my glasses keep fogging up every time I take a sip of tea? Everything is just going wrong today. But suddenly, it’s like my ears are unblocked, my glasses unfog, and everything has melody and clarity. This song is beautiful.
That is pretty much how this album works; under the ear-bending fuzz of guitars and ominous crash of drums, there is absolute sweetness – and this juxtaposition works so well for the band. And there’s something subtly different about each song that stops the melding into each other – whether it’s a tone shift, a catchy riff or an extra daub of synth.
Crushin’ takes it down a tempo, a bit more synth than shoegaze, and it still works in with the rest of the album, though a little clumsily, as a grimes-esque reprise. The heavy bass isn’t quite enough, it seems ready to drift off into dream pop but then a gritty guitar solo slashes in and pins in back down. I love it.
MTVLOV (Minor Keys), the following track, is a bit trickier. A little bit too pop for my taste, but still it has a brilliant 90s twang to it that washes over you like a warm nostalgic wave. Then suddenly Boys Turn Into Girls (Initiation Rites) will take a psych-spacey turn and have you feeling like you could float off into space.
What I do love about this album is the joyful melodies that ripples under the shoegaze fuzz – it makes each song feel like it’s trying to burst with euphoria, and bring you along with it. That subtle ecstatic quality makes me want to do something meaningful; take a road trip with friends, watch every sunset and sunrise ever, or whatever Facebook/Instagram/Pinterest is trying to tell us what happiness is these days – this album to me is the sound of youth when no one is watching. I have no idea why, is it the muted synth joy under all the reverb, is that a metaphor for life? Have I discovered the soundtrack to happiness, or have I just watched too many TV tropes? Whatever, the fact that A Sunny Day In Glasgow even made me consider this says volumes for the album.
Listen in if you want to be ecstatically happy on the inside without showing it – good for commuting, staying in bed when its raining and slow days at the office.
Artist_ Total Control
Album Title_ Typical System
Label_ Iron Lung
Genre_ New Wave, Post-Punk
Moments Of_ Sex Pistols, New Order, The Cure
Stand Out_ Glass, Flesh War
Following their well-received 2011 debut Henge Beat, albeit from left field musically, the lads from Melbourne that make up Total Control haven’t moved too far away from what made them fun to listen to the first time around on their new album Typical System. From characteristically Post-Punk distorted guitar sounds and lyrics strewn with misanthropic phrases, to dense metronomic synths often attributed to New Wave, Typical System is an interplay of a myriad of stylistic influences. It goes without saying that the album definitely intriguing and well worth a listen.
As well as performing under Total Control – the best known guise for the Melbournian quintet’s musical exploits – the lads can also be found in different musical collaborations, such as hardcore band Straightjacket Nation or creating trance music under the Lace Curtain moniker. “Glass”, the opening track from Typical System, as well as other album tracks like ‘Hunter’, arguably reflects the influence of the latter side project pursuit. Nonetheless, Total Control’s appreciation and attempted revival of the New Wave and Post-Punk genres is the most notable feature of this band musically. Typical System is no exception.
Whatever you may think of New Wave or Post-Punk as musical genres, Total Control have given us a broad spectrum of different sounds and textures throughout their existence. Typical System is a good example of this. Tracks like Flesh War reminds us of the stylistic influence of the new wave genre on Total Control’s creative output, with the robotic and dreary vocals of self-proclaimed nihilist Dan Stewart accompanied by wheezy machine-dream synths. By contrast, the primitive lyrics and musical stylings of Systematic Fuck – profoundly evocative song title aside – really encapsulates that disregard for balanced musical textures and the antiestablishmentarianism that punk and post-punk became famous for (See: Sex Pistols ). Figuratively speaking, Total Control could be giving credence to the Post-Punk political ideals (or lack thereof) by ‘fucking’with the ‘system’. If you wanted to be really pedantic, you could even argue that the choice of Typical System for the album title reflects this dislike of conformity. Anyway, I digress. I doubt you read The Lamb because you’re looking for a dissection of philosophical theory.
When listening to the album, there is a definite push-and-pull relationship between these two stylistic influences. The opening track Glass is followed by Explosive Dog, Flesh War precedes Systematic Fuck. Difficult to say whether this was deliberate, but is quite apparent when you listen to the album. It is a really interesting contrast from Flesh War and the New Wave genre, which was often characterised by more complex lyricism and the use of synthesisers, and the Post-Punk influences that we encounter on Systematic Fuck. These kinds of contrasts are present across the entirety of the Typical System listening experience.
Despite not being a post-punk nor a New Wave aficionado, I definitely found aspects of this album very enjoyable as a neutral. It is an album that is abrasive and chaotic in many ways, but at the same time accessible and a showcase of an interesting array of musical influences. It is almost like Total Control wants the listener to embrace this abrasiveness and the primitive nature of the lyrics. Safety Net, the final track on the album, repeats a mantra throughout the chorus that implores with the listener; This, this has always been a safety net / You don’t need a safety net. On Typical System, Total Control successfully amalgamates an otherwise divisive split between a synth-driven New Wave homage and mosh-worthy Post-Punk headbangers, making it an intriguing listen.
Artist_ The Spooks
Album Title_ Mountains
Genre_ Indie Rock, Blues Rock
Moments Of_ The Black Keys, Radiohead, Kings Of Leon
Stand Out_ Down The Beach, Stuck In The Machine
“A musical empiricism from Adelaide, Australia, with expertise in Interstellar Quasar Delta Ska Vibrations. Featuring Bryce Doudle (Guitar + vocals), Tom Barton (Guitar + vocals) and Dan Woodyatt (Drums).” This is how The Spooks greet the world via Facebook. A little oddball; given an introduction like that you would almost expect some kind of experimental prog rock band. Instead these three dudes from South Australia are crafting blues/indie rock with a familiar vibe that’s fairly easy on the ol’ ear holes.
Album opener Drifting is a chunk of Black Keys/early White Stripes blues riffage. We are introduced to Doudle’s vocals with a peaceful verse and a walk through familiar sounding rock territory.
2. Round The Bend
This track presents a more radio friendly/stadium rock sound of quiet verse/loud chorus that harks of U2 or recent Kings of Leon. Yelps of ‘hey’ in the chorus gives off the idea that the guys would have fun playing this one live.
3. Squeezed By The Government
This track reeks of Nick Cave. Creepy and argumentative vocals, with snarls and deep voices ‘oooooohhhh ooohhh ooohhh’ this song implies exactly what the title suggests.
4. Fragile Mind
Listening to the lyrics of this song tells a very open story of a missed loved one who has taken there own life. Backed by again a fairly familiar blues/rock riff, the song is accessible and relatable but not exactly innovative.
5. Dirty Mani
This song plays out like a rhyme you would hear kids chanting in the school ground. I don’t exactly understand it “I’m gonna put dirty Mani in the washing machine” or understand who Mani is, but I am slightly creeped out by it.
6. High Places
This album takes a resting pace with this track, where Doudle’s relaxed snarl is a peculiar accompaniment to such a soothing song. Indie shoegaze vibes and blues guitar solo makes for an easy but confusing mix.
7. Down The Beach
A catchy riff and accelerated tempo feels more of a good time, where these guys go to get away from it all and “away from my motherf^&#ing life.” Reminiscent of noughties hit makers (remember C’mon C’mon?) Von Bondies but with a slightly more hesitant outlook and vibe. The Spooks are on the way here, especially on this track, to really busting out and making an impression, but are just a few notches away from that yet.
Teacher is exactly what you think it’s about. Recalling the idealistic days of childhood and young love, again with a stadium Kings of Leon feel, slide guitar and all, the peaks and troughs of this song are enough keep the ear attentive. At 6 minutes 16 seconds it’s a slightly stretched effort.
9. To Make Her Feel
Feels are exactly what you are going to get with this track. With lyrics like “Whatever did I say, to make you cry, to make you stay….to make you move that way”, it’s obvious this song is a product of powerful emotions. A smooth bass bounce and a easy guitar lick are all it needs.
10. Stuck In The Machine
Agreeably they have left their best effort to last, The Spooks channel emotive strains of Radiohead with big build ups, odd melodies and some questionable chord progressions. Whether this is a good or a bad thing I’m not entirely sure, but it certainly makes this the most diverse and intriguing song on the album.
The Spooks sound like a new band with a lot of different ideas. They’ve had a pretty good stab at each of these, but are still yet to really conquer them. I’d love to hear a different version of this album where instead of your regular recording studio, lock them up in a secluded country town for a week with a heap of cheap liquor and nothing else stopping them. They sound like they’ve had a good time making and recording these songs, but an essence of attitude and a no holds barred ideal on reality and real-life responsibilities would hopefully open the tap for innovation and excitement.
Artist_ The Vacant Lots
Album Title_ Departure
Label_ Sonic Cathedral
Moments Of _ The Dandy Warhols, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Kaiser Chiefs
Stand Out_ Paint This City
Vermont’s resident psychedelic duo The Vacant Lots indulge us with the release of their debut album, enigmatically entitled Departure. There is some heavy weight being thrown around on this one, the likes of Peter Kember on mastering credits (better known round these parts as Sonic Boom) not to mention some pretty nifty cover art thrown in for good measure as well.
I’m always been drawn to the titles of albums. What are the semantic implications? I often wonder. This week I found myself in a state of quandary. ‘Hmmm, Departure … a departure from what though?’ I mused, seeing as this album is after all, a debut. But perhaps the perplex wasn’t altogether unfounded, if we take into consideration the fact that front man Jared Artaud is also a poet, artist and writer (vexing yet fascinating individuals these creatives) so its perfectly plausible that there could be duplicitous meanings behind the title. Upon further thought, it dawned on me that contextually; the departure may very well be from reality.
Being a long-standing fan of anachronistic music or just having a general love for all things old, I’ve always held a soft spot for the psyche rock genre. Having made its inception around the mid 60s and gaining further traction with artists such as The Byrds, Cream, Pink Floyd and The Jimi Hendrix Experience it was a progressive time that I always imagine myself feeling very comfortable living in. These artists represent a time of experimentation, rebellion and more importantly, some fairly awesome and flagrantly potent hallucinogens (LSD is one hell of a drug). So when I finally got to sit down and give Departure my full and undivided attention, my hopes were wound pretty high.
First on the track list is Mad Mary Jones, a raucous, thumping subterfuge complete with repetitive guitar riffs and lyric to match. Quite possibly the most catchy, in keeping with classic tropes within the genre. And one most certainly gets the feeling that there is intrinsic insanity in the mix, with all that shameless percussion and disseminated vocal permeating the track. Never Satisfied is an inverted, sedate answer to Cornershop’s Brimful of Asha, but repetitive in a way that made me question if it was tolerable or not. Lyrically, although there is some very thoughtful use of the spoken word in parts, it feels very insular in sections too. The content is even at times trite because the lyrics are inherently lifeless, which presents an interesting juxtaposition, given that the genre is synonymous with mind altering states and still, for the most part, life affirming. Tomorrow is more welcomingly upbeat, with prophetically loose splash symbols and perky, sporadically percussive fills. Warping guitars also add a nice touch too. Paint This City is an ominous, sparse and ethereal meander that reads like a romantic, vampiric rock parable, replete with seductive yet beckoning bass lines and all the makings of a menacing, ill-fated dream. Before The Evening’s Through is a swirling, degenerative affair which kind of reminded me of the Charmed theme, not sure whether that is good or bad … Hmmm, undecided. Some of these chords seem to stretch on forever, and I’m not saying that like it’s a good thing either.
The remainders 6am, Make The Connection and Do Not Leave Me Now simmer somewhat, with the former behaving like a screechy, brain bending amalgam that had me clutching the top of my cranium in duress. Whether its objective was to supply variety to a potentially stale canvas I wasn’t quite sure, but I bloody hated it nonetheless. Make The Connection is a bloated and propaganda infused existential track followed by Do Not Leave Me Now to round out the mix in a decidedly more sedate fashion than its two precursors.
As this one spun on repeat at mine this week, admittedly it did take some warming, oh boy, did it take some warming. It was repetitive to the point of cruelty in some parts but I waded through and found a couple tracks that resonated. Nothing groundbreaking here, by any means. Part of me wishes that there were more redeeming aspects in this debut but I get the feeling that the end product is exactly what The Vacant Lots were going for. I was left underwhelmed, truthfully. But that’s not to say that hard-core fans will be too. A departure from the conventional? Most certainly not.