While we continue to listen out for as many New Borns as we can gather in the week, we are also thinking about the year that was 2014 and what albums we would not hesitate to recommend. This will come in the form of our Top 5 plus 1 albums of the year, where each of our contributors were asked what albums really got their “goat”. We got to say, there are a few potential contenders this week that you may well see as scrapping the final boundaries for best albums in 2014. Bryan Ferry delivers some of his best work to date and scored an impressive 9 Lambs, a contender, perhaps? TV on the Radio return with Seeds, an album that has some real gems on it but does it come close to their earlier work, we are not really sure. The Preatures are from Sydney and continue to reach for the indie following, they are much loved in the Australian music circles but do they break into “cool”? Ariel Pink is not for all but we all need a bit of change in our lives, as can be said for The Memories, signed to the very cool Burger Records label, their album cover really sums it up. Finally, we welcome back The Buzzcocks, and delve into some debate of whether or not there is a place for them in the current music battlefield. See you next week.
Label_ BMG Rights Management
Genre_ Electropop, Pop Rock
Moments Of _ Roxy Music
Stand Out_ Johnny and Mary
He’s the smooth moving crooner who you kind of secretly wish your gramps could be more like (well I know I do) and thus this month Brian Ferry releases his latest joint Avonmore, a lush, Ferry – esque type caper replete with contemplative black and white still on the cover. I ventured back through time for a little Ferry sugar on this one and got in touch with my inner 80’s self.
Damn the 80’s owns. I don’t really mean on any other relevant levels other than musically of course but indeed, this was a time of great output for music. If you try to ignore the hideously sprayed to the hilt bouffant hair, androgynously confused make up and general compulsion for shoulder pads as core accessory for every outfit – it’s really not so bad. Thus many a musical artist defines the era in all its glorious whimsy and quintessentially, when we think of 80s smooth – we think of Poppa Ferry.
So Avonmore. Well, if you are a fan of Brian Ferry or Roxy Music this really is right up your alley. Seemingly that would go without saying, but what I mean here is that it does sound distinctly like something from Ferry’s 80’s back catalog. With a fair bit of heavyweight muscle on the production tip, Avonmore enlists juggernauts such as soul icon Nile Rodgers along with living rock legends Johnny Marr and Flea just to name a few. For the most part they appear without incident and gracefully permeate the waters of Ferry’s latest. This album boasts the quintessential Brian Ferry that you associate with his mid to late 80’s sound and does so quite nicely. So what could have been potentially considered trite is actually a solid reverb and nod to some of his most consummate work.
First cab off the rank is Loop de Li, which encompasses everything I love about Ferry’s sound – it’s that broody, nostalgia-evoking fix that has the potential to take you back in time. There’s a menacing riff that underlays the two-chord chorus that occurs in such a nuanced way it could almost be a whisper. The subsequent track Midnight Train follows suit, just as sufficiently smooth with that deliciously unmistakable vocal. Ferry has always inhabited a certain space musically, and tonally it sits somewhere between brooding, moody romantic and a metonym for love lost. I also really enjoyed his cover of Robert Palmer’s Johnny and Mary, which sounds a little more mature than the other tracks and fitting in the given context. In saying that, not all of these babies are charmers, the likes of Lost and One Night Stand crossing the border from classic Ferry into derivative but still managing to make women’s hearts swoon flagrantly in the process.
On the whole? A solid addition to a notoriously distinctive cannon. It may not have been the most ambitious, for the most part the big names in production meander relatively unnoticed on here but overall very slick (as you might expect) and flagrantly Ferry – in the best possible way. It’s a smooth oeuvre that glimmers with all the guilty pleasures you might expect and potentially, some you didn’t.
Label_ Harvest Records
Genre_ Alternative/Indie Rock, Pop/Rock
Moments Of_ LCD Soundsystem, Bloc Party, Cold War Kids, Rain Machine
Stand Out_Quartz, Trouble
Releasing late in the year, but not too late to make it in the list of top albums for 2014, TV On The Radio have released their 5th full length album, Seeds. An established, collectively proficient band, TVOTR are cemented in the music scene, receiving well deserved recognition for previous albums, and grounding a place in most music publications over the last decade since their formation.
The Brooklyn indie/rock band have been long in the game since their first studio album, Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes. Throw a few EPs in the mix, and impressive side projects, including Rain Machine and Maximum Balloon, you’ve got a well-recognised, talented band, that know how to make and produce good music. Return To Cookie Mountain and Dear Science still stand to be my favourite albums, with Cookie Mountain hosting the unforgettable track, Wolf Like Me. Throw it on and solidify yourself as a TVOTR fan before approaching their new album. Some of these old tracks gave rap and industrial funk a bit of a nudge, however there is little to no sign of this edgy, genre overlapping (besides the pop/rock creeping into play) in their latest album releases. More radio friendly than ever, Seeds is an approachable album, offering glossy, tightly strung, catchy melodies; balancing energetic crowd pleasers and soulful tracks with build-up and underlining meanings.
There appears to be a certain path that has been taken by fellow established and influential bands, including Kings Of Leon, Bloc Party, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Cold War Kids. The path towards producing mainstream music. Indie rock bands that once produced cool, unique albums that made you feel like you were their biggest fan and made you think that other people hadn’t quite discovered them yet, were now producing take-it-or-leave-it, easy listening albums that lost your interest and gained more radio play. Maybe there is an evident pattern, or maybe my opinion is a reflection of my ever-changing music taste.
The album is good, and hard to fault. Track 1, Quartz, gives the album a strong entrance, and also happens to be my standout. Happy Idiot is the obvious crowd pleaser and single release off the album, and every track in between and after brings something to table. Toward the end, Trouble was the hidden gem for me, offering interesting, beat driven instrumentals behind the vocals.
The tight-knit group is mostly lead by Tunde Adebimpe on vocals and production, backed up by multi-instrumentalists Kyp Malone, David Sitek, and Jaleel Bunton, with Kyp also sharing the vocalist limelight. The terribly unfortunate death of former member Gerard Smith, was announced only days after their 4th album release in 2011, after losing the fight to lung cancer. A loss that could have ripped the band apart, the boys subsequently announced their hiatus, and lay low until the release of Seeds, three years later. A joyous moment for all TVOTR fans, the band offer up a solid addition to their repertoire and continue to tear it up on stage.
Album Title_ Planet Blue Eyes
Label_ Universal Music
Genre_ Indie, Pop
Moments of standout_It Gets Better
After a massive breakthrough in 2013 with the iconic feel-good indie pop Is This How You Feel? The Preatures have gained a major following within Australian music lovers. The non-stop juggernaut has released single after single, including Manic Baby, Better than it Ever Could Be, Two Tone Melody & Somebody’s Talking. As well as being non-stop since they broke through, the Sydney five piece have played some massive shows, being on the bill for Valley Fiesta, Splendour in the Grass and most recently, supporting arguably the biggest rock bands to ever exist in human history, The Rolling Stones in their 2014 Australian tour. The Preatures now give us their debut album, Planet Blue Eyes.
You’d be pretty foolish to think that The Preatures aren’t an unstoppable force in the Australian music scene right now. And rightfully so, the band had been trying to crack into the indie music scene for almost four years before Is This How You Feel catapulted them to stardom. Being told they were too ‘Katy Perry sugary pop sounding’ to ever receive airplay on triple j. However the band believed in their strengths, working hard to discover the fine line between a tasteful pop sound which appeals to a more generic mainstream audience, and a rawer, instrumental sound to assure us that it hasn’t been over-produced and tampered with too much. This is a line the indie Sydney sensations have found and mastered by the time Planet Blue Eyes was released.
The album kicks off with title track; Planet Blue Eyes. It serves as a slow, happy welcome to the listener, with a cosy synthesiser coming in waves of emotion. This is soon followed by a solid base line that takes over as your guide through the welcoming ceremony of the album. The title track acts as a very friendly person at a party, who guides you through their house and helps you find some very familiar faces, which are Somebody’s Talking and Is This How You Feel? You kick back with these two crazy cat songs for a while, feeling satisfied that listening to the album was the right choice.
After getting a bit bored by these two tracks that you’ve already heard a billion times before, you start to think about getting up and socialising with some more songs at the party. That’s when track four – ordinary, comes into your life. It’s a different type from your two friends, and you realise The Preatures are actually quite versatile. You welcome this new addition into your ears. As soon as conversation with this new song comes to an end, you are greeted by another familiar face, a quiet one that wasn’t as in your face as your other two buddies from tracks two and three, but one you have definitely heard a few times on the radio, new release Two Tone Melody. Whilst hanging with this song, the party stops being a powerful pop vibe, and suddenly becomes so chilled, and everyone is just really cool all of a sudden.
Two Tone Melody introduces you to its cool friends; Rock and Roll Wave, Whatever You Want and Cruel. By this point, you’re happy you came to the party that is Planet Blue Eyes, you’ve caught up with friends, got to know others more and even met some new people. Could it get any better? Yes. In fact, It Gets Better (Than It Ever Could Be). Another familiar face, this song is definitely the standout of the whole album, assuring you that everything gets better than what it currently is, providing you with something to slowly bop to whilst drinking and also giving a rad guitar solo around the three quarter point. You are happy as a clam by this point, you’re pretty tired just about now, and you decide the party should just about come to an end. You stand up, start making your way out, only to realise you don’t know where to go. Ending track Business Time is a slow moving, peaceful tune similar to Two Tone Melody that gracefully helps you out the front door, and assures that you’re welcome back to Planet Blue Eyes anytime.
Overall, a great album. I give it 8 lambs – proving versatility in Australian music to be world class.
Album Title_ Pom Pom
Genre_ Pop, Psychedelic, New Wave
Moments Of_ Ducktails, Foxygen
Stand Out_ Not Enough Violence, Put Your Number in My Phone
Los Angeles based one-man-band Ariel Pink is back with his unique brand of psychedelic pop in the form of double album ‘Pom Pom’. Blending lo-fi sounds with his well-known, almost drugged out lyrical content, the album is an entertaining and somewhat challenging listen. Without the backing of his usual band, you can really hear Ariel Pink in his true, unadulterated form. Whether this is a good thing or not really depends on how open you are as a listener. Things tend to get a little….strange.
Ariel Pink has always been a bit of an oddball, both musically and in general. This knowledge should be a prerequisite for anyone that takes the dive into ‘Pom Pom’. Be prepared for a myriad of genre changes and just plain strangeness as you’re taken on a whirlwind journey through what is arguably one of the most interesting releases of 2014. Comedy is big theme throughout the album. I often found myself laughing out loud at some weird lyric, a tacky instrumental arrangement or in one instance, an awkward teenage encounter with a stripper on the track ‘Black Ballerina’. What more could you want? Well, it turns out a little less may have been a better option.
The album opens with the poppy ‘Plastic Raincoats in the Big Parade’ with all the flair of a Beatles/Flaming Lips hybrid. It’s catchy as hell and just different enough to remind you who you’re listening to. Standout track ‘Not Enough Violence’ showcases a moody, new wave sound with a tinge of The Cure. Ariel really shines vocally here, jumping from deep passages to falsetto backings that give the track a genuinely interesting timbre. I found the first half of the album to be the most enjoyable and overall, just better. The drugs start to kick in around the time that ‘Nude Beach a Go-Go’ shows up at the party. He’s all sweaty and loud and wants to stand real close to you. He might even ask you for a sip of your drink. The instinct here is just move on, but he’ll be back every now and then to see if you’ll reconsider that sip. Depending on what you’re into, sometimes you’ll give in.
Let’s be honest, the variety on offer here is immense and does represent just how talented Ariel Pink is. Anyone that can blend an array of influences in the way that he has done earns a big gold star in my book. That being said, my gripe with ‘Pom Pom’ comes down to the more off-kilter moments that just seem to derail the whole experience. Don’t get me wrong, the good definitely outweighs the bad here, it just gets kind of frustrating. You’ll find yourself really getting into a song and then without warning it changes genre almost completely. It can also work the other way around as seen on the track ‘Dinosaur Carebears’, switching from bat-shit crazy to a really cool reggae jam-out without any warning at all. Sometimes you’ll roll with it, other times you’ll wonder exactly what drug he was on while he was writing (see: ‘Jell-o’).
I went into this album wanting more of ‘Before Today’s token ‘Round and Round’ or ‘Beverly Kills’ style sounds. They’re definitely there, just in a different capacity and often shrouded by a layer of Ariel’s over-eccentric demeanour. There are certainly a handful of gems to be found here if you’re game.
Artist_ The Memories
Album Title_ Hot Afternoon
Label_ Burger Records
Genre_ Garage, Pop, Indie Pop
Moments Of_ King Tuff, Mac Demarco, Sonny and the Sunsets
Stand Out_ Dad’s Not Home, Labour of Love, I’m So High
Portland, Oregon based stoner pop group The Memories have released their second LP for the year entitled Hot Afternoon. Perfectly placed between 70’s radio pop and contemporary slacker rock, and indeed perfect for said hot afternoon, the quartet are rapidly gaining attention from the likes of Burger and Lollipop Records (both based in California) for their chilled out jams. Having previously released their work on self-made indie label Gnar Records, Hot Afternoon, produced by Sonny from Sonny and the Sunsets, has been released on Burger just in time for an Australian summer.
Lo-fi, breezy guitar pop is pretty easy to make, but damn hard to do well. The influence of one’s location has also made a huge influence on The Memories’ overall sound. It’s pretty hard to not imagine these dudes, a quartet comprising of Rikky Gage and Kyle Handley (also of stoner punk group White Fang and long time friends), bass player Izak Arida and rotating schedule of drummers, smoking joints and hanging by the beach, watching girls stroll by. You can hear them introduce themselves, with a proud shout out to Burger Records, on I’m So High. It’s a heady mix of garage, jangle, psych, surf, doo-wop and occasionally, 50’s elevator music (Girl at the Bodega), and these West Coast boys – who obviously spend far more time in California than Oregon – have conjured the soundtrack to a great sunny weekend.
Obviously with a record like this (the Memories’ fourth LP, but the first on Burger) you can’t go in expecting mature songwriting, compelling musicianship or innovative twists. What you can get out of it though it a lot of fun and not taking life too seriously, some freakishly cute (if not original) harmonies and singalongs, and an air of pure sunshine. It’s albums like these that are a go-to on sunny morning walks (to help boost the mood when really you’re on the way to work) or when the weather is crappy and you’d much rather be somewhere else.
“Dad’s not home, it’s time to bone.” You can’t help but laugh out loud on this swinging doo-wop single Dad’s Not Home. The album also features a cover of influential 80’s songwriter Daniel Johnston’s True Love Will Find You In The End, which is undoubtedly a mature shift lyrically, but a bouncing, garage pop version of the original. Labour of Love is another example of the Memories sugary guitar pop, but this time with a 70’s radio flavour. None of the songs stretch much over three minutes and with a complete running time of less than half an hour, even the most impatient of ears will be kept entertained with the countless pop hooks, straying into different genres and the easy listening, light-heartedness of Hot Afternoon.
Hot Afternoon also helps to highlight the trends in local pop bands between cities; California is rife with surf-stained sounds, and even Melbourne itself has it’s plethora of increasingly popular jangle, ‘dole-wave’, guitar based pop music (examples such as Twerps, Dick Diver, The Ocean Party or The Stevens) all guilty of falling into this pigeon hole. But despite a slight stylistic bias for these bands coming out of the West Coast, it’s at least a marker of what they do well. And it’s pretty hard to pass up when those summer vibes are just over the horizon. Bring on the sunshine!
Album Title_ The Way
Label_ 1-2-3-4 Records (crowd-funded release)
Moments Of_ Beady Eye, David Bowie, The Beatles, The Kinks
Stand Out_ Third Dimension, Saving Yourself, People Are Strange Machines
Among the original wave of great London punk bands established in 1976, the Sex Pistols of course considered themselves a gleeful form of under-developed three-chord vengeance upon their own audience. And survived barely three years in their classic formation. The Clash took a more overtly politically principled rather than simple provocational stance, and made it through a decade. The Buzzcocks, albeit in a naturally fluid line-up, have survived, main writing duo intact, through their original break-up in 1981 and this year celebrate 38 years in music. Impressive. So, is “The Way”, their third release in a comparatively prolific past decade, an utter conceit, leaving you with the feeling you’ve been cheated? Or is it something more akin to a rockin’ shot of big audio dynamite?
If you like your bands to state a case and then cut and run without overstaying their welcome, then The Buzzcocks’ newie “The Way” might just be your kinda thing. The ex-Manchester quartet of founders Pete Shelley (guitar, vocals) and Steve Diggle (guitar, vocals) are joined by younger sidemen Chris Remington (bass) and Danny Farrant (drums) for their latest 35-minute punch of poppy punk hooks. However, it’s a strangely boxy sound that greets the listener on “Keep On Believing”, which kicks things off. Shelley also has a bit of a nasally voice, but it’s nowhere near as much of a drawl as Liam Gallagher, for example. Then comes Diggle’s turn – and indeed the twin front and axe-men take it in 50-50 turns across the rest of the record – with the far better “People Are Strange Machines”, which is a raucous, brighter ballad. The guitars wind their way round the beat a-la the equally trim 60s stylings of Beady Eye and the no-longer-futuristic concept of the title hints at David Bowie and Gary Numan’s work. The title track is another Bowie-esque highlight, bringing string-dragging, edgy sliding and sludgy guitar that faintly echoes even The Beatles (yes, really) for simplicity. “The way you are’s not the way you were, so keep a straight face”, Shelley calls.
The standout tracks lie in the middle and at the close of the disc. “Third Dimension” is the centrepiece, and an epic by Buzzcock standards at four-and-a-half minutes. A quick march recalling The Kinks, it’s hey-ho-let’s-go tempo and slightly screechy background guitars seem to sum up the idea of personal alienation of the internet age more convincingly than even “The Way”. Diggle muses on how he sits inside space and time, waiting for the sun to come out as changes, both good and bad, fly through his mind.
The finale is “Saving Yourself”, at five minutes the longest piece on the record, and another Diggle dig at modern life, which, according to these guys, is, well, as Blur once put it, rubbish. “There’s no way home, lost souls…it’s all about saving yourself from desire in this world of control”, Steve claims, showing that when these guys put their serious-lyrics hats on, they are terrific wordsmiths. The song itself sounds like they captured a brilliant moment in demo form and didn’t need to do much else. The drumming and bass underpin the riffs admirably. There’s even a buzzing organ fade-out. Does it signal a smoother, brooding sound sometime in the next three years? Who knows. At least, nearing age 60, both Shelley and Diggle have written modern punk prose with a nod towards ear-pleasing pop. This is certainly fun enough for those who like that type of stuff.
Other slices that don’t go down quite as well include Shelley’s “Out Of The Blue”, which is just plain over-wrought in the delivery department, and “Chasing Rainbows, Modern Times”, which might be Diggle’s attempt at further wry social commentary, but here it falls flat. The Buzzcocks seem to love pointing out that everything’s all in your mind anyway. Indeed. Perhaps it is. Probably. Or on your computer. Or internet profiles. Unfortunately, tracks like “Chasing Rainbows” lack the urgency present on the first half of the disc.
Look, the whole idea of us humans slowly losing our identities and becoming data files has been done better (before) but it’s a way for The Buzzcocks to certainly keep playing on (and staying on) relevant social issues of the day. At least these guys remain (or are striving to be seen as remaining) about something real.
Last but not necessarily least, a note must be made for single “It’s Not You”, the quick clip under three minutes. A Shelley effort, it sounds like the band time-warping in from Nirvana’s “Bleach” session. Proper punk propulsion, but with clearer lyrics and minus the breakneck speed factor.
“It’s not you, so I close my eyes, I feel the pain…I’m living on my own now, what am I living for?” And Pete asks the question that no doubt has crossed the minds of many who sit at screens and machines all day long. Which way now?