Things are slowly cranking up at TWL with another week of complete mixed bag genre goodness. We kick off with Mr Gaz Coombes, one third of the britpop muskateers, Supergrass with his first solo project. Flipping things completely around we review our first death metal bands who have been on the circuit for many MANY years, yep, Napalm Death, and no matter what you make of the music, their album covers are worth a purchase regardless. Next we deliver Howlin Rains, a testing album to some, he hails from San Francisco with an introspective and often sombre outplay of tracks. Finally, its the Twerps who deliver their second album, a band hailing from Melbourne, after their recent support to Belle and Sebastian, it was somewhat an eager listen for us. Over to you…get listening…
Artist_ Gaz Coombes
Album Title_ Matador
Label_ Gaz Coombes / Caroline International
Genre_ Alt. Rock, Britrock
Moments Of_ Radiohead, Supergrass
Stand Out_ The Girl Who Fell To Earth, Buffalo
Supergrass and The Jennifers bandman Gaz Coombes releases his second solo album Matador. This steady and bold output means Gaz has lost none of his british rock flair or legendary status as one of modern music’s main-stayers.
There are a few indisputably solid, dependable things in everyday life; a big ol’ bowl of pasta. Inner city dickheads in large off-road cars that have never seen a speck of dust. A mug of Earl Grey tea. The largeness of Baristas egos. Multiple wardrobe changes for a day of Melbourne weather. Taxes. And Gaz Coombes’ new album Matador. All these things are comforting in their unchangingness and stability. Not to say that Gaz’s album is dull – it’s just beautifully unsurprising and exactly as it should be.
Different enough to distance Gaz from his Jennifers and Supergrass days – maybe it is his slightly kooky image that helps, or the touch of broodiness – evidence of his age perhaps? But similar enough not to lose any fans -think brit-rock, that ol’ institution, Blur, Oasis, Pulp – totally dependable (discounting individual band antics of course) and comforting sound its place in music history – and Matador fits right in.
Each song is its own piece of brit-rock upbeat joy – there is no true standout, but none of them are dull either, it is an album to be listened to in full, as is – sort of like a commentary on the digital age of singles and digital playlists. Gaz has created what Beyoncé or Kanye would term as a ‘concept’ or ‘artwork’ – but really is just an old medium in a new technological age, and it suits him, his place in music history and British genres. In saying that, I’m listening to it on Soundcloud and Spotify – two mediums that defy the traditional album wholeness. Maybe this is what he intended, part of the commentary – it adds to the nostalgia of listening his work that takes us back to brit rock’s heyday. Who knows? Maybe he’s just an old dude stuck in his ways, and I’m reading too much into it. Regardless, sit back and have a listen, in full, digital or physical.
Album Title_ Apex Predator – Easy Meat
Label_ Century Media
Genre_ Grindcore. Death Metal
Moments Of_ Carcass, Nasum
Stand Out_ Stunt Your Growth, How the Years Condemn
After thirty three years and fourteen studio albums, the godfathers of grindcore are still delivering their patented brand of furious noise with the same vigour as their early days. Fifteenth album Apex Predator – Easy Meat makes no compromise, these guys aren’t slowing down for anyone. Arguably one of the most important artists in the realm of extreme music, it’s inspiring to see them thrive throughout so many different eras of music and still remain relevant in 2015.
Following on from 2012’s Utilitarian, the British grindcore veterans bring us more sonic brutality at breakneck speeds. Plagued by a myriad of line-up changes in their formative years, the band eventually settled into a comfortable unit that went on to release some of the most essential heavy records of all time. Apex Predator – Easy Meat might not be the group’s best work, but it certainly comes close, showing us some interesting new things along the way. Still toying with aspects of death metal and some experimental elements, Napalm Death has been steadily returning to their grindcore roots.
Lyrically, Napalm Death has remained fairly consistent throughout the years. Themes addressing globalisation, the human condition and poverty are all present on this record, aggressively barked from the mouth of vocalist Barney Greenway. It’s the combination of lyrical message and their ability to make most of their songs memorable that set the band apart from most heavy acts. Blisteringly fast blast beats that settle into simple, groove loaded sections are once again extremely effective. This comes down to a less-is-more approach that always translates into a punishingly heavy result.
The more interesting aspects of the album start right at the beginning with album opener ‘Apex Predator – Easy Meat’ and it’s droning, chanted vocals. More of this can be heard on the mid-paced ‘Dear Slum Land Lord’. This somewhat progressive approach is something that we’ve never really seen from the band, but it keeps things interesting, even if it is short lived.
Apex Predator really starts to shine by the fourth track ‘How the Years Condemn’. The songs central theme evolves from a catchy lead into a heavy, aggressive wave of noise and vocals that will surely break your face if played loud enough. Standout track ‘Stunt Your Growth’ is simply Napalm Death at their finest, opening with the token pummelling of blast beats, followed by punk inspired riffs that dive into one of the most crushing grooves I’ve ever heard. Maximum volume yields maximum results.
We’ve come to expect certain things from a Napalm Death release. Furious blast beats, groove laden riffs and punky influences delivered with the urgent intensity that the band has trademarked in their extensive back catalogue. On this occasion, the band has delivered that and more. The albums edgier, prog-influenced moments set it apart from earlier efforts, whilst still keeping their classic sound. Regardless of whether you’re a fan of extreme music or not, any band that can last three decades and still release work that’s consistently good is an incredible feat. Whilst it may be more of an acquired taste, fans of the band will be more than happy with Apex Predator – Easy Meat.
Artist _ Howlin Rain
Title_ Mansion Songs
Label_ Easy Sound Records
Genre_ Psychedelic, Alt Rock
Moments Of _ Rich Robinson, Buffalo Killers
Stand Out_ Coliseum
Given the penchant for 2 year interims between albums (their live offering from last year aside of course) it was fairly reasonable to expect that this year would herald some fresh output from San Fran natives Howlin Rain. Thus the release of Mansion Songs, a eulogy and perhaps a consciously deliberate effort to break away from a signature sound that has defined a cohesive back catalog. So this week, Mansion Songs has been review dujour. Did I enjoy it? Even I’m still not sure.
So … Mansion Songs. Well, full disclosure here; whilst this band hasn’t featured high on my popularity blip, listening to it repeatedly over the week hasn’t really done much to change that. As a rule I generally love Americana but for some reason I just wasn’t really, as the kids say ‘feeling it’. Even when I’m not entirely chuffed with an album that I’m reviewing, I’ll always look for some kind of redeeming sensibility and although it was a slow burn, eventually I came around (kind of).
Ah yes, so Howlin Rain. This album has come off the back of some fairly trying times for its front man and now lone band member, Ethan Miller. There was some kind of tedious debacle with his label and I’m not sure if it resulted in him consequently losing his band, (I mean this did happen, I’m just not sure of the order) walking away from the label and consequently having no imminent sense of direction artistically. Somewhat doom and gloom you might say. Yet despite this inherently sullen tone, there are shiny qualities on here that are gentle and reaffirming. Miller has, in part, written some wonderfully complex and melodious fare on here. Admittedly, I did kind of expect a solemn, disillusioned and depressing razor fest but Mansion Songs is surprisingly upbeat. If anything, its innate optimism heralds a new dawn for Miller, and in many ways I suppose, a kind of victory.
So track wise it’s slightly sparse, only 8 songs on here. I did find it derivative in parts, and although I am an avid enthusiast of classic rock it did limp occasionally. Big Red Moon is a reflective lament, an homage even to literal and also figurative desolation. I did however, really dig some of the harmonies featured. Especially on Coliseum and Lucy Fairchild. Nostalgic in many ways and wistfully vibrant. If anything, these featured as favourites and I highly recommend them as go to’s.
For me it was a slow burn, but I really enjoyed Miller’s streamlined approach and if anything, this one marks the beginning of good things to come for Howlin Rain. Heartfelt, poignant and uplifting and all and all, a very solid addition to his cannon.
Album Title_ Range Anxiety
Label_ Chapter Music
Genre_ Indie Pop, Australiana
Moments Of_ Dick Diver, The Clean, The Go-Betweens
Stand Out_ Back To You, New Moves
Purveyors of the recently coined term ‘Melbourne-jangle’, Twerps have released their second full length this time time to a greater global audience, whilst spreading the vibe of everyday suburban life through their music. Being huge fans of Australian staples like The Go-Betweens as well as (NZ label) Flying Nun heroes The Clean, there sound is obviously rich in story-telling lyrics, likeable guitar lines and a fresh Sunday afternoon sound. Recorded with producer Jack Farley at Head Gap Studios in Melbourne’s north (who also helped our on their debut self titled effort of 2011), this album sees the band defining and maturing their sound, which no doubt will help them impress on their upcoming international touring schedule.
It’s pretty easy to be mislead into thinking that this is just another jangle album, something not really worth it’s merit. Given all the media love for these guys (and gal) surrounding the release of Range Anxiety, it’s sometimes easier to just let it past and forget about it. However, if we think back the last five or six years, Twerps were one of the primary bands involved with this ‘new genre’. Given they have had this time to refine their sound, to get good at what they do, this, their second long player after a number of EP’s spread through their existence since formation in 2008, see’s them bring something special to share at the table.
Range Anxiety is definitely a second spin album. That exhale, look around you and soak up the vibe kind of album. It is made for suburban life; tin rooves, clothes lines, train rides, contemplation. It’s simple instrumentation, clean guitar sounds and Aussie accented vocals, it’s hard to be impatient whilst this album is spinning. The lyrics reflect a similar mixed bag of emotions – heartbreak and reconciliation on Back To You, Love At First Sight, finally finding each other on Simple Feelings. Some true hometown familiarity also shines through with song titles like House Keys, Fern Murderers and Cheap Education. A song about waiting, Adrenaline, features the cutest line sung by Julia McFarlane, ‘Hey postie, is there anything for me?’. It doesn’t get much more home-grown than that.
As a contrast to 2011’s self titled album, which also received enormous local support and international opportunity (Twerps have previously toured the States, featuring appearances as SXSW and a run of support slots for Mac Demarco), there is a definite progression and maturation of their sound, a polish found by working with the same producer, that lets Range Anxiety shine on it’s own accord. In saying this, there are also more subdued moments, which seem to be with the intention of creating varied dynamics, however sometimes instead falling a little flat. Sitting about half way through the duration of the album, we take a slower, pacing step on Shoulders, again Julia sings ‘have no fear, on my shoulder’, which feels almost lethargic in it’s movement, but builds to an uplifting level, where each simple piece of instrumentation comes together to make a more lasting impact.
It’s important to remember where the origins of this album and the bands’ overall sound when approaching Range Anxiety. At times it feels easy to become restless with the moderate tempo, relaxed sounds and wishful romances the album presents, but it is genuinely worth a time and place in the Melbourne music community. This is an album to make you homesick when abroad, to ease the confusion of longing relationships, or to ease the anxiety of peak hour commuting.