We have had a busy few weeks at TWL wanderin a bigger field of music thanks to a handful of new conributors that have joined our growing herd in Melbourne and Sydney. This means that New Borns moves back to a weekly post and that means more up to the minute reviews of fresh New Borns. This week we have four albums reviewed by 3 new contributors, Cat, Keegan and Jack and our long standing contributor Shauna who spent the week with Yuck. It was a tough listen for Jack, reviewing School of Seven Bells a tough release for the band. Cat’s first review of Quilt earns a WELL DONE and Jack’s debut had him listening to Golden Daze and their debut. Enjoy!
Label Mexican Summer
Genre Dreamy Psychedelic, folky dream pop
Moments Of Donovan, Of Montreal, Revolver-era Beatles
Stand Out Roller, Hissing My Plea
Hailing from Massachusetts, Quilt’s third album Plaza brings east coast psychedelia to a dream-folk sweet spot. Confidently dabbling in ethereal, often eastern-influenced sounds and high quality production, Quilt has really made something great out of their latest release. As chilly undertones whisper through the dappled light, listen to this album for a taste of some introspective, but never self-conscious soul-searching.
The third album can be risky waters for a band – it can either be fantastic or completely lack lustre. From beginning to end, Plaza is a damn fine album. Passerby is a drone-y intro woven around Anna Rochinski’s gentle coo that draws you in to this wonderful album. Moving seamlessly on to the second track, Roller has this effortless bass line giving the track a very cool factor. It really takes off towards the end when some ethereal layered vocals happen in the background. Vocals shift to guitarist and vocalist Shane Butler in Searching For, creating a sound not unlike a Donovan and Of Montreal collaboration.
Throughout the rest of the album the tracks alternate between the two, as if to keep the ear alert and very happy. The fourth track ‘O’Connors Bar’ is a bit flat for me, and doesn’t stand on its own the way all of the other tracks do. It’s just a bit too effortless and its deadpan style doesn’t really suit the rest of the album.
‘Eliot St’, wisely placed mid-album, is Quilt’s single. Interestingly, though I suspect coincidentally, this track has an Elliott Smith sound to it. The string section, halfway through the song, is the highlight of the track. It’s a very welcome addition to an already beautiful song. However, as a chronic contrarian, ‘Hissing My Plea’ is the stand out track for me. It builds the Beatles Revolver-era sound of the album to a whole new level. It will get you hitting that repeat button one too many times.
As the album begins to wrap up new instruments are introduced including a beautiful harp section in ‘Padova’ and the seemingly ever-present jazz flute popping up in psychedelic albums at the moment. ‘Own Ways’ is a nice desert-rock sort of outro that sums up everything that Quilt is about in their latest release – a rockin’ vibe with a touch of introspection. Rueful, yet never self-conscious lyrics blended with cool psychedelic extraversion will have you falling in love with Quilt’s latest release. This is the sound of a band cracking that third album glass ceiling.
Album Title Stranger Things
Label Mamé Records
Genre Indie Rock
Moments Of Dinosaur Jr., Built To Spill
Stand Out Cannonball, Hold Me Closer
Stranger Things marks album number three from London-based band Yuck, who have followed proceedings from their second album Glow & Behold in a fairly comfortable manner. Yuck have not strayed particularly far from a sound that they’ve become acquainted with. Many will argue that the quality and enthusiasm towards releases has diminished since the departure of singer/guitarist Daniel Blumberg after they completed touring for their 2011 debut.
Yuck are a band who know how to write a decent indie rock record. Unfortunately, the reality is that in 2016, the heyday of their favoured sound has passed. Whilst a so called “revival” is apparently upon us with bands like Bully, Twin Peaks, and Cloud Nothings. Each of these respective bands, like Yuck once did, have their own individual elements that make them stand above the rest. What gave Yuck that edge in 2011’s self-titled debut album, was their inventive song-writing, massive hooks and a refreshing take on a classic sound.
In 2016, Stranger Things is a petering spark of what they were once were. Sure, the album has a few songs that have potential to be earworms but in reality, it now feels like it is more worth your time to just go back to Yuck’s inspirations. (see Pavement, Built To Spill, Dinosaur Jr., Guided By Voices etc.). Fans of the original line-up will probably appreciate songs like Hold Me Closer, Cannonball or Hearts in Motion, whilst the remainder of the album is fairly lacklustre. These songs are well crafted, well recorded and produced but essentially uneventful. Listening through Stranger Things seems to give a lingering, pulling feeling of familiarity. Similarly to when you feel like you’ve heard this song before and it’s on the tip of your tongue. Only to realise that it’s just the band are leaning a little too close to a well-used formula.
Despite all of these gripes, this doesn’t mean that this album doesn’t deserve a place in the heart of their fans or anyone who is in search of a quality indie record. There is weight to this release and the band still work well together despite the absence of their most talented songwriter. Ultimately Stranger Things will merely be an unremarkable blip in the enormous spectrum of the musical landscape.
Album Title SVIIB
Label Vagrant Records
Genre Dream Pop, Indie Rock
Moments Of CHVRCHES, M83
Stand Out Ablaze, A Thousand Times More, This Is Our Time
Tragedy has informed music for decades. In a lot of cases it has the capacity to push people to a state of emotional clarity, allowing them to encapsulate and express the resonating feelings of loss or its forthcoming combined with reflections on deep admiration and love. Gang of Youths ‘The Positions’ and Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Carrie and Lowell’ immediately spring to mind. School of Seven Bells fourth and likely final album SVIIB joins them as a grateful elegy that serves as a resounding reminder of the strength of relationships when faced with formidable adversity.
It’s important to understand the conception and context of this album in order to truly appreciate the outcome. Although unaware listeners will still understand the powerful themes thanks to their transparency. Benjamin Curtis, former band mate, friend, lover and more to Alejandra Deheza died of T-cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma in December of 2013. SVIIB serves as a parting gift to one another that we are lucky enough to share in. Curtis was involved with all the songs on the album before his death, with Deheza bringing it to completion. Each song now fully formed is emotionally ransacking with context in mind, yet able to instill joy and be so uplifting. Most of the lyrics on SVIIB were written before Curtis’s death. Each song takes on a second life though, as it becomes about that moment were song and circumstance collide.
“The record is about him, every song, in one way or another. It’s crazy. I never vocalized it at the time, but all the lyrics are about him. It’s all that was coming out”. – Alejandra Deheza
The whole album is laden with huge dream pop anthems that are enthralling and filled with energy. The synth-pop build of the first four songs are excellent. Aware or unaware of the underlying narrative these are emotionally driven songs that are stunning and satisfying. Ablaze sets the tone with Deheza’s shimmering vocals, accompanied by hammering percussion and the synths that embody their dream pop sound. The first words are a stark reminder “How could I have known”. ‘Elias’ and ‘Signals’ serve as an emotional reprieve for the listener, although still successful in projecting the albums nature. “Confusion weighs so heavy” a recurring theme in the album.
The album does stumble though with ‘Music Takes Me’. As a song it fails to drag you out of the blissful lull the previous two songs provide and it falls pretty flat. The ship steadies though with Confusion, the last song the two wrote together and painstakingly obvious “until I felt your hands on my skin I felt nothing”. This Is Our Time is also a powerful farewell and stands out as one of the best songs on the album. It just shows how important the order of songs on an album can be, with this song leaving a lasting impression.
It’s impossible to be objective when reviewing this album. In cases like this it’s tempting to award a certain amount of posthumous acclaim to an album and therefore ignore its blemishes. In this case though I’m happy to buy into the temptation. SVIIB is an album that needed to be finished by Deheza, an ode to time spent and time never forgotten. It’s a joyous, exciting and heart-wrenching experience all at once and one that I’m personally not likely to forget.
Album Title Golden Daze
Label Autumn Tone Records
Genre Alternative Rock, Dream Pop
Moments Of MGMT, Youth Lagoon
Stand Out Ghost, Foreigner
Golden Daze is a Los Angeles-based duo consisting of Jacob Loeb, an actor who’s been in James Franco movies, and Ben Schwab, a former professional roller blader. Much like rollerblading, Golden Daze’s self-titled debut album is an exercise in nostalgia.
Initially hailing from the Mid-West, the duo’s album isn’t dictated by the trendy garage rock, punk sound of the L.A. scene. Rather, it’s a more melodic, Californian road trip through a hazy, 1960s rock/1980s dream pop soundscape. The album floats along at a slow pace, opening with the track ‘Ghost’ which sets the tone of the album. Heavy reverb builds a pleasant, sun-bleached wall of noise, which persists throughout the album. Behind this wall, the vocals are distant and dreamy.
The album provides a handful of satisfying moments where the music builds into catchy choruses. The song ‘Foreigner’ appears to wind down towards the end, only to reward the listener as the drums intensify while vocals return. These moments, however, are sprinkled sparingly throughout the project. This does not take away from their debut studio album. When it’s not creating these satisfying hooks, it’s creating an atmosphere – one that persists through the entire album. It’s dreamy, almost otherworldly.
Unfortunately, if you weren’t paying attention, every song might melt into one track. This doesn’t strip the album of its merit, but if you pick any one song off the album and you don’t like the sound, it’s unlikely you’ll enjoy the album as a whole. There are the occasional subtle changes. ‘Never Comin’ Back’ has a certain surfiness to it and ‘Lean In’ has a distorted, twanging guitar that sounds like country music on acid. Generally though, the album deviates little from the one sound.
Throughout the album, the lyrics are often difficult to understand behind the thick wall of lush grooves. The distant sound of the vocals was surely an intentional aesthetic choice in order to help create the hazy atmosphere, but it could be argued that it hinders one’s understanding of the album.
Ultimately, Golden Daze is an enjoyable album. It’s carefree and summer-like, and would perfectly score any coastal road trips you might be planning. A few songs even have semi-pop potential, slipping nicely into regular Triple J rotation. The question is whether Golden Daze will choose to explore outside of their sound in future releases.