Five New Borns delivered this week is a testament to another busy week at The Wandering Lamb. This week was another complete mix bag of music, from the much-anticipated return of M83, PJ Harvey and Parquet Courts. Three completely different albums listened to by three very unique and fresh set of ears, the result is fair and we hope are unbiased opinions. Jerome, spent the week with Woods and didn’t expect what he got, while Ben, who lives in country Victoria, spent an uncomfortable week with Scotland’s Frightened Rabbit.
Artist Frightened Rabbit
Album Title Painting Of A Panic Attack
Label Atlantic Records UK
Genre Indie Rock
Moments of Placebo, Wilco
Stand Out Little Drum, 400 Bones, Death Dream
How many successful rock acts have come out of Selkirk in Scotland, you may wonder? Population under 6000, near the south-eastern border. Hmm. At this point Frightened Rabbit might just be on their own in that category. Going since 2003, the band was named by the mother of founder Scott Hutchison – apparently due to his shyness. This is their fifth studio album with brothers Scott and brother Grant Hutchison as the staple – and stable – membership. That’s Scott (vox, guitar), Grant (drums, percussion), Billy Kennedy (bass, keys), Andy Monaghan (guitar, keys) with Simon Lidell (guitar).
It seems to me that so far in 2016 to be the year where musicians are long on theme and short on quality. The same has applied to these ears checking out Scottish indie lads Frightened Rabbit for the first time. Lead singer and writer Scott Hutchison has cited Jeff Tweedy’s Wilco as being an early influence. And, like America’s Radiohead (in their own way), Frightened Rabbit has the presumed benefit of a surround-sound stylistic palette with five members.
But do they make the most of their instruments over the 12 tracks and 45 minutes of “Painting Of A Panic Attack”? Well, yes and no. Mostly no. Or rather, not enough.
“Death Dream” sets everything in motion with slow, mournful piano as Scott narrates finding his partner dead in their lounge room. A cheery image that is not, but his Scots brogue is indeed a lovely aspect. If you think Chris Martin and Coldplay got glum on “Ghost Stories”, you ain’t heard nothing yet. This is “a suicide on the floor”. Wilco’s future-formatted folk as if it was commandeered by Placebo frontman Brian Molko as nothing but a vehicle for a series of suitably vicious – and viscous – vignettes about dying, water and whisky. A lyrically arresting opening that leaves you wondering why Scott thinks this kind of stuff.
Things more or less travel along from there in a similar-ish vein. Occasional bottom-end brass, drum machine, simmering keyboards. You have to admire a certain persistence about the guys even if their source material doesn’t seem to steer too far from what’s presumably worked in the past.
And, shades of a few other releases this year, there’s also a sense that some ideas could be further explored. But everything barely touches three-and-a-half minutes. Take “I Wish I Was Sober” for instance. Derek “Fish” Williams of Marillion would’ve beefed that tale of drinking and drug-taking up – and probably taken double the time to tell it, too – back in the 1980s. And possibly lived it for longer as well.
The so-so first half continues with first single “Woke Up Hurting”. Arguably the catchiest they get here but still lacking a slow-burning epic atmosphere to match the sparks of initial drama.
By the mid-point we find “Little Drum”, where it all comes together properly. Electronic heartbeat, genuinely intriguing (rather than introspective-for-the-sake-of-it) words about Scott’s mother, empty rooms and wasted youth. “The little drum inside behaves itself until you turn 25,” Scott says. “Then is strikes and leaves, only ever half alive.” With a distant twinkle of mandolin it’s coherent and, well, enough.
However, it all fairly quickly sonically unravels after that on “An Otherwise Disappointing Life”. Like Bloc Party’s “Hymns”, there’s potential not quite met. “An Otherwise Disappointing LP”, perhaps?
“Blood Under The Bridge” is another case in point. It just drags out so much. Melancholic? We get it, dude! Like Scottish comedy legend Billy Connolly once said of opera – there’s something to like about it, but it’s still two-thirds too long. “400 Bones” contains some poetic images nicely put (“our skin is painted on by the sun”…”I let the clocks do the worrying for once”) but getting to the tale of “Lump Street” has been left too late.
Closer, “Die Like A Rich Boy” feels like the whole thing ends up as some sort of grand conceit. Scott is scared of being found by a social services officer in a gutter somewhere, basically, and having no-one turn up at the funeral. So his death dream has kinda come full circle. Conceptual? Maybe. Though hardly enough to complete a 12-song cycle for three-quarters of an hour. Morbid, moribund and – at times – more than just a bit “meh”. Sadly.
Artist PJ Harvey
Album Title The Hope Six Demolition Project
Label Island Records
Genre Alt Rock
Moments of Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Stand Out Dollar, Dollar
PJ Harvey and her band recorded The Hope Six Demolition Project in a makeshift one-way glass studio at London’s inaugural, Somerset House . On the other side, paying audiences were invited to watch the process, an album that merges art and journalism, like a one-way mirror through which Harvey observes the world. The songs themselves tell real stories of real places; the homelessness and poverty she encountered on her travels through Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington D.C, while musically combined it with a cabaret-like raucous of chanting, saxophone solos, hand claps and field recordings.
Harvey’s pure voice delivers some devastating blows in the cunningly upbeat opening track ‘The Community of Hope’. She narrates visiting a poor neighbourhood of Washington D.C., echoing a Joni Mitchell Big Yellow Taxi sentiment with a hook of “they’re gonna build a Wal-Mart here.” Harvey’s emotions run free in the dark second track ‘The Ministry of Defence’ which is memorable but deeply chilling. She rattles off lyrics like “broken glass, a white jaw bone, syringes, razors, plastic spoons, human hair, a kitchen knife…” concluding ‘this is how the world ends.’ She is constantly backed up by deep male voices, a ghostly chorale.
Every song has the steady pace of downtrodden peasants walking in chains, singing woefully of their fate. With ‘The Orange Monkey’ Harvey offers us some explanation for the harsh, honest lyrics as she whimsically sings “I took a plane to a foreign land and said I’d write down what I found.” She describes ‘streets that look like building sites’ and observes how ‘a happy chaos carried on’. This provides some context for the ad hoc feel to parts of the album.
The lyrics that feel a little too stark and the production that at times feels unfinished highlight Harvey’s inspirations in an ‘art imitates life’ kind of way. Harvey’s magic voice declares more terrible truths in ‘Medicinals’, a song about how Washing D.C. would have once flourished with plants the Indigenous Americans used as natural remedies. Things get a little cringe-worthy when she sings of a woman drinking from a bottle wrapped in a paper bag: ‘a new pain-killer for the native people’.
Closing track ‘Dollar, Dollar’ is a highlight, with simpler production, a haunting refrain that echoes the cries of a beggar child, heart wrenching lyrics (‘face pockmarked and hollow’) and Harvey singing like a sad angel.
Harvey seems overwhelmed by what she’s seen and this comes across, intentionally or not, in the shaky structure of the album. The Hope Six Demolition Project has chinks in its armour: flaky lyrics, songs that sound the same. But it’s so refreshing to hear a strong female voice cut through and deliver fearless accounts of a world the lucky ones can’t even begin to imagine. A strong sequel to Let England Shake, it seems PJ Harvey is still on quite a heroic trajectory.
Album Title City Sun Eater In the River Of Light
Genre Indie Folk
Moments Of Calexico
Stand Out I see In the Dark , Hollow Home
Woods are a long running American folk-rock band, releasing their ninth studio album City Sun Eater In the River of Light. The quintet, who are native Brooklynites are lead by Jeremy Earl. This album develops on and confirms his musical path that was started in their previous album, With Light and with Love, two years ago. The psy-folk genre that made the group’s ongoing success now gives way to a musical revival, though still remaining faithful to their inspirations.
After ten years of music activity and a staggering eight released albums, Earl’s band has again been able to detach themselves the current music scene, with their psychedelic folk sound that was marked for them upon the release of Songs of Shame, in 2009.
Six or so years on and now four albums later, the band have returned with an album that focuses on the innovation and inspiration of the music itself, something that we could have guessed with the progression and change of direction on their previously well received album With Light and With Love, especially on a handful of songs that graft here on yet another significant change of musical style.
From the opening first notes of the opening song, “Sun City Creeps”, we instantly hear the musical direction taken by the group: a rhythm and melody more reggae like, a jazzy sound of layered guitar riff, supported by keyboards offering a Roots sound. It all just feels a lot less tortured by comparison, Morning light a great example, that plays out like a folk ballad, an ode to love.
The singular and most unchanged component throughout all their albums is Earl’s voice with its’ clear, falsetto and non-evasive tone, an almost comfort for fans I am sure.
Despite this musical re-orientation for the band, City Sun Eater In the River of Light ensures the bricks of their “rock madness” in some songs, like “I See In The Dark” remain in transition. The arrival of Vintage Keyboard and the use of what sounds like African inspired sounds and jazz guitar riffs, it all contributes to a revival sound for the group, but always remaining true to the spirit of Woods. It seems that the band have really expanded their musical world and that after eight albums, there was a need to innovate musically, to give a second musical breath.
Woods have delivered an upbeat album, one that is way less dark, much more accessible and for fans of the band, this album may be an uncomfortable and surprising first listen, but it still reveal some treasures that hopefully will revive their fans and welcome in some new listeners. Let’s hope that after their locked in tour of America, we will be lucky enough to see them playing in Australia too.
Artist Parquet Courts
Album Title Human Performance
Label Rough Trade
Genre Lo-fi pop, post-punk
Moments Of Pavement, The Velvet Underground, The Strokes
Stand Out One Man No City, Berlin Got Blurry
The Courts that are Parquet (Parquet Courts) deliver an album that is unexpectedly accessible, something least expected. An almost commercial radio friendly collection of songs that may have many uncertain fans finally giving in to their weirdly wonderful talent of musical song writing mastery, but have it’s diehard fans considering them breaking a code of conduct and giving in to the power of writing a “hit” album. Signed to the kings of great talent spotters, Rough Trade, Human Performance is confident, addictive and un-forgivingly good!
Here is the recipe for the perfect Human Performance, a savoury concoction that has a bit of this and a bit of that. Start with a big portion of Pavement, simmer for a while, add in a good dollop of The Velvet Underground, some Rolling Stones and an early helping of The Stranglers, simmer well. Then add in and even combination The Strokes, The Fall, Peter Bjorn & John¸ a tiny pinch of LCD Soundsystem and finish it off with a garnish of Cake, The Distance. Stew for around 1 year and what you will have is the perfect album that is Human Performance.
When Parquet Courts released their debut album, it had all the taste makers weak at the knees, an album that brought “pogo” dancing back to the live music scene and picked up all the musical crumbs that The Strokes left, along with the nostalgia and energy of post-punk in the very late 70s. Gritty and jaggered guitars, shuffling bass and drums and the unmistakable lyrics and voice of Andrew Savage, made them the talk of indie town, their live performances were just as exciting. Light Up Gold was a tremendous album full of hope for youth music of tomorrow, effortlessly cool and an abundance of healthy attitude.
When Rough Trade signed them sometime in 2014/2015 to release an uncomfortably obscure experimental EP called Monastic Living, it had many of us scratching our heads, was this what the ever reliable Rough Trade taking Parquet Courts down the wrong road? With a breath of relief, on listen to Human Performance, this was simply a clever distraction to have us fans back off while the band were busy tinkering in the studio, writing as a four piece.
Human Performance is full of highly addictive American pop-punk at its best, a welcome return to a band who had a lot of unfinished work to prove, following their second album, Sunbathing Animals. Opening track for those on digital format is “Already Dead” a quirky ditty track, and a quick telling sign of how much things have changed for the band, before stumbling into the first single released from the album “Dust”, with some of the finest lyrics of 2016. “It comes through the window, it comes through the floor, it comes through the roof, and it comes through the door. Dust is everywhere, Sweep.” Simple proof that you really don’t have to over think lyrics, chord progressions or complexities to create a song that is so infectious, like dust. (no pun intended.)
Title track Human Performance is an instant reminder of Lou Reed or in our modern times, a song penned by Peter, Bjorn and John, comparisons aside, it fairly plays out as the band’s own with inspiration, complete with psychedelic swirling vocal effects.
There are pure Parquet Courts moments on this album to please the original fans, like I Was Just Here, Paraphrased, Keep It Even and Pathos Prairie, with their thumbing melodies and sometimes ostentatious and oddly played chord progressions. It is these tracks that prevents the album from being too obvious, that sewn in with the winning tracks, Outside, Berlin Got Blurry, and Two Dead Cops, complete a winning formula.
“One Man No City”, is the longest track on the album, who would have thought that the Courts could play through a song longer than 3 minute song and succeed. This is the standout song on the album, accompanied by rolling bongos and Savage singing about the city he lives in, in solitude. With a nod to Venus in Furs at 3 minutes 30 the song twists into a spiral of musical abyss that would have Andy Warhol impressed and Lou Reed giving his seal of approval.
Steady On My Mind and closing track It’s Gonna Happens show the first signs of a band who are more than what they delivered on their first two albums, the closest I think we will get to the more reflective side of the band. Quite a poignant end to an album that may have us opinionated ones split, but there is no denying Human Performance goes to prove that Parquet Courts have affirmed their place in our complicated and over populated musical landscape.
Album Title Junk
Genre Electronic, Dream Pop/Funk
Moments Of Daft Punk, Brian Eno
Stand Out Do it, Try it, Go!, Laser Gun
Anthony Gonzalez returns after an excruciatingly long breather between albums to bring us the 80’s inspired Junk. Following his widely successful Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, Gonzalez has re-acquainted himself with familiar faces as well as new collaborators to bring an exciting as well as perplexing album.
This is going to be different, or so we thought at the release of ‘Do it, Try it’. With a loveable simple video M83 peaked our excitement and delivered another engrossing and electrifying song, similar to that of HUWD’s ‘Midnight City’. Essentially the same brand of drink, just a different flavour. ‘Go!’ follows, with some over-the-top instrumentals and an electronic tempo it’s an anthem for the 80’s and quite possibly Gonzalez’s best reflection of the source material.
But then we arrive at songs like ‘Moon Crystal’ that are way too obvious. Young and old both understand the 80’s sitcom theme. It’s an emulation of something we are aware of and none-too-fussed by; it might as well be the beginner for a Netflix reboot nobody wants to watch.
Susanne Sundfor is breathtaking again on ‘For The Kids’. She is a welcome and frequent addition to the M83 roster. Joined by the familiar narration of Zelly Meldal-Johnsen, who you might remember from ‘Raconte Moi Une Histoire’ they deliver a beautiful and possibly theme breaking song. That’s the last we hear of Sundfor though, which is disappointing. Another appearance at the back-end of the album, possibly on ‘Sunday 1987’ would have been appreciated. If songs like M83’s cinematic ‘Oblivion’ or even Royksopps ‘Running To The Sea’ are anything to go by, she can deliver hugely enveloping tracks just by rubbing her finger and thumb together.
‘Laser Gun’ and ‘Road Blaster’ are two of the most infectious tracks on the album and deserve a mention. Delivering a cruisy swagger with piano, sax and synths Gonzalez satisfies his 80’s pop infatuation. Whilst ‘Solitude’ is the closest representation of the M83 we knew, mixed with the one showing itself now, in the form of a bountiful keytar solo.
It’s possible that this album will be enjoyed more by a younger audience, with the lived in kids of the 80’s having a clearer reflection of the source and therefore being critical of the albums representation of it influences. Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, an album that explores the wonderment, innocence and even insecurities of childhood is one that’s hard to poke holes in, especially backed by the dwarfing cinematic sounds that so effectively transport you back to that mystifying time. The awkward years in which Junk takes its influences can be pulled apart a little easier. Although for those experiencing it for the first time, or even in recent years in the form of albums like Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories in 2013, it’s exciting to see the past and present collide.