What a week of releases. If you haven’t been paying attention, don’t worry we have you covered. Oldies and newbies at it again with Deerhoof reminding us all why they are still kicking it, Sui Zen brings her own, seemingly, Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks composer) inspired tracks. While new kids on the block, Why We Run and Downers prove that creativity is alive and well in music today.
Artist Why We Run
Album Title Holograms
Moments Of Radiohead, Boy and Bear, The National
Stand Out Comfortable Lie, Firebird
Could 2016 be one of the strongest years for Australian independent music? Despite some international cracking albums delivered that have distracted the ears of good music listeners, bands like Sydney’s Why We Run, have helped landmark young Australian bands and worthy of international attention and acclaim. Long-awaited debut release Holograms, offers a confident, powerful and honest album strung together by perfect melancholic songs that digs deep and strives to reach new heights, some hitting the mark, others falling somewhere short.
Watching from the side lines as a band works toward their debut can be a wonderful thing; the first major single, the social media hype, a few support gig slots. As a publication that has offered coverage in the past, we hopeful for its success. We first discovered Why We Run in 2015 when they delivered ‘Comfortable Lie’, a song that we filtered out as a Weaning Lamb track, the delicate and intricate guitar licks, the subtle pattering drums and the gentle voice of Nic Cogels drew instant and warranted comparisons to Radiohead.
The story of Why We Run began when lead singer and vocalist, Nic Cogels, moved from Brussels to Sydney in search of new beginnings. There he met brothers Ed and Lloyd Prescott, adding guitarist Nick Langley and taking a fancy to the title of the non-fiction book, Why We Run by author and biologist Bernd Heinrich (a book that focuses the co-evolution of humans and other animals). Why We Run weaves together their tracks as less singular constructs but more an enduring complete work. Holograms a journey through life, disconnection and underlying isolation.
Opening track ‘A Moment to Return’ holds a sense of optimism in its sound, a sentiment that reveals itself throughout Holograms. Lyrically, the opener is uncertain in its context while the music draws euphoria, but with all this in hand, there is still a sense of something missing in the studio production. ‘A Moment to Return’, like many songs on this album feel contained and reserved, a tension of expectation. This musical tension equally offers a real intensity, you would expect any other band, think City Calm Down and The National, to throw in some strings and horns to reach those heights.
‘Hallway’, ‘Hologram’, ‘Air Between Us’ and ‘Rust’ thread the album together with their sentiment and introverted emotion, relying heavily on Cogel’s lyrics and soothing tone, songs that show signs of a band who take their craft very seriously and are not afraid to minimise what they offer. Each song indicates a preferred writing style that focused on its meaning as opposed to pleasing those who may listen in order to win fans, something that is all to seldom in independent Australian music.
‘All You Ever Wanted’ grabs hold of hopeful sensibilities, it is uplifting, mature and honest, both lyrically and musically, in the same vein as ‘Where I’ll Be Waiting’ and ‘Comfortable Lie’. 3 tracks that perhaps stand out as singles but sound even stronger, supported by where they are placed on the album.
Why We Run have delivered an extremely confident album, an album that shows restraint in it’s production and maturity in Colgel’s lyrics. Musically the band are immensely talented and the restrain felt on the album opens up many doors for a band who certainly have a lot more to give, this is a fine debut and only the start for a band who have all the makings of international success.
Album Title: Too Many Voices
Label: Frenchkiss Records
Genre: Post-punk, indie rock
Moments Of: Arctic Monkeys, The Smiths, Maximo Park, Mystery Jets, The Last Shadow Puppets
Stand Outs: Pick Up The Pace, Don’t Be Like That, Human Remains
You’d be forgiven for that look of befuddlement when you’re told that Drowners hail from the Big Apple. The New York band has just released their sophomore effort On Desire with their combination of post-punk and indie rock that have the charm and bite of so many bands from the Motherland.
The four-piece have followed up their debut album with a quick 10 song romp that is catchy, melodic and built from emotional foundations. Matthew Hitt leads on vocals and guitar with band mates Jack Ridley (guitar), Erik Lee Snyder (bass) and Lakis E. Pavlou (drums) forming a jaunty and sharp quartet. From this breeds songs that span from jangly guitar ridden pop to menacingly mature and dark punk rock.
Drowners’ On Desire sits in a sort of a middle ground throughout. Employing shimmers of the Arctic Monkeys pace and swagger, whilst engaging in the indie-pop uproar of the Mystery Jets. It always sounds familiar, unfortunately a bit too familiar. Failing to make a strong stand in either direction, songs don’t always hit their full potential. In saying that these songs don’t fail to charm a smile and sway from the listener.
One of the biggest positives for Drowners is there youth. With a confidence and execution usually only available to more experienced bands they deliver songs which have some sonically bright moments. ‘Pick up the Pace’ and ‘Don’t Be Like That’ seem to possess the most promising sounds moving forward and an excellent finish to the album. With hopefully plenty of time ahead of them and the exploration phase done, they can pick a more defined path. Youth also seems to be their biggest downfall on this album though. Drowners fail to emit their own identity, not for lack of skill or effort. It’s all too obvious on songs like ‘Dreams Don’t Count’ resembling The Last Shadow Puppets and even ‘Don’t Be Like That’ conjuring memories of Maximo Park.
On Desire offers a lot of hope for fans in the future as they hone in on their ultimate direction. Although it does feels like an album that is heavily exposed by its influences. Each song will remind you of a different band. As you try and puzzle out which one though, the song has run its course. It’s an album that makes you want to go back and listen to other albums.
Artist Sui Zhen
Album Title Secretly Susan
Label Dot Dash Recordings
Moments Of Metronomy
Stand Out Take It All Back
Queen of all things dreamy: Becky Freeman aka Sui Zhen finds a new form in Secretly Susan. The Melbourne artist adds ‘producer’ to her suit of creative pursuits, stepping away from the singer-songwriter realm with a focus now honed on electronic chillwave for her latest album. With a woozy sweet voice, Japanese inspired aesthetic and a bunch of old synthesizers, Sui Zhen’s blue-eyed alter ego Susan wanders through a world of cherry blossoms and bossa nova beats.
The hypnotic sound of waves lapping on some unknown shore set the tone in the first few moments of ‘Teenage Years’. Out on Dot Dash recordings, Secretly Susan is very much a world of its own; one in which everything glows a pastel hue, soft and feminine, where cultures merge to make genre-fluid techno.
Zhen’s last release Two Seas in 2012 followed the girl-and-guitar formula, where as Secretly Susan takes cues from a far broader collection of influences. Second track ‘Hangin’ On’ introduces distinctively Japanese sounding melodies that become a common thread weaving the album together. The Japanese elements lift the record above the crowded scene of self-produced soft dreamy pop and under cut the songs with a refreshing edge, but Zhen draws from other equally unusual sources. The open letter of ‘Dear Teri’ has a quaint jazz flavour that wanders close to Metronomy’s early quirky production while the retro bossa nova beats on ‘Walk Without Me’ tread a fine line between kitsch and cool. When the deep, almost robotic timbre of a male voice is introduced for the first and only time in the album and feels strange nestled among the feminine dreamland.
Cloaked in the mystery of her bizarre, infinitely artistic self-directed videos and the disconcerting identity that is embodied in Secretly Susan, Zhen masterfully grants herself uninhibited artistic flow. ‘Going Away’ is taken to woozy heights by the child-like vocals that dip back down to admit ‘I’m glad I met you…we broke some hearts didn’t we baby.” Zhen’s songs are intimate and personal but aren’t to be taken too seriously. ‘Infinity Street’ is carried by the milky echoes of deceptively lean production, where as ‘Never Gone’ is a slow motion mix of sultry lounge music and retro techno vibes. Achingly, the song almost ends on a lonely woodwind, but comes back with ‘nothing ever really ends, it just moves on.’
The album highlight ‘Take It All Back’ is a pop banger that sounds as if it’s lifted from the soundtrack of ‘Drive’, with a warm groove, steady pulse and lyrics that mull over regrets and blame.
The album’s closer is ‘Alter Ego’; offering a final explanation of the mysterious Susan embodied throughout the album. She is calming and sensitive, creative and formless. Bird sounds echo in a hazy cloud of modulated guitars.
Secretly Susan is a refreshing exploration of identity and an even fresher take on the rising scene of self-produced electro. The Japanese meets bossa nova meets techno pop meets indie songwriting are all strange couples, but the album feels complete with every element. Secretly Susan takes shape in a world of her own making.
Album Title The Magic
Label Polyvinyl Record Co.
Genre Indie Rock
Moments Of Dirty Projectors, Primus, Regurgitation
Stand Outs; Life Is Suffering, Plastic Thrills
How do you write a top-notch album? According to Deerhoof it is as simple as escaping to New Mexico and filling an empty office space with an onslaught of sound. The result is The Magic. A bold, unforgiving fifteen track album that is bursting at the seams. A collision of punk, groove based pop and wild vocals. The Magic brings an experimental playfulness back to Deerhoof.
Formed in San Francisco in 1994, Deerhoof have since been fused together by the world-renowned drummer Greg Saunier and lead vocalist Satomi Matsuzaki. Saunier’s tight and punchy drumming has become synonymous with Deerhoof’s tracks. Originating as an outfit with a focus on drums and bass, this has remained as the backbone of Deerhoof’s sound. Matsuzaki’s voice lends itself perfectly to the experimental nature of the band; her voice forces you to recognise it as an instrument in itself rather than just a track filler. The way in which she switches between English and Japanese perfectly reflects this sonic quality her sometimes incoherent voice takes on.
The Magic brings back a real energy and mayhem to Deerhoof that earned them their name from their previous albums such as Apple O. This absence of fast paced music has been compensated for in The Magic. This edgy, experimental sound pushes all boundaries. For a band that has been together since the mid 90’s it is phenomenal that they are able to continue to so confidently break new ground.
‘That Ain’t No Life To Me’ is the lo-fi punk baby of The Magic. It has roots tracking back to early Deerhoof, it could just as easily appear on one of their earlier releases such as Milk Man from 2004 and one of their most famous albums Apple O from 2003. These albums were renowned for their punchy, grunge punk sound.
The Magic blends their old school punk vibe with their later sound of heavier and grittier fuzz tones that were explored in their 2012 album Breakup Song. ‘Life Is Suffering’ is the perfect example of this. The initial heavy snare mixed with a deep fuzz bass guitar surround the rest of the song. It features Matsuzaki’s filtered voice dancing against the strained lead guitar. The title of the song is repeated, “Life Is Suffering / higher and higher and higher” in the chorus reflective of a manufactured melancholic slogan. The false upbeat vibe of this song is contrasted against the nihilistic title.
Up to their seventeenth release since 1997, Deerhoof is somehow keeping it fresh. The Magic is an immense example of how at almost twenty years old a band can continue to push the limits of their own sound.