Four New Borns this week that are completely worthy of your ears. Another Fat Possum record label bands deliver an excellent bundle of the tracks, the band is Tennis. Heartworms by The Shins may well be a contender for best New Borns of the year. Laura Marling, delivers her powerful Semper Femina and we keep things local with Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever’s new diverse collection of cuts.
Label: Columbia Records
Moments Of: Vampire Weekend, Bombay Bicycle Club, Broken Bells
Stand Out: Painting a Hole
The Shins have been striding through the indie-rock scene since the mid nineties and Heartworms comes as the New Mexico outfit’s fifth studio record, the first in five years. By now frontman James Mercer is the only original member, and he delivers both nostalgia and new pop sounds on what has turned out to be a truly triumphant return. There’s nothing not to like about this record, how does Mercer manage it?
On Heartworms, intricate verses open up to dizzying choruses polished by lavish yet quaint production. Pained lyrics are paired with easy melodies that move through a storylines with Bowie-esque magic.
Opening track ‘Fantasy Island’ is reflective in its observations of youth: “long in tooth, olives and vermouth”. At first listen, songs like these seem too easy, perhaps tailored to a tispy afternoon festival crowd, nostalgia running high. But through the melodic production and pop frequencies emerge an intricate collection of sounds and story telling.
The arrangements on Heartworms are meticulous so as to seem overly simple, yet it’s a record that feels as if everything has its own place, and certainly wouldn’t be the same without every layer of organ, reverb, and subtle synth melodies. Fiddle and accordion lend a folk feel to album closer ‘The Fear’, echoing the vibes felt on preceding tracks like ‘Dead Alive’ and Fleet Foxes-turned-country-Americana ‘Mildenhall’. Second track ‘Painting a Hole’ is a stunning cut, towing the line between overt pop and obscure production as eastern flair flavours the verses and a dark overdrive pulses through the choruses.
Overall, it’s frontman James Mercer’s vocals, ear for detail and song writing that carry the record. After years of touring and performing Mercer’s pop vocals still sound ridiculously youthful, a fact that is becoming more and more disconcerting yet equally impressive as the years go by. The Shins’ songs are stepping out and getting shinier, and the subject matter has taken on a retrospective poignancy.
But wait, there’s more. Have a dig on the interwebs and you’ll find Mercer has decided to release a flipped version of the album, with all the songs recorded in alternate styles. Groovy.
Title: Yours Conditionally
Label: Fat Possum
Genre: Dream pop, Soul, Folk
Moments Of: Beach house, Night School
Stand Out: In the Morning Ill Be Better
Yours conditionally is a Melodic dream-pop & hazy new wave from the Denver husband and wife duo, for fans of Beach House and Summer Camp. The immediate results are clear – Yours Conditionally is indeed a restoration of the loose-fitting, blissful, summertime tunes that brought Tennis to the attention of internet music sites everywhere.
Album opener ‘In the morning I’ll be better’ is a real gem of a track. The standout is a perfect combination of 70’s soul and contemporary pop. The amazingly pure vocals of singer/ guitarist Alaina Moore soar as she plucks on her soothing guitar. The acoustic folk-tinged ‘Field of Blue’ is as summery as it gets. The track is as fragile as it is defiant as she sings ‘i really love you what could I do?”.
Moments like ‘Matrimony’ raise the tempo. The song is very much indicative of the albums attitude and tone. It’s relentlessly feel good with a touch of emotion and a yearning for clarity. The production on this album is the duo’s best yet. Their undeniable chemistry is felt even more so on this record thus progressing into a more soulful sound.
‘Yours conditionally’ is at its best when you leave your expectations at the door. The simple yet layered songwriting created truly shows the duos musical scope as artists. With a possible Australian tour in the works, one can only hope the duo brings the feel-good vibes that helped him create such a journey and enlighten the masses that will surely follow.
Title: Semper Femina
Label: More Alarming Recordings
Genre: Folk, Acoustic
Moments Of: Elliot Smith, Jack River
Stand Out: Next Time
The air surrounding Laura Marling’s sound feels overwhelmingly like that of an old friend. For close to a decade she’s turned threads of guilt, fear, stubbornness, affection and deceit over her patented reflective melancholy, emerging from each album a little wiser from the experience. With Semper Femina, Marling steps away from the music of “innocent creativity” and toward a broad study of flawed femininity, at times a painful journey but an ultimately rewarding one.
Marling’s lyrical fascination with exploring the nuances of female relationships through the faults, flaws and sometimes irrevocably damaging flare-ups, firmly underpins the entirety of the release. Semper Femina, “Always a woman”, draws on Virgil’s epic The Aeneid. “A woman is an ever fickle and changeable thing”, writes Virgil, perhaps condescendingly. There’s a hint of admiration in Marling’s voice when she quotes it in “Nouel”, however. You can feel the corners of her mouth turn as her breathe lingers long after the final notes.
Kicking off the release with “Soothing”, we’re hit with a lurking sense that we’ll leave this album with more unanswered questions than we’d like. Sure enough, Marling’s penchant for mystery and deceit soon turn over and leave our want for narrative closure firmly unmet. “Wild Fire” is the most recognizably Marling for those of you who’ve been out of the loop for a while. Weighty and momentous, it’s rich from top to tail with Marling’s unique wit. To parallel Virgil, “Always This Way” mourns the unexpected loss of a friend. The narrator takes a swing at redemption with “At least I can say/That my debts have been paid”, calming, yet hollow and curiously devoid of emotional growth.
Semper Femina takes a few careful runs to start reaping the kind of satisfaction it properly deserves, but we can attest to the quality of the pay-off. Where Once I Was An Eagle drew you in immediately with it’s composition, Marling’s lyricism is once again the focus here and it can take a little adjusting to get in the right frame of mind. It easily warrants pouring over, dissecting, discussing and enjoying until the tape starts to wear thin.
Title: The French Press
Label: Ivy League Records
Genre: Alt-rock, indie
Moments Of: Dire Straits, Beach Fossils, Wild Nothing
Stand Out: Sick Bug
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever craft thoughtful scenes by way of conversational Aussie vocals on the mellow rock record that is The French Press. The EP clocks in at 23 minutes, and it could be double the length and just as endlessly enjoyable. The four Melbourne lads carry a strong sense of identity throughout their sound, borrowing just enough inspiration from their influences to form a coherent, seamless, yet refreshing record.
The title track from The French Press is carried by a busy bass line, surfy solos and a nonchalant Australiana drawl. This winning combo sets the tone for the rest of the six track EP from one of Melbourne’s most loveable bands. A self-confessed “pop project”, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever tap into something fresh and frothy on their new EP, a release preceded by 2015’s Talk Tight and The Flying Disc EP of 2014. Out on Ivy League, The French Press is infused with guitar sounds borrowed from the glory days of Dire Straits, with an everyman’s take on young love and the mean streets of Melbourne.
‘Julie’s Place’ has a gentle melody and a hooky chorus, which falls into contrast next to ‘Sick Bug’. On this one, the guitars and vocals take on a punk edge until sweet harmonies take over the bridge, and suddenly a Crowded House influence filters through. The punky ballad is followed by ‘Colours Run’, a classic surf rock tune much of the Real Estate or Beach Fossils variety. Just when the record is at risk of sounding pedestrian, ‘Dig Up’ is different again, with the vocals delivered in a Paul Kelly timber. And finally, ‘Fountain Of Good Fortune’ wraps up the record with spoken word, tambourine sprinkled through a sparse breakdown and an old school fade out.
Rolling Blackouts CF knew who they wanted to be on this record, and managed to pull of sounding grounded and well established while exploring an impressive spectrum of sounds.