Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Artist to watch: Whitley


It might have arrived a few years late but this is a sound worth waiting for. Melbourne musician Whitley (a.k.a. music project of Lawrence Greenwood) is about to release his first round of new tunes since 2010. A few years ago he was named one of Rolling Stone’s top 10 artists to watch but since then has contemplated retiring and flown under the radar.

In the ultimate expedition (by far more productive than your average gap year) the singer-songwriter travelled through Mexico, Cuba, England, The Netherlands, Peru and Italy among other places before arriving in the Amazon Rainforest to shoot his latest music video for ‘My Heart Is Not A Machine’.
The crisp, creative footage (directed by young Melbourne filmmaker Johann Rashid) supports his unique sound. Cats, parrots and funky Aztec patterns make for a video true yet imaginary, where Into the Wild meets the Lost Boys of Peter Pan.

On that path, when Greenwood is donned in khaki, smoking forlornly in a hammock, it’s not too far from a scene out of The Motorcycle Diaries.

‘My Heart is not a Machine’ is romantic yet understated, with delicate harmonies oozing through the melancholy music. Indie darling Esther Holt provides the guest vocals among others on the album Even the Stars Are A Mess.

Whitley will be performing at the upcoming Splendour in the Grass festival.  
Before then, you can catch him on his national tour.

Also, if you’re into shamans, new instruments, baby monkeys and dinner parties (who isn’t?) check out instagram @lawrencegreenwood.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Album Review - "Trouble Will Find Me" by the National

Trouble WIll Find Me (2013)              ★ 1/2 

Among the frantic hype surrounding the leak of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories a lesser-hyped album slipped by the social media front. The National are back with their sixth album Trouble Will Find Me. With a no-fuss attitude, we can only lay back and bask in the impressive production and emotive vocals.

This is an album of well-recorded material ranging from deliberative guitar riffs to deep, husky vocals from Matt Berninger. The National are known for their dark tone but the album is by no means mellow. They seem to be moving away from their alternative sound and reaching a more classic rock aesthetic.

It kicks off with subdued acoustics before expanding into steady percussion and a sweeping chorus demanding attention in ‘I Should Live In Salt’.  With an understated throw to Dylan-esque spoken poetry, The National recreate their world of pain and anxiety but with a certain strength that supports the broad dynamics.

‘Demons’ and ‘Don’t Swallow the Cap’ follow with a more driven, upbeat atmosphere. Rolling Stone related it to Springsteen-style energy and although there is a retro feel to this release, the marriage between restless lyrics and rhythmic music sounds progressive. It is an album for the music lovers, with a sneaky reference in ‘Cap’: “If you want to see my cry, play Let It Be or Nevermind.”

 ‘Fireproof’ breaks the full sound of the album with a delicate ballad and sore despair conjuring heartbreak tunes from Elliot Smith (“You’re the needle in the hay”). It feels like there is something simmering under the surface. It harks back to the common characters of National albums who are dejected and cynical.

And then the sound changes with ‘Sea of Love’ – I can only expect will be one of their favourites on the live circuit. Strong bass and melody line underlies whining electric guitar and sing-a-long lyrics: “Hey I’m sorry I hurt you/ but they say love is a virtue.”

‘This Is the Last Time’ has the spiteful address to heartbreak reminiscent of Joy Division or The Cure: “Jenny I am in trouble/can’t get these thoughts in trouble”. Whereas “Graceless” is musically expressive with an open sound - pounding drums, hesitant harmonies and distorted guitars.

It always seems to be musicians from Brooklyn who are burdened with swirling anxieties. “I’m in the crush and I hate it/my eyes are falling,” he mumbles about the trouble of facing a failed love in ‘Slipped’.

For the soppy romantics out there, ‘I need my girl’ is the heartbreak anthem. It reaches that bittersweet reflection, signature of Leonard Cohen, with an acoustic minimalism and sweeping synth giving voice to the floating lyrics: “I need my girl/I’m under the gun again.”

The final three tracks are looser in structure, with a freer aesthetic. After an emotional crescendo, it is satisfying to reach the sweeter end.

Often when a band reaches album number six, it can become a critical flop (One Hot Minute- RHCP?). However, Trouble Will Find Me has a simpler, more accessible construction than earlier work from The National which will make for a more accessible release. They are storytellers at heart and their latest release only unveils a sense of wisdom given years of experience.

Listen if you like: Interpol, Arcade Fire, Band of Horses, The Antlers, The National (duh)
Top tracks: Sea of Love, This is the last time, I need my girl

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Album Review - Daughter "If You Leave"

If You Leave (2013)              ★ 1/2 

The debut album from English indie folk group Daughter is cashing up on the winter sorrow, envisaging a wretched world akin to the heartbreak town of Adele. Sharing the production work of ‘xx’ (Rodaih McDonald), If You Leave is a moody, atmospheric exploration of all the anxieties, setbacks, regrets and (I hate to say it) adolescent angst of the modern youth. The production is tight and guitar work intricate but if it weren’t for the temperate outbursts at the chorus, it would make for a very depressing listen.  

Daughter have a very clear aesthetic – at the root are folk arrangements with broad reverb, haunting melodies and vocals from Elena Tonra fragile and whispering. It is a very personal approach to music and openly expressive. Far from optimistic – If You Leave is one to either listen attentively to poetic lyrics or enjoy the soundscape from afar.

The album begins with enveloping, ethereal sounds in “Winter” reminiscent of Cocteau twins. It is melancholy from the start: “Drifting apart like two sheets of ice, my love,/frozen hearts growing colder with time.” Following on, “Smother” is less spacey, riding a deeper groove and feature Florence-style cascading back vocals. You’ve got to wonder what England does to people’s state of mind with the group churning out lyrics like: “I sometimes wished I stayed inside my mother/never to come out”

A standout single is “Youth” – it is fast-moving and dynamic, breaking into heavy percussion and deep piano chords that make for an addictive listen. It has a textured layering which belongs more to an indie rock/dream pop release (I feel Beach House here especially with those shimmering cymbals).
Tonra’s voice has been criticised for being too weak and hushed but there is an integrity which saves the music  - and thanks to the English for proper annunciation, she doesn’t completely obscure the lyrics.

“Lifeforms” and “Tomorrow” are two of the darkest tunes, spilling forth stories of lost children and deserted lovers. “Still” has a great groove in the chorus and epic electric guitar in between verses and “Human” has a go at answering all of life’s critical questions: “My mind’s lost in bleak visions/trying to escape but keep thinking.”

After a while the haunting melancholy tone becomes numb and the navel-gazing weary, save the flashes of fury in chorus outbreaks. It is at once bittersweet and subdued, delicate and articulate while heavily soaked in angst and existential crises.

If You Leave is an intimate listen – not yet at the point of weaving characters into folk such as classics Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Tonra’s voice is so romantic it almost verges into the Twilight-zone (don’t go/I need you/I’m dying without you). Nevertheless, there is some beautiful music in there and it will be atmospheric in the crisp, wintery parklands of Byron Bay come Splendour in the Grass this July.

Published on adamNOTeve.

Interview with Josh Simons of Buchanan

The past two years for Buchanan have been intense; "The highs were high, and the lows were shitty" according to Josh Simons, leader of the band but now that a debut album has emerged from the process, mastered at the all-famous Abbey Road Studios, the group is only looking forward to an even more prolific future. 

Another round of hard work begins with the group kicking off rehearsals for a string of live shows to come later in the year. The show is centred on the fresh new tunes off their creation Human Spring. In a world of mp3 streams (Human Spring here) and leaked singles, Simons has just one request to his listeners.

"I’ve been telling people to please listen to it from start to finish – don’t skip a track. I don’t really care whether they’re listening to it while they’re having sex or while they’re eating Maccas as long as they give it a chance. I think the only way people are going to get it is if they do it that way.”

Buchanan has, up to now, been often categorised as a 'Melbourne' band but Simons wants to see this label evolve, especially considering their history of national touring.

"I hope that we get past that description because I think we’ve certainly played the country several times now. I understand why we got that – we hadn’t put out an album, we’d been working really hard but we hadn’t particularly done anything yet."

It was only when exposure to international managers led the group to realise that the fans wanted something tangible.

"They’d say 'there’s nowhere for them to discover it'. You know what’s going on because you live and breathe it but how the hell is anyone else? It’s reality checks like that make you go - 'oh shit, we actually do need to actually do the work before we can expect the results'."

But as far as expectations go for this album, Simons admits that everyone in the group is getting nervous. After more than 18 months of work, it’s a question of how the public is going to receive the music. Positive feedback already reigns on triple j unearthed. Luckily, Buchanan have had a taste of the audience vibes when they performed a selection of new songs during their last national tour late 2012.

"When we did those gigs that was really interesting for the band because we actually got a chance to go back and work on things that we thought would translate live, but ultimately didn’t."

"I’d say definitely based on that experience we’d definitely do it again,because you actually got to see when people went back to the bar and bought a beer and those moments when people started to dance. It was fairly consistent across the shows and the states as well, so it became really obvious what the strengths and the weakness of the album were."

"Certainly, when we’re in sync, the audience comes along as well. You feed off the audience and they feed off you. You’re either having an on night or an off night. I think it takes a while as a group to get to that point. It’s kind of liberating but it’s also scary."

Human Spring shares producer work with Foals and Interpol. as well as mixing from Andy Baldwin(Midnight Juggernauts, Bjork) and Abbey Road’s Geoff Pesche

"I think there’s something really nice about actually making sure whatever you wanted to do is on the finished product. If you give it to a producer to finish off, it’s not going to reflect the kind of album that you want, that you thought you were making. I’m sure there are some artists that are absolutely fine with that but that’s just not how we work."

Simons owns his own record label Raw Imagination People Expect (RIPE). It is partnered with another label, Gigantically Small, and provides the band with the freedom to control their own funding ("I have the responsibility of spending the money") while receiving support from the bigger fish.

"It’s kind of like the states and Commonwealth situation." Simons laughs.
Noting the conflict-ridden album cover and name evocative of Arab uprisings - Simons says that he took a backwards approach to songwriting on this album, although that wasn’t his plan at the start.

"None of us are super political. I think watching all that stuff is exciting and it conjures up emotions. I think that’s what we found inspiring as well, feeling something – living in the 21st century nothing makes you feel anything any more. So we thought let’s actually look at the things behind that, why they resonated and then how can we write songs from those things. Even though it was spread out over years of recording sessions. Being able to come back to the same story really helped.”

Although most of the songwriting is attributed to Simons himself, former band members also contributed to the album and so it is marketed as “Josh & Friends”.

“This album was great –we really had a lot of collaborators, which is awesome so in the finished product there are a lot of difference colours there but I think for the next album the plan is just to work out the strengths of the four of us.”

In the upcoming months, Buchanan will set off on a national tour ('probably September' according to Simons) with a launch party in Melbourne on June 6. Plans are also in the works to announce an accompanying Sydney show.

Until then, Simons will be in rehearsals, continuing the album promo (“I’d like to think that if you’re a fan of Buchanan there’s an experience you can follow”) and heading to England to continue writing.

"I think it’s a good thing we haven’t blown up yet because when we do blow up, we’ll be ready."

Human Spring is out May 10. Buchanan will be launching the album at the John Curtin Bandroom, Thursday June 6, with support acts Harts and Clubfeet DJs.

Published on the AU review.

Album Review - "Secondhand Rapture" by MS MR

Secondhand Rapture (2013)              ★  

They don’t joke around – their music doesn’t aim to entice, tease or deliberate but get right into the strength of the song. The debut album from MS MR indulges in deep, heavy melodies with striking dynamics. It is a pleasant surprise to hear such soul from an electro pop release – mostly thanks to the husky, youthful voice of Lizzy Plapinger. The other half of the Brooklyn duo, producer Max Hershenow, has put on a splendid production brimming with glamour of pop but also with a tinge of grunginess.

Secondhand Rapture starts with the successful single “Hurricane” off the Candy Bar Creep Show EP. Dark yet alluring, Plapinger’s vocals are intertwined into wielding strings, deep bass and jangling percussion. There is a mystical quality, haunting yet strangely cosy, MS MR dig up a world of anxieties yet create a sound completely blissful.

‘Bones’ follows –having had a token appearance on the ever-dramatic Game of Thrones, there is a sense of the fight but glittering electronics cut through the eerie background to deep piano chords and tricky lyrics. “Dark twisted fantasy, losing reality/ kissing death and losing my breath.” At times, it can feel that the layering steals away value from the lyrics but it’s just as pleasant to bask in the flowing textures.

In a nod to a primary influence of theirs, Florence + The Machine, the album sports dashes of emotions in chorus outbursts. Thankfully, it never gets too angsty or blubbering.  It’s as if the spirit of the album has been knocked back into a bittersweet reality – she is deep, sophisticated and no longer na├»ve.

Standout tracks for me are ‘Head is not my Home’, with eccentric arrangements and a grittiness fairly likeable and ‘Think of You’ which I feel will be a family favourite.

From the upbeat and playful ‘Salty Sweet’ to more sombre ‘Fantasy’ and “Btsk”, Seconhand Rapture fans into a few different personality. However, there is a similar aesthetic throughout – so I guess you’re either going to be a fan or not.

The great thing about MS MR is that their music is quite accessible for the fact that there is nothing too obscure to turn off listeners. What began as an act of anonymity – where the two chose to veil their identities – is now a highly personable creation.  

Massive changes since the EP? Yes and no. Worth the listen? For sure.

Get those lyrics revised for July when they perform at Splendour in the Grass.

They’ve got a pretty funky tumblr going on.

Published on