Archive | June, 2011

Rainbow Arabia: Boys and Diamonds

15 Jun

Such is the exotic, multi-cultural appeal derived from Boys And Diamonds that it would be very tempting to begin this review with an indulgent, slightly over the top narrative of  descriptive imagery, so lets not go there (although naively the first 1 or 2 drafts say otherwise).  But at the very least Rainbow Arabia will induce an urge to be in the open air amongst like minded people and preferably a cold drink at arm’s length, certainly on the first listen anyway.

This, the third release from the wed locked Los Angeles duo, (Matthew and Tiffany Preston) is a master class in sound technician with an almost obsessive attention to detail that manages to curb the slippery slopes of over production.  There are similarities to the Arabian/Oriental flirtations expressed by Siouxsie and the Banshees and even the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s most recent output, but in particular The Knife, emitting strong comparisons both musically and vocally, albeit on a lighter, worldlier note.

There’s plenty of reverb injected into her more than capable voice, but the concession should be made that in terms of pure brass, vocal attitude, Mrs Preston is perhaps better suited along side Shakira than say, Karen O.  But don’t let that put you off.  In fact, what might put you off is that from the opening title track you may think for a split second that you’ve been transported to an all singing all dancing stage performance of the Lion King, or a tribal welcome party in the heart of Africa.  The feeling of being subjected to an exotic travel commercial never entirely filters, but more over and perhaps more disappointingly, an issue of motive develops asking which is more important for this couple, making music or being cool?  This may appear a little too harsh for what is essentially an enjoyable album, but from this, perhaps overly cynical critic, it’s pop in denial.



7 Jun


Bandlands, as the album title implies, doesn’t disappoint in portraying a somewhat David Lynch-esque inspired landscape of nihilistic dystopia, with the blurred faces of Martin Sheen and Cissy Spacek never too for in the background, or indeed Denis Hopper inhaling his…well, you get the picture.

But to simply relate the music made by Alex Zhung Hai, AKA Dirty Beaches to a few snapshot recollections of various cinematic flicks would be wholly unjust, because it’s not merely the images stirred which draws the attention but the feelings that are awoken alongside them, and it is this which (although musically it’s nothing new but indeed quite familiar) attracts us again and again to this particular mode of escapism entertainment. 

Badlands would certainly not sit out-of-place as the solitary remaining vinyl of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, perpetually repeating itself in this vast backdrop where the only other remainder is the howling wind of eternal lament.   The tracks ‘True Blue’, ‘Lord knows best’, or even ‘Black nylon’ perhaps convey this most accurately.  The rather short album holds a slightly antique sound quality, giving an impression that it’s just been dug up from beneath the earth with Zhung Hai’s Orbison sounding voice gently nursing the music.

As with a lot of his earlier work, the issue with Dirty Beaches is the uncanny resemblance to Suicide which at times may be difficult to distinguish by the not too familiar listener.  His cover of ‘Horses’ could easily pass, or be mistaken for an Alan Vega et al endeavour, and also ‘Sweet 17, except we discover more of a Rock ‘a’ Billy surf approach tinged by ‘The Cramps.  On the whole it’s a thoroughly commendable record endorsing a largely under-appreciated genre which Zhung Hai taps with obvious sincerety and affection, but it’s unfortunately nothing new to wail about.

“Australian Music #1”

3 Jun

Australia has innovative, genre and taste defying artists, however what was once our main source of new and creative music- public radio station Triple J, a non-commercial music-based radio station has greatly fallen from grace over the past year or so. It has nowadays become a ‘hit’- flogging station, fuelled by its own ego in an attempt to gain listeners and become popular.  Triple J’s main problem is its association to bands and their seeming need to mould bands they ‘discover’ into commercially successful groups, on the way losing what they used to be about- a platform for independent artists to gain airtime and still grow in their own directions creatively. I’m not going to continue a rant against Triple J for any longer, I’m just saying that the following two embarrassing genres popular in Australian music owe a lot to this particular station.

Aussie Hip Hop: What I think is and I hope will continue to be a dying genre is ‘Aussie Hip Hop’, honestly I don’t think (someone who is not Australian my have to confirm or deny this for me) Aussie Hip Hop is listened to, or taken seriously anywhere outside the bogan suburban house (for those who are not familiar with ‘bogan’, it’s similar to ‘chav’ for those from the UK and ‘white trash’ for Americans). I’d tell you more about it, name some ‘artists’ rah rah rah, but really it’s going to be a waste of both my time and your’s. That said, if you feel the overwhelming need to see what Aussie hip-hop is like, try Urthboy or The Herd, at least their subject material is a little wiser than most (who usually talk about getting drunk at festivals).

Synth/electro 80’s revival dance: Australia’s two most popular electro dance bands Cut Copy and Art vs Science released albums recently. Firstly I’m not going to say much about Art vs Science, all I’m going to say is read this review it’ll speak for itself. I don’t know whether this is a big international thing or an Australian music thing at the moment, but the 80s just. wont. die. Cut Copy are a band with a reasonable amount of credibility, however their recent album Zonoscope is just oozing with cheesy synths and tragic attempts to sound ‘retro’. The main single “Take Me Over” even features hooks from the Fleetwood Mac song “Everywhere” and overall the song sounds like a cover of Men At Work’s song “Land Down Under”. I know this is sounding more irritable than a kid who can’t kill all the pigs in Angry Birds, but honestly I’m not trying to be one of those snarky music fans that’ll bitch about anything popular, I bought my Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, a bit late to the game I know, but it’s just proof I’m no indie snob. There is honestly so much fantastic underrated Australian music happening at the moment. The most ingenious music scene happening in Australia at the moment is the experimental scene with artists such as Melbourne artist Pikelet, Sydney duo Kyu even Perth psych band Tame Impala to some extent are making me very hopeful for Australian music’s future.

Kyu released their self-titled debut album late last year and honestly if had heard it all before writing my ‘Best Album of 2010’ review, it may have been a whole different review. Their music is like a re-born Bjork, but in a number of ways a lot more accessible. Kyu are a Sydney based duo featuring 2 girls with incredible vocal ranges and the ability to create another world out of their musical ambience. I wont go on much more because it’ll start to sound wanky, that’s all.

Pikelet is a Melbourne based artist who seems to pop up all over the place, I see her DJ-ing at bars I stop by for a drink, I see her catching the same tram as me, however every time I try to go and see her live something gets in the way. Well enough about me; Pikelet is one of those hard-working artists who you know cares only about the music she’s making (in a genuine way). Her latest album Stem combines folk, experimental sounds, loops and sweet wispy vocals to make a sound that could not be imitated by any other. She’s also really tiny and sweet, go on, check her out, I dare you not to fall a little bit in love with her.

I think that’s all from down here at the moment, if you’re interested in listening to something a bit fun here’s a little gem of a band called ‘Bum Creek’- it can be your reward for getting though my first haphazard Australian column that I promise will be better organised next time! Lucy

Retrospective: Sleater-Kinney – “Dig Me Out” (1997)

3 Jun

“Dig Me Out” by Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney’s music has a very manic edge to it. Verses and bridges are slow, terrorizing builds that explode into psychotic climaxes of choruses where screamed declarations and pounding drums are layered over driving guitar harmonies. 1997’s “Dig Me Out,” their third and most seminal album, personifies this mania more than any other record the iconic riot grrrl trio has put out. The savvy sophistication that is heard on later albums – the critically acclaimed “One Beat,” for example – isn’t there yet, but neither is the lumbering experimentalism that characterizes Sleater-Kinney’s earlier recordings. On “Dig Me Out,” the band is in control, but you get the feeling that it’s only because they want to be.

Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein’s vocals are interlocking parts that make up a sonic puzzle, one that can only really be described as discordant harmony. Listening to them together is an unnerving, if unparalleled experience that sets ablaze tracks like the angst ridden “All the Drama You’ve Been Craving” and the euphoric “Words and Guitar.”

But it is the more reserved tracks where “Dig Me Out” is at its most beautifully cathartic. “Dance Song ‘97” is a tribute to confused infatuation with a charmingly kitschy musical aesthetic and some of the most memorable guitar work in Sleater-Kinney’s entire discography, while the agonized “Jenny” is a heartrending narration that pulls no punches in its description of heartbreak and loss. Sleater-Kinney has, somehow, invented and engineered the impossible: the punk ballad. Poignancy meets disillusionment in a series of soft yet still very intense tracks that do the band more justice than a listener might expect after hearing 1996’s “Call the Doctor.”

“Dig Me Out,” more than any other Sleater-Kinney record, is a truly amazing album for its ability to exist on the edge, always close to tumbling over into sheer mania but holding it in – just barely.

Twin Shadow

3 Jun


Twin Shadow, AKA George Lewis’ debut LP Forget, is an interesting and thoroughly engrossing array of accomplishments.  Co-produced by Grizzly Bears’ Chris Taylor and released on 4AD, it manages to reveal an influential past by paying tribute and giving homage to it, yet it sustains sufficiently in offering an entirely new and refreshing tonic which dusts off any of those cobwebs, and is thus able to hold its own in the unsympathetic courts of originality.

There is a definite 80s footprint left by The Cure and Bowie and even The Smiths for instance, alongside various similarities to the ever confusing genre that is ‘Post punk’ (you be the judge) and, if it may be said, a likeness to Edwin Collins.  The album was apparently written entirely from Lewis’ apartment in Brooklyn and it certainly has that bedroom feel to it.  Although it may not disclose any dark or unnerving closet secrets, Forget does portray a list of songs that were written in relative solitude, displaying a creative flow that perhaps benefits an artist further when expressed in privacy.

Tracks such as ‘Slow’ and ‘Castles In The Snow’ stand out in particular but not by much, which is a credit to the consistent quality within the whole piece.  If pressed to submit a down side, it would have to be the seemingly luck lustre attempts at vocal harmonising in certain areas, which may be deliberate of course, but only serve in presenting a finished article that is slightly undercooked and which merely required a little attentive patients.  This is a minor criticism which for some listeners may go relatively unnoticed because on the whole Forget is triumph and deserves nothing but praise.  Enjoy