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Melbourne folk-rock duo take a synth-pop turn with hit and miss third album.
Tailing a yearlong sabbatical in Berlin, Punchbuzz marks a sonic expansion for Husky Gawenda and keyboardist Gideon Preiss. While the textured jangles, ethereal chill and lush folk-rock tapestries of Forever So (2011) and Ruckers Hill (2014) remain, the challenge here is disentangling them from so many fluting, spiking, tumbling synths.
Husky are just one of countless folk-rock acts to veer into the synth-pop wilderness. But for every likeable about-face – see Sweet Jean's Monday to Friday (2016) – there's a flawed experiment that proves style is apt to smother substance – as in the Paper Kites' twelvefour (2015). Much like the latter album, Punchbuzz is a 10-track meditation on staying up late. While visiting drummer Arron Light and bassist Jules Pascoe ground proceedings solidly, Gawenda's songwriting founders amid the album's decided busyness.
There's plenty of bustling urgency in "Shark Fin", yet Gawenda's lyrics seem almost incidental by contrast – in keeping with its vaulted, cavernous quality, "Punchbuzz", too, rings strangely hollow. Lead single "Late Night Store" is the album's strongest entry – if largely for the phrase "the soft machinery of your heart".
The album's back-end is tellingly confounding. While the icy "Cracks in the Pavement" draws winningly on pastoral folk and glacial closer "Spaces Between Heartbeats" could be a lost, lyrical Vangelis theme, the engaging strangeness of "Flower Drum" is buried beneath cascading keys.
Jack Antonoff uses joyously maximalist pop to deal with loss.
Jack Antonoff is a maximalist kind of guy, as both a member of fun. and on his own as Bleachers. He's said Gone Now is an album about loss and how to move on. He moves on by gloriously over-sharing and layering synth-pop on baroque pop on Eighties rock and on and on. He adopts Springsteen-esque grandeur in "Dream Of Mickey Mantle (Rolling Thunder)", Peter Gabriel's big, tribal pop in "Everybody Lost Somebody" and Simple Minds' shimmer and shudder in "Don't Take the Money", a co-write with Lorde. And there are melodic and lyrical motifs that he echoes across various tracks, giving the whole thing the feel of concept album or pop opera.
UK singer-songwriter sticks with the tried and tested.
Ben Ottewell's solo career has rarely strayed far from the campus-friendly, blues-informed folk-rock that rocketed Gomez to fame in the 1990s, and his third LP does not buck the trend. These world-weary songs are occasionally syrupy ("Walking On Air") though his capacity for urgent, incisive songwriting does emerge on "Own It" and "Lead Me". A Man Apart is, however, a bit too pleasant overall, the more insipid tracks approaching the grey banality of someone like Joseph Arthur. Furthermore, the growly vocals of Ottewell's youth continue to give way to a smoother, more generic trill, taking him further into the middle of the road.
UK future-folk trio's third LP is a collage of absurdity and beauty.
Who'd have thought that "House of the Rising Sun" could be the masterstroke on any album this far from pre-jazz New Orleans? alt-J's majestically ebbing and simmering version is more palimpsest than cover, its melody melted like candlewax and its story warping halfway into a dream of birds and forest fire.
It's folk, see – but it's a long, long way from (trad.) As a joke that's pretty clever, but it's the emotional immediacy of the experiment, with its plaintive pump organ and cathedral-load of classical guitarists and ravishing swells of strings, that defines another victory for this post-nu-everything trio from Leeds.
The way they seamlessly dovetail that with the sneery Syd Barrett rant of "Hit Me Like That Snare" is typical of their audacity. "Fuck you! I'll do what I want to do," goes the refrain. And they do, weaving jibberish and wolf howling into the thwacking electro-buzz of "Deadcrush" and then night-swimming into the haunted nylon strings of "Adeline".
Little of this is heralded by the mesmerising dervish groove, fragmented word pictures and accumulating sonic weirdness of the stunning opening track, "3WW". And after all the silliness and poignancy, nothing quite prepares us for the vaulting choral-folk architecture of the climactic "Pleader". Pastoral and electronic, daft and devastating, Relaxer is another welcome sigh of loosening bonds.
Striking metalcore at its aggressive, meaningful best.
On their fourth LP, Byron Bay's In Hearts Wake balance brute force, sophisticated melodies and poignant themes. Equally heartfelt and heavy, Ark's core theme is humanity's connection to water. The notion floods all aspects, from track names ("Waterborne") and nautical lyrics to charitable intent – they've teamed with nonprofit Tangaroa Blue to promote environmentalism through music; namely, cleaning up polluted Australian waterways. From the dizzying convulsions of "Warcry" to the soaring "Arrow", the clean, melodic moments are as arresting as its high-octane peaks. In Hearts Wake firmly cement themselves as one of Australian metal's greatest.
Marathon quests of intensity and articulation.
There's a striking savagery to guitarist Jenny McKechnie's lead vocals that can eclipse the other elements at play in Cable Ties. But the Melbourne trio prove just as hard-hitting instrumentally – and lyrically – on their debut LP, ploughing intensely through marathon jams fired by classic post-punk and riot grrrl. "The Producer" skewers coke-snorting knob-twisters, "You Can't Hold My Hand" is almost danceable in its frenetic drive, and there's crucial open space to buffer the volcanic catharsis of "Fish Bowl". Between the horizon-chasing pulse of "Wasted Time" and "Paradise", Cable Ties draw us deeper into an album that's all about muscle with a message.
Suave alt-country doyen shines on seventh long-player.
While confessional has always been JTE's most compelling mode, the Single Mothers and Absent Fathers LPs foundered for want of emotional gut-punches. Couched in the blues ("If I Was the Devil"), trad-folk ("Same Old Stagolee") and the Memphis soul that increasingly dominates his output, Kids is a nostalgia piece (the title track), intensified by an emotive sting as Earle kicks against the pricks of change. Opener "Champagne Corolla" surpasses the humid, soulful heights of 2010's "Harlem River Blues", there's a country-weeper-by-proxy in "What's She Crying For", and a Gospel-hued strut in "15-25". It's Earle's best work in years.
Former 'finger frontman serves a bittersweet breakfast.
How brutal? The sequel to last year's Civil Dusk stutters to life like a sudden wake-up in a prison cell. "Shed My Skin" is a shudder of old demons and "How Many Times?" finds its way into a darker place again. "America (Glamour and Prestige)" is as brutally dismissive as the title implies and "Fighting For Air" seals a broad theme of grasping at straws of redemption in troubled times. The remedy is in Nick DiDia's full, warm, woodgrain production with crafty echoes of classic Seventies Americana from Dylan to CSN, and in songcraft strong enough to warrant the twin-album gambit.
Compelling debut from Cali alt-country singer-songwriter.
"I grew up my father's daughter; he said, don't take no shit from no one," sings Jade Jackson on "Aden", before a wounded fiddle slices open the track's careworn guitars. It's an apt opening salvo for an LP that occupies the sweet spot triangulated by the brash defiance of Lydia Loveless, Nikki Lane in full Western mode (locomotive shuffle "Troubled End"), and the world-weary self-affirmation of Tift Merritt ("Gilded"). Punchy barroom drums and ragged guitar textures ("Good Time Gone") flatter producer Mike Ness (Social Distortion), while Jackson's easy poeticism and vaporous, laconic delivery shine on nostalgia piece "Back When" and "Finish Line". It's a consummate debut.
Melbourne alt-country stylists return with mesmerising third LP.
In four years, the twin songwriting force of Luke Sinclair and Nick O'Mara has matured to a lustrous finish. Richer guitar textures proliferate here, while Sinclair's inflection is charged with uniquely Australian pathos throughout (the title track). There's freewheeling West Coast country-rock in "Nowhere (You Wanna Run)", vital Seventies roots-rock in "Night Wheels", and breathless poignancy in "Dreamer". Lyrically, a minor theme centred on modest hopes and ambitions thwarted casts an affecting light over proceedings ("By Now"). RBE are in good company with the likes of local alt-country luminaries Halfway and Tracy McNeil.
Strange and wonderful neo-folk visions from NZ singer.
Produced by John Parish (PJ Harvey) and featuring turns from Perfume Genius, Party is a mesmerising follow-up to Harding's 2014 debut. A less demonstrative heir to Kate Bush, Harding inhabits nine jaw-droppingly disparate vocal incarnations, delivering crystalline slivers of enigmatic, fragmentary poeticism amid delicate whorls of finger-picking and expressive piano. Childlike innocence is wryly counterpointed with sensuality in the title-track, while Harding summons profound hurt in "Horizon". Save for "I'm So Sorry", which bears the stamp of established collaborator Marlon Williams, it's an album of incomparable quality.
British outfit plunder darkness on debut album.
Hailing from East London, Pumarosa dub their sound "industrial spiritual", and it's not a bad description – the cold, The Cure-meets-Depeche-Mode-in-a-bar-owned-by-Interpol vibe of songs such as "Priestess" is offset by a melodic warmth and energy that prevents the album from veering too far into the insular. Frontwoman Isabel Muñoz-Newsome is a captivating presence, calling to mind a mix of PJ Harvey and Johnette Napolitano, her voice washing over the choppy guitar work of Jamie Neville. Witness the swirling climax of "Honey", a sonic freakout that will leave you breathless.
Impressively heavy debut from Sydney punks.
Just in case you had any doubts where Bare Bones take their cues from, their bio cites LA punks the Bronx and Every Time I Die as influences. Which is fine, but on first listen to opener "Thick As Thieves" it would be hard to guess this wasn't a Bronx record. By the second track though, these Sydney brutalists establish their own take on death rock. Songs like "Deathbed Visions" are punchy and memorable, the playing is tight and muscular, and Bare Bones shift gears regularly enough that Bad Habits sticks after a first listen, rather than being merely a moshpit soundtrack. This could be a hit record of the genre.
The contrarian pop veteran's predictably odd all-star album.
Forty-seven years after his debut album, Runt, Todd Rundgren's latest fuses his pop-wizard side and his studio-contrarian side more than usual, pulling an impressively odd array of stars into his vortex – from Trent Reznor (the android-apocalypse "Deaf Ears") to soulstress Betty Lavette (the bleary electro-hustle "Naked & Afraid") to Robyn (the Eighties tearjerker "That Could've Been Me"). Inconsistency is like a muse here, but he seems to work best with Seventies peers like Joe Walsh, Daryl Hall and Donald Fagen, whose smooth Donald Trump parody "Tin Foil Hat" is a timely highlight.
Victorian indie whiz kids' impressively imaginative debut.
The (musical) genus of APES ought to be easy to figure, but their debut evolves through stages of super smart indie pop to be marvellously hard to pin down. There's smoky, slinky, dark indie-electro pop on "Filter", a spiralling space rock rush on "Dimension" and wonky indie-funk on "If You Want It". Temper Trap have spent the past five years trying to write "Fourth Point", and the scuzzy new wave of "Tired Face" is harder to shake than herpes. The LP almost loses momentum, but is a playful, engaging record that'll have you guessing and impressed at almost every turn. Without thrown turds or anything.
Long-serving indie band go guitar-free on album 16.
John Darnielle has finally put down the guitar. And while the absence of an acoustic – once their sole instrument – is a surprising self-set challenge, little else has changed, with the now-quartet opting for a single subject focus, much like on 2015's wrestling ode, Beat the Champ. Goth subculture is just the jumping-off point, however, with Darnielle diverting to D.B. Cooper conspiracies, debt payment plans and more across the LP's 12 episodes, all of which lean heavier than ever on the other fourth-quarter career identifier – compositional prominence. Here, mostly jazz-spiked and hook-led scores serve not simply as lyrical support, but equal companion.