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Elegant, moody folk-pop from gifted New Zealander.
If Nadia Reid's sumptuous 2015 debut Listen To Formation Look For the Signs explored vulnerability amid love gone wrong, her second LP is a compelling statement of defiance and empowerment. The acoustic guitar and other folk elements of Listen To Formation have mostly been jettisoned in favour of thicker, more adventurous arrangements that reach a fabulous peak on "Richard", with its droney electric guitar and effortlessly emotional vocals. The lo-fi indie of Juliana Hatfield is a point of comparison, while Reid has matured considerably as a songwriter and lyricist, as evidenced by "The Way It Goes", which drips with melancholy resolve.
Front-bar-folkie takes stock with 23-song collection.
Why Paul Kelly and not Mick Thomas? Thomas has always been the one singer/strummer who can cut straight to the weighty stuff ("Father's Day", his 1992 almost-hit with Weddings Parties Anything). This 23-tracker (a companion to his new memoir) is culled from two decades with the Sure Thing and solo. Such snapshots as "The Lonely Goth" and "Forgot She Was Beautiful" poke around in the world that Thomas knows best: everyday folks trying to make sense of the world. Not the sexiest subject matter, sure, but Thomas' signature, regular-bloke style adds flesh and blood.
British pair continue their anti-austerity plight.
Those who've already adjudicated on Midlands punk-electro pair Sleaford Mods are unlikely to find much on English Tapas – their 10th full-length in as many years – to sway them. Vocalist Jason Williamson's stream-of-protest, Mark E. Smith-esque rants continue to hold court, on an LP that's mostly more of the same: fidgety bass-heavy minimalism backing street-level social commentary (with a side of smut). Shame the duo now seem stuck in this lecture-and-lager-spilling loop, as the occasional crooned chorus – and ballad "I Feel So Wrong" – highlights the benefits of unexpected variance on their distinct sound.
Sydney folk-pop quartet deliver on debut.
When We Fall is the vision of four singularly-accomplished singer-songwriters who, together, simply gel. Trading lead vocals, variously opening up and teasing out their honeyed four-part harmonies before weaving them into a silken, gauzy web once again, AOELIT eschew Carter Family country crackle and the rough-hewn folk shades of the McGarrigle Sisters in favour of more polished tones. They span the ominous and atmospheric ("The Devil's Part"), deliciously drowsy weepers, and irresistible vocal-pop ("Tell Me"), traversing so many ill-fated romances while needling gender roles at every turn ("Oh Lover of Mine").
Down decibels, up blue notes on hard rockers' radical reinvention.
A 4am piano ballad called "Looking For Love" was not, to say the least, the most obvious opening gambit for Kingswood's second album. It's bold notice of a soulful departure from the twisted metallic edges of the Melbourne art-rockers' 2015 debut. The grunt remains in the filthy bass groove of "Creepin" and the higher register intensity of "Library Books", and "Alabama White" picks up the space-rock thread in the back half. But the creamy electric piano and jazz harmonies of "Golden", "Belle" and "Why Do I Get Stuck When You Arrive" comprise the default pitch of an album that's more Steely Dan than AC/DC, and far more affecting for it.
British lads continue down paths well trodden.
Temples' evolution between debut Sun Structures (2014) and this follow-up mirrors the maturation of Tame Impala from Innerspeaker to Lonerism. That is, the lean, compact approach to songwriting and production has been replaced by an expansive, spacy feel driven by synths and woozy effects. It makes for a mannered wall of sound that is pleasant enough though hardly original (think Eno and Berlin-era Bowie). The odd terrific tune does still emerge, with "Oh the Saviour" and "Strange Or Be Forgotten" seeing the band ease off on the elaborate psych motifs. Though Temples often get in their own way, there is substantial melodic charm to their best work.
Perth oddballs ramp up the rhythms – and songwriting.
Methyl Ethel find more focus here than on their 2015 debut. Producer James Ford bolsters frontman Jake Webb's increasingly danceable vision, from gleaming hooks ("L'Heure des Sorcières") to percolating synths ("Drink Wine"). The combination of funky production and spacey falsetto can evoke Broken Bells, but Webb has stepped up his songwriting enough to stand on his own. "Ubu" is a worthy entry in the pantheon of songs lamenting a subject's haircut, and other tracks balance entrancing mantras with lively contrast just as well. A lingering creepiness haloes all the catchiness too, as in the excellent "No. 28".
Twenty-five years into their career, the Waifs go long with a double album.
It's been 25 years since the Waifs busted out of a dusty Kombi on the Western Australian coastline to become one of the nation's most-successful folk bands, and now is as good a time as any to take a breath and reflect. Ironbark is the Waifs' celebration: of their endurance, of their relationships, of their deep and unwavering love for their fanbase. As befits a 25-year celebration, it unfurls languidly over two discs and 25 tracks – but don't mistake Ironbark for an intimidating listen. Rather, it is blissfully unhurried and comfortable, the pure distillation of the grown-up folk that the Waifs have been gently perfecting for a quarter of a century.
There are moments of utter loveliness (the wistful "Long Way From Home" and "Shiny Apple") and darkness too (the timely subject matter of "Syria"). After 25 years together, the strength of Vicki, Donna, and Josh's relationship is palpable, and for the first time ever they join all their vocals on the twisting opener and title track.
Releasing a double album is ambitious and fraught with danger, and where Ironbark fails to satisfy is for the same reason most fail: there is simply an excess of filler tracks. Their desire to stretch to 25 tracks is understandable, but Ironbark probably could have been served better if pared back to a single disc.
Carolina Chocolate Drops mainstay delivers sophomore solo album.
"Know thy history. Let it horrify you; let it inspire you," urges virtuosic North Carolina vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and ethnomusicologist Rhiannon Giddens. Where debut Tomorrow Is My Turn (2015) saw Giddens reimagining the songs of towering U.S. female artists from Odetta to Dolly Parton, this predominantly original follow-up centres on the African-American experiences that underpin and inform American music: from 19th Century slave narratives and the Civil Rights movement (Richard Fariña-penned Gospel-soul entry "Birmingham Sunday"), to Ferguson and beyond (smouldering R&B tune "Better Get it Right the First Time").
Aside from some bold and brassy moments (slinky Delta dance tune "Hey Bébé"), it's an often-brooding counterpoint to the string-band jaunts and rambles of CCD landmark Genuine Negro Jig (2010) – always rich and resonant, Giddens' old-time banjo parts are frequently urgent and ominous ("Julie"). Vocally, Giddens is a typically mesmerising presence throughout, proving a soulful stand-in for Mavis Staples in a deft take on the Staple Singers' locomotive 1965 anthem "Freedom Highway". Freedom Highway is an immersive wellspring of era-defining sounds drawn up and into the fraught light of 21st Century racial consciousness.
A solid debut from an inspired heavy collaboration.
Members of the Melvins and At the Drive-In felt so enamoured with the vocal stylings of Teri Gender Bender, frontwoman of Mexican band Le Butcherettes, that they formed this supergroup just so they could work together. It's no surprise, then, that Gender Bender's vocals are the focus on this riff-heavy album. TGB is a force of nature, an ungodly blend of Courtney Love, Kate Bush and Joan Jett, and her prickly girl-power anthems sound even more powerful with the masculine sludge of the Melvins backing her. Crystal Fairy aren't as groundbreaking as Le Butcherettes, but neither are they standard punk-fare. A solid intro to what could be a great band.
Fourth LP from Sydney rappers tackles the big issues.
In nine years Horrorshow have grown from earnest young hip-hop prodigies to veteran performers, and Bardo State reflects the confidence that comes with experience. Single "Push" is as big and sincere as they've ever been, but tracks like "Non-Stop" and the menacing "Ceiling Fan" reveal a fresh swagger and some serious One Day crew vibes. Guests like Omar Musa, Turquoise Prince and teenager Taj Ralph are only a few of the collaborators Horrorshow have brought into the mix but the set is stacked with talent, and on a record that's about transitioning between states they help elevate Horrorshow's sound to a higher plane.
Duo demonstrate sonic daring on confident second album.
The temptation when writing a follow-up to a successful album – in Holy Holy's case, their 2015 debut When the Storms Would Come – is to repeat the formula to consolidate that success. In keeping with the chaotic James Drinkwater painting that adorns the cover of their second record, Holy Holy have chosen a far more interesting approach.
There are enough familiar signposts to their past not to alienate their fanbase, but they're largely derived from inherently organic elements the band can do little to change: Tim Carroll's placid, soothing voice, for example, and the way in which it works with Oscar Dawson's fluid guitar work. Largely, though, Paint sees the duo embellishing the at-times pastoral sonic landscape of their debut, incorporating vague R&B elements ("The Message"), strident pop-rock (the wonderfully catchy "Elevator" and "Amateurs"), progressive rock ("Send My Regards") and pure Eighties soft-pop ("True Lovers"). That Paint pulls this off while still sounding like the work of one band, let alone the same band that released their debut less than two years ago, is a testament to the songwriting prowess of Dawson and Carroll. Clearly they have an inherent understanding about what Holy Holy is, and more importantly, what it can be.
Experimental pop maverick pushes boundaries.
David Longstreth has always been experimental, but this is a quantum leap from indie pop. Opener "Keep Your Name" serves notice – puttering beat, sparse piano and downtuned vocals that sound like a soul singer slipping down a rabbit hole of regret. Longstreth digs deep into his personal relationships, from initial attraction ("Up In Hudson") to bliss ("Little Bubble") to breakdown ("Death Spiral"). Fluttering woodwinds, shivering strings and parping brass wrap around glitchy beats, and although Longstreth bends and stretches his voice into weird and wonderful shapes, he reveals more soul than ever before.
Pennsylvania gutter-dwellers team up with Lydia Lunch.
Fittingly for a band named after soiled pants, Pissed Jeans have never made music for the masses, and on album number five their apocalyptic dirge is just as dense and impenetrable, thanks to input from producer and no-wave queen Lydia Lunch. Why Love Now is menacing and plodding with driving bass and spazzy vocals reminiscent of the Jesus Lizard or Killdozer. PJ are still dealing with the same themes of flawed masculinity as they were on earlier LPs like Hope For Men, but songs like "Ignorecam" show them moving on to themes of technophobia. Pissed Jeans are one of the only bands still making music like this, and it's an ugly, exhilarating thrill.
Americana stayer mines the past on first solo album in 18 years.
A departure from 2011's rustic nu-grass LP with Union Station, Paper Airplane, the 14th studio outing from Krauss revisits the classic songs of bygone decades. Windy City takes in the broad sweep of the Nashville sound's ascendency – bold piano lines, strings, chittering pedal steel, and well-deployed BVs from Jamey Johnson and others – while reprising country/bluegrass tunes from the Fifties, Sixties (a chic take on 1964 Willie Nelson tune "I Never Cared For You") and Seventies, along with soaring mid-century Broadway ("River In the Rain") and Hollywood melodrama ("All Alone Am I"). Krauss' spellbinding vocal makes for engrossing – if inessential – listening.
Chicago band deliver brilliantly discordant art-punk.
The follow up to 2015's Delusion Moon is a snarling, twisted, discordant indie-punk gem, full of brilliantly bare riffs and sweet and sour melodicism. Blessed by the production presence of Steve Albini, there's minimalist, plaintive bleakness ("No Light"), no-wave shredding ("Killing the Incessant") and scatter-brained riffage ("Glass Teeth"), and if the Cribs were raised solely on deep-dish pizza and Cubs fatalism the biting "Run You Out" might be the result. Best, though, are the drunk Gang of Four intertwined discordant guitar lines that disintegrate into a Mars Volta-y cacophonic mess on "Leopard Print Jet Ski".