Singer-songwriter takes the direct approach on second LP.
Megan Washington revealed her battle with a stutter recently, and she drops another bombshell midway through There There. "Do you want it back?" she asks the man she was supposed to marry, before devoting an entire verse to the awkward practicalities of an engagement gone sour. This man is not metaphorical, and neither is the marriage. Each song, says Washington, is connected to a real-life event – from the frank confession of infidelity on the raw ballad "Begin Again" to "Get Happy", where she falls in love over Eighties New Wave textures. 2010's I Believe You Liar masked insecurities under ambitious orchestrated pop. On There There, she's both fearless and direct.
Topics: Megan Washington
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.
Melbourne blues-folk singer-guitarist releases second album.
Barefoot Wonderland is right: Bernasconi is so laidback here you can see the soles of those bare feet. While kicking back he's picking his way through Kentucky mountains folk and lowland blues on his Harmony Sovereign acoustic or Dan Robinson parlour guitar, picking up a 1936 Gibson or maybe a Martin 7-string along the way. Luckily for people who wouldn't know a Gibson from a gibbon, Bernasconi can write a tune almost as well as he plays this array. "Carrie Swoon" is light and amused, and the instrumental "Box Of Birds" skips along, but there's wistfulness in "Melatonin"'s bent strings.
'Big Country' dialled down on ZBB's seventh studio release.
Zac Brown Band have throttled down. Eschewing, for the most part, the glitzy sheen that's slathered over most 'big country', Brown and Co. employ a rougher, grittier edge, in the process slowing things and placing the emphasis squarely on the songwriting. Brown's songwriting has never been subtle, and despite being full of heart, it's what lets the record down, the by-the-numbers writing watery in comparison with the extremely talented band (Jimmy De Martini's fiddle playing in particular), which save Welcome Home from becoming just another 'American big country album'.
Indie-punk relishes in creative freedom – a little too much.
From no-fi bedroom noise to Fat Wreck Chords hangover, from indie labels to majors and back to self-released. Such is Nathan Williams' decade-long parabola path, arriving at album six near where it all began, with the experimental, cassette-warped vignettes that were stuffed between songs on Wavves' debut demos now serving as the backbone of his adopted paint-by-power-punk approach. At best, these shards of shitgaze and cut-and-paste weirdness recall his early work's raw disposability ("No Shade", "Million Enemies"), while the flipside, such as the near-untouched sample on "Come to the Valley", are borderline unlistenable.
Soft-focus pop bridging the Pacific Ocean.
Sydney native Hazel English is ready for her close-up. Now based in Oakland, California, she's bundled last year's debut Never Going Home EP with a newer EP made in collaboration with Day Wave's Jackson Phillips. It's a tidy introduction to both her stylised sweetness and soft-focus dream-pop, warmly evoking the Drums and Wild Nothing. Airy vocals and delicate, chiming guitars thread through nearly every one of these 11 tracks, striking an evergreen balance between breezy uplift and melancholy undertow. The songs can sound a bit too much alike, but otherwise the sparkling ingredients are all there.
Melbourne punks up the ante, craft their masterwork.
Clowns' third LP is an intricate document of the shape punk finally came in. Gleefully brutal riffs sit side-by-side with melodicism, patience, countless filthy prog-punk moments and insouciant throat-shredding. Nine tracks in 43 minutes bucks traditional punk standards, and it flows impressively through "Like a Knife At a Gunfight" and the muscly "Pickle", calmly picking its spots to deliver nuggets of pure punk-rock energy like "Destroy the Evidence". By the time Lucid Again closes out with the epic punk jam "Not Coping", it's hard to argue against Clowns having created one of the best rock – not ‘just' punk – albums of the year.