The Oils clear out their musical garage, with generally superb results.
It's genuinely weird that a band as venerable and storied as Midnight Oil has been so little anthologised over the years.
Most comparable bands would have all sorts of legacy-enhancing-slash-barrel-bottom-scraping collections out in the marketplace by now, but not the Oils. In fact, the relative paucity of product (a handful of best-ofs and live albums) has been matched by the near-impossibility of getting hold of many of their original albums in any decent format until relatively recently. Even classics like 10-1 and Red Sails in the Sunset spent decades available only on low-quality mid-price CDs, when they existed at all.
Thankfully the announcement of the band's reactivation and world tour has been accompanied by the re-release of all the band's material on vinyl and CD – in big fancy box sets, no less! - and a proper, overdue trawl through the band's archives. It seems appropriate that instead of putting out a steady stream of coffer-filling live recordings, b-side and demo collections, documentaries and concert DVDs, the Oils do the whole lot in one hit.
The price tag alone means that the four CD/eight DVD Overflow Tank is something that only a devoted fan would purchase, which is a good thing: there is material here that only a devoted fan would want – or, for matter, endure.
Such fans, however, are going to love the absolute hell out of this.
Let's start with the least interesting bits first: the Lasseter's Gold disc of unreleased demos, and the b-side compilation Chiko Locallo.
The first doesn't turn up any lost classics. Five of the 12 tracks were from the Blue Sky Mining sessions and the most appealing - the Hirst/Moginie "Wreckery Road" – would later be resurrected for Ghostwriters, while "A Sunburt Sky" was a first draft of Moginie's solo song "A Love So High". What's perhaps most noteworthy is the inclusion of two songs named after (and performed by) the pre-Oils versions of the band – the scrappily inept joke jam "Schwampy Moose" and the atmospheric instrumental sketch "Farm", which are historical curios you'll listen to once and never, ever again.
Similarly, the Oils were not a band that wasted great songs on b-sides, although "You May Not Be Released" has a late-night swing and you can't fault the intent behind earnest polemics like "The Last of the Diggers" and "Ships of Freedom", especially when compared with the studio sound experiments "Frontier... What Frontier?" and "Kingdom of Flaunt".
Most of the songs are from the band's nineties era and tend to be more mid-paced ballads and Garrett's idiosyncratic voice means that cover versions tend to sound incongruous rather than appropriate – proven here with their versions of Russell Morris' "The Real Thing" and Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love & Understanding?" - although the dark groove of 'Heaven & Earth' is begging to be sampled for a modern EDM track.
The live recordings fare rather better, however. Not only were the Oils a band who were at their best on stage, as demonstrated on the career-spanning compilation Punter Barrier BPM, their thumping 1978 Live At The Wireless recording arguably does a better job than their self-titled debut album at capturing the raw energy of the band at the time.
But the real gems – the things that will have fans fishing down the back for change – are the DVDs, which are uniformly excellent.
The best of the several live DVDs on offer is undoubtably Oils on the Water, the band's legendary Goat Island gig for the tenth birthday of Double/Triple J in 1985. It remains one of their definitive live performances (and it's surprisingly adorable to see them stumble on the complex stop-starts of "When The Generals Talk") – and if that's the band at their juggernaut peak, their 1993 MTV Unplugged set goes some way to proving Jim Moginie's assertion that they were basically a folk band under their rock trappings.
The absolute first thing to watch, however, is the documentary Only the Strong: the making of 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. If you're a fan of the Oils – and, as asserted earlier, you won't have this thing if you're not – watching the double-act of Moginie and producer Nick Launay scamper through the multitracks of the album that made the band's career is both fascinating and inspiring (so that's how they got the "sproing!" sound at the beginning of "US Forces"!), and the interviews with Peter Garrett and Rob Hirst are equally illuminating.
Black Rain Falls is a short doco about the band's 1990 protest performance on a flatbed truck outside the Exxon Mobil building in New York after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and is impressive partially in the band's gumption in doing such a thing since these days they'd have been in Guantanamo Bay before the truck was even parked, and partially because the band sound tight as a freakin' drum despite playing a guerilla show on a truck.
But the gem is Blackfella/Whitefella, a documentary about the band's 1986 outback tour with the Warumpi Band. This was a pivotal moment for Midnight Oil, leading directly to Diesel and Dust (and even includes an early, uncertain live version of "Beds Are Burning" with rambling, extemporised verses). And watching the way that the experience of spending time in Arnham Land changes the band is fascinating, especially in watching the Sydney rock stars get a little humble and sheepish in front of Aboriginal audiences listening politely, as opposed to an RSL filled with northern beaches surfers leaping about.
And the Warumpis get the best musical moments too: the highlight is watching the band swap during a performance of the song "Blackfella Whitefella", where the Warumpis are replaced by members of Midnight Oil as the song transforms into "The Dead Heart" (watch Gordon Butcher and Rob Hirst swap over without missing a beat) – and their rough and ready performance of their classic "My Island Home" should jolt anyone only familiar with Christine Anu's smooth version.
There's basically an entire weekend's worth of stuff to listen to and binge watch, and if not all these Oils are (ahem) essential, the highlights of Overflow Tank are more than worth the sticker price.
Topics: Midnight Oil
The Southern rock icon's farewell album is vividly steeped in his own history.
The final album by Gregg Allman, who died in May, is a moving farewell statement à la twilight masterworks by Leonard Cohen and David Bowie. "I know I'm not a young man, and it's time to settle down," Allman sings on the roadhouse blues "Love Like Kerosene", his full-moon growl strikingly undiminished.
Yet while Southern Blood is rich with intimations of mortality, it's easygoing too, with a laid-back generosity that recalls Allman's kindest Seventies work – see his warm take on Lowell George's Southern-rock salvo "Willin'". Allman steeped the album in his own history, recording with producer Don Was in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, where Allman and his brother Duane recorded in the late Sixties. And while the LP is almost entirely covers, they spool by as one vivid benediction, from Allman's gorgeously soulful reading of Bob Dylan's "Going, Going, Gone", to his gently swaying version of the Grateful Dead's meditation on aging "Black Muddy River", to tender folk reckonings by his friends Tim Buckley and Jackson Browne. Allman opens with an original, the searching blues "My Only True Friend", sung as a conversation with Duane. "It feels like home is just around the bend," he sings, the elegiac sound of gracefully moving on.
Brisbane indie-pop kids come of age with sophomore release.
Rhythmically strong and filled with gorgeous synth production and guitar, Bats is the perfect successor to 2016's This is Our Vice. Tim Nelson's songwriting has become a dynamic leading force – over 13 tracks, he wears his heart on his sleeve more than ever before. Aching gospel influences ("O Lord") turn to delicate moments of sweetness ("Give It To Me"), while fully embracing technicolour vibrancy fusing synth-pop and house ("Look After Me"). An album inspecting self-worth, self-discovery, love and longing, Bats is an accomplished effort; demonstrative of the band's musical maturation and their confident steps into a beautifully complicated pop arena.
The thrift-shopping, deep-thinking MC has a good time.
Macklemore's first post-fame LP minus longtime partner Ryan Lewis finds the Seattle MC unburdened by stardom or the social concern that turns his woke anthems into online firestorms – "I'm a motherfuckin' icon/Boots made of python," he raps on "Willy Wonka", a creeping track with Offset of Migos. Partying tunes like the funky "Firebreather" sometimes feel like not much more than a rich white guy bragging. But Macklemore's trademark awkward humanity comes through on "Good Old Days", a reflection on ageing (with Kesha), and "Church", a thank-you letter to making it that's warm, vivid, earnest and earned.
Melbourne rock stalwarts get imaginative on sixth album.
There's an adventurous complexity to British India's latest that's an exploration of their creative nature, helped by enlisting Holy Holy's Oscar Dawson on production. It means unconventionally memorable rock & roll whirlwinds adorned with keys, effects and plenty of feels, as frontman Declan Melia spits lines about false gods in "Midnight Homie (My Best Friends)" and heady dissatisfaction in "Precious". It's the breathing-room ruminations ("My Love"), however, that balance the frenzied rock maelstrom, breathing life into a rich lyrical world detailing our crushing quests for meaning and relevance in an uncaring world.
Indie-dance luminaries return with a more mindful trip.
Cut Copy's fourth LP was called Free Your Mind, but some argued the band had lost theirs with the unashamed Summer Of Love throwback that offered little new. Haiku From Zero reverts to the broader palette of 2011's Zonoscope; from cowbell-helmed highlight "Standing In the Middle of the Field" to "Airborne", a mildly annoying jam until it lives up to its name around the four-minute mark. Characteristically pat lyrics are hitched to music sophisticated enough to impart profundity, from the E-rush of "Stars Last Me a Lifetime" to the polymorphic, David Byrne-indebted "Memories We Share". It's not vintage Cut Copy, but it's a return to form.
Melbourne grinders unleash pure insanity on third album.
Ugly by name, ugly by nature, King Parrot have truly upped their game in all levels of extremity while simultaneously lowering the bar in depravity. Album number three is a sordid, nasty grindfest of crazed riffing, inhuman time-keeping and ridiculous yob anthems about binge drinking, low standards and being a straight-up dickhead, delivered with a schizophrenic vocal roar/shriek that teeters on the brink of insanity. Smashing blazing hardcore into furious thrash metal with the impact of a high-speed collision, Ugly Produce is a visceral ball of fury wrapped in sarcasm and grime that's both terrifying and hilarious at the same time.
The Vampire Weekend auteur channels his worldly vision into an excellent debut LP.
After putting in work on Frank Ocean's Blonde ("Seigfried," "Ivy"), Solange Knowles' A Seat at the Table ("F.U.B.U.") and various collaborative projects, ex-Vampire Weekend MVP Rostam Batmanglij has finally gotten around to releasing a proper solo LP of his own. And, admirably, he's refused to choose between his former group's Ivy League-aesthete indie rock and modern vernacular electro-pop, opting instead to cherry-pick the best of both worlds.
The resulting 15 tracks are, fittingly, all over the place. "Bike Dream" is sexy voice-boxed art pop; "Thatch Snow" is chamber music with a multitracked choir; "Wood" is a widescreen Bollywood daydream, complete with layered hand drums and orchestral strings; "Hold You" is a hungry robo-soul slow-jam with ex-Dirty Projectors vocalist-bassist Angel Deradoorian as an earthy diva.
Batmanglij has a boyish, intimate tenor, charming when not overdoing the breathy, verge-of-a-giggle delivery. Ultimately, though, it's the gorgeously inventive tracks that steal the show. Maybe the most telling is "Don't Let It Get to You", built around a machine-gunning sample of the samba-drum battery from Paul Simon's curveball 1990 banger "The Obvious Child" – a modern equivalent to Patti Smith repurposing Velvet Underground tunes. Here's to the bright future of another New York whiz kid.
You watched it being recorded, now listen to the results.
Workshopped in front of an online audience every Friday for a month, recorded in a night (also streamed live over the net) and released a week later, Out of Silence has a back story worth noting, but not worth lingering over. More usefully, it's a solo album – Finn's first since 2014's Dizzy Heights – full of group sounds, from a full band and strings to massed backing vocals, and a duet with brother Tim. Which makes it even starker how lyrically and tonally it's an album of isolation, with characters lost on the edges of relationships even as they're cushioned by harmonies, and wondering if love can ever be known while carried on another typically attractive Finn melody.
Prog rockers get deep on expansive look at art.
The latest album from these Brisbane progressive prodigies is a sprawling, labyrinthine opus exploring the very nature of artistic endeavour. Using the thematic device of four unrelated but conceptually similar stories, the band veer from sweeping epics like "Graves" to spoken word rants, melodic rock, wistful acoustics and driving metal tracks with stunning alacrity, displaying a dynamic range and genuine emotion that other prog rock bands can lose in their quest for virtuosity. Following 2015's excellent Bloom might have seemed tough, but In Contact is a further example of the group's growing creative power, deep, multi-layered and idiosyncratically cerebral.
A spirited release from London based Mercury Prize nominee.
Nick Mulvey's sophomore release positions the songwriter at potentially his most comfortable; the lyrical use of metaphor highlights Mulvey's developed writing ability ("Myela"), while the sprawling nature of the soundscapes encapsulates the strength of the musicians Mulvey surrounded himself with. Mulvey's lyrical scope takes a look at the world currently turning off its axis; in a time of uncertainty, music can serve as an emotional anchor, an anchor Mulvey aims to deliver. His writing is evocative without preaching. Balancing rhythmic eccentricities with irrepressible groove and electronic production throughout, Wake Up Now serves its title well.
Sydney producer brings fun retro club vibes on party-ready debut.
Visions' gaudy neon cover art – featuring Michael 'Touch Sensitive' Di Francesco in a turtleneck, gold chain and manicured mo' – is the perfect distillation of his debut LP. "First Slice – Intro" (which samples his 2013 hit "Pizza Guy") sets the Eighties-cocaine-dealer-pulling-up-to-the-nightclub-in-a-Ferrarai vibe, kicking off an album of ebullient house ("Lay Down"), Nineties R'n'B ("Veronica") and Italo disco-influenced club bangers. Arriving in the spring, Visions plays like the perfect warm weather party soundtrack, whether you're drinking champagne spritzers on a yacht or hitting the local discotheque in your finest pair of slacks.
English band lacks vision on fifth album.
"Are we hologram? Are we vision?" sings Faris Badwan over roiling synths and an electro-clash beat. Perhaps he should be asking "Are we Gary Numan tribute act?", because that's what it sounds like. The Horrors have tried on a number of outfits over five albums, arriving as goth-clad garage rockers and transitioning through psych-rock and dream-pop before going for arena anthems with 2011's Skying. V finds them stranded somewhere between melodramatic Eighties synth-pop and contemporary Coldplay-esque stadium-fillers. In either mode they offer po-faced lyrics and a lack of adventure. To sum up, then: the answer to "Are we vision?" is no.
Las Vegas rockers hit targets with affecting, arena-built anthems.
Brandon Flowers has grown up a little. He's now big enough to poke fun at himself in "The Man", the fruitiest Killers track ever made, and willing to let his guard down lyrically and make some pretty vulnerable songs about his wife's childhood abandonment ("Wonderful Wonderful"); depression ("Rut"); and affairs of the heart ("Some Kind of Love"). Pairing with longterm producer Stuart Price and Jacknife Lee (U2, Taylor Swift) has paid dividends – soaring anthems like "Run for Cover" and "Tyson vs Douglas" are shamelessly emotive, yet undeniable. While they haven't eclipsed their earliest work, the Killers are ageing gracefully.
Seattle's golden boy of indie-folk delivers third studio LP.
With White Noise, Noah Gundersen continues his journey away from the rather anaemic acoustic balladry of old. This is a step up in songwriting, production and emotional heft that, with its touches of synth and Gundersen's occasional swooning falsetto, warrants favourable comparison with Perfume Genius's excellent recent albums. "After All" and especially "Sweet Talker" best exhibit this new ambition, though less successful are some banal attempts at sparse Josh Ritter-ish folk that sit awkwardly on an album that, thanks to Gundersen's sonic imagination and maturing sense of songcraft, otherwise succeeds.