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
Sydney dreamers deliver a stunning double-album opus.
Gang of Youths don't do things by halves. Their 2014 debut was about disintegrating relationships, cancer, and suicide attempts: its follow up is a sprawling, magnificently realised double album that poetically explores the human experience in all its bleakness and triumph, confusion and clarity, heartbreak and joyousness.
It's a staggeringly cohesive multi-generational musical piñata: cross-pollinating Springsteen's sweeping Americana, the National's piercing truths and the sweaty insistence of LCD Soundsystem, with splashes of Arcade Fire, War on Drugs and U2 swirling amid its emotional tornado. There's the Japandroids-channelling, punch-the-air final moments of "Atlas Drowned"; frontman Dave Le'aupepe's jaw-dropping "get shitfaced on you" baritone wordplay during "Keep Me In the Open"; psyche darkness on "Do Not Let Your Spirit Wane"; baroque orchestration in "Achilles Come Down"; wild horns on "The Heart is a Muscle"; while its series of instrumental breathers allow you to be swept away on the album's all-enveloping current.
Le'aupepe's deft lyrical romanticism and emotional sincerity ties it all together forcefully and elegantly –lines crack like fireworks one after the other – defying cynicism anddelivering raw truth-seeking vignettes in unflinching fashion. It makes for a remarkable odyssey of an album that'll engulf you, leaving a bewildered smile on your face, a tear in your eye and a heart that's full.
Mercury Prize-nominated British MC cuts timely masterpiece.
Where South London-born Obaro Ejimiwe's first two albums explored ambiguous, surreal themes over prickly electronic instrumentation, 2015's Shedding Skin adopted a more tangible guitar-and-keys approach. Dark Days + Canapés picks up where that Mercury Prize-nominated record left off. Never quite rapping, never quite singing, the genre-defying MC invites listeners on a spine-tingling, head-nodding ride into his psyche. It's Roots Manuva meets Radiohead. All over this record, in fact, Ghostpoet manages to be two things at once: inviting and confronting; thoughtful and obscure; brilliant and understated.
Atmospheric fifth album from a unit now expert at composing experimental folk-pop.
It sounds absurd, but Grizzly Bear have carved a career from baroque-pop obfuscation. The US indie band's knotty creations very rarely sound like four guys in a room jamming a tune. Instead they're more slow-motion unspoolings of woozy sounds, teased and twisted into treacle-thick compositions so dense and dreamlike that somewhere along the line you forget how they began.
Painted Ruins is the band's first record in five years, and that labour shows. "Three Rings" begins as a reverb-drenched chatter, moving through groaning woodwinds and blossoming into a racket of fuzz bass, celestial synths and rippling guitar arpeggios, Ed Droste singing, "Don't you ever leave me/Don't you feel it all come together". Those details and underlying accusations continue on the glam groove of "Losing All Sense", Droste asking, "Could I ask of you not to cut into me?" The band's lyrics have never been direct, but the tension through Painted Ruins is palpable.
The density of arrangements can tire, but there's calm too – "Aquarian" builds until a beautiful sequence of unadorned chords; "Systole" opens with a rare bare vocal from bassist and producer Chris Taylor. Some touchstones call through the haze – Tame Impala's modern prog-psych, Radiohead's anxious percussive web, and White Album-era Beatles. But for the most part Grizzly Bear return again grown from their own strange plot.
Big-sky musing and epic noodling from UK prog maestro.
The subjective nature of truth. The bliss of death. An epic duet (with Ninet Tayeb) about despair, co-dependency and redemption that makes Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" sound half-cooked. Phew, eight songs to go. Porcupine Tree dreamweaver Steven Wilson thinks big as always on album five, a spacious head-trip with toe-curling flights of uber-muso malarkey. "Blank Tapes" is classic flutey melancholy, "People Who Eat Darkness" a crashing drama of urban paranoia. God (the mean, vengeful one) makes a cameo in the 10-minute suite, "Detonation". All told, a ton of melody and energy on face value, and a lifetime between the speakers for those so inclined.
Melbourne post-punks get punchy with Gareth Liddiard.
On Gold Class' second LP, Adam Curley is punchy, the music percussive. "We were beaten, but I still feel a thump," he hollers, amidst Evan Purdey's knotty guitar scrawl on the relentless "We Were Never Too Much". And Drum duly delivers a thump, producer Gareth Liddiard's stripped-down setting letting the propulsive rhythm section push towards the foreground. There's nothing groundbreaking here, but the quartet boast heart and wit, sounding committed to their cause. "Weave the blows/Like a boxer on tiptoe," Curley bellows in "Thinking of Strangers", recalling Morrissey's lyrical pugilists as the song drags Smithsy jangle into a dark alley.
First solo album in 12 years for Superjesus singer.
For such an ostentatious backstory – the Superjesus-singer-turned-solo-rocker-turned-EDM-bandwagoner shipped herself off to an icy New York winter for three months in isolation, simultaneously finding inspiration in Stallone's Rocky franchise – you'd expect Sarah McLeod's new album to be a touch more engaging. Instead, after a promisingly sweet opener ("Rocky's Reprise"), the Nineties rock tropes ("Giants"), country pop tropes ("Bad Valentine") and power pop tropes ("Hurricane") are catchy yet oddly one-dimensional. Despite her excellent, raspy voice, the familiar tales of love and loss offer little by way of meaning or memorability.
Traditional country-folk master tills the fertile field of Americana anew.
Rawlings' third solo outing finds him and indispensable collaborator Gillian Welch continuing in their alchemical quest to breathe fresh life into the sounds of Harry Smith's seminal Anthology of American Folk Music (1952) – from Appalachian folk (hill country nursery rhyme "Lindsey Button") to the prairie (the jaunty "Come On Over My House"). Spanning banjo-anchored ditty "Money is the Meat in the Coconut" to the brooding folk-rock splendour of the CSNY-like "Cumberland Gap", it's yet another masterful demonstration of enigmatic backwoods poeticism, technical mastery, and eternal songcraft.
The singer channels five years of personal hardship into resilient, genre-smashing pop.
In 2012, wild-child pop diva Kesha hit a high point with her dirty, glitter-soaked rock album, Warrior. But she's spent the past five years in silence, embroiled in a grueling legal battle with her most frequent collaborator, superproducer Dr. Luke, whom the singer accused of physical and emotional abuse.
On her excellent comeback record, Rainbow, Kesha channels that drama into the best music of her career – finding common ground between the honky-tonks she loves (her mom is Nashville songwriter Pebe Sebert) and the dance clubs she ruled with hits like "Tik Tok" and "Die Young," between glossy beats, epic ballads and grimy guitar riffs. In the process, she also finds her own voice: a freshly empowered, fearlessly feminist Top 40 rebel.
The LP opens softly with "Bastards," a ballad ripe for a campfire singalong. Above acoustic guitar, her once-Auto-Tune-weary vocals breathe easy as she nimbly and confidently shows off her underappreciated range, singing, "Don't let the bastards get you down." It's followed by the glam-punk kiss-off "Let 'Em Talk," where she's joined by Eagles of Death Metal. Kesha executive-produced the album, working with a team that included everyone from Ryan Lewis to Ben Folds to her mom. Across the board, she achieves a careful balance of her diverse musical selves: The gospel-tinged "Praying" takes the high road by wishing the best to the people who have hurt her, and "Woman" is a blissfully irreverent, proudly self-sufficient retro-soul shouter backed by Brooklyn funk crew the Dap-Kings.
Kesha used to sing about partying with rich dudes and feeling like P. Diddy. Rainbow is full of sympathetic (if at times cloying) prisoner metaphors and therapist clichés: "Live and learn and never forget it/Gotta learn to let it go," she repeats on "Learn to Let Go." Luckily, she also showcases her absurdist sense of humour. On the standout "Hunt You Down," she evokes June Carter with a devilishly threatening country ditty: "Baby, I love you so much," she sings in the most innocent Southern-belle voice she can muster, then warns, "Don't make me kill you." On "Godzilla," a gloriously surreal slice of indie-folk kitsch, she imagines what it might be like to fall in love with a cartoon monster, creating a lighthearted novelty out of chaos and destruction.
The album's most powerful moment is a cover of the 1980 Dolly Parton ballad "Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You)" – Sebert's biggest country hit as a songwriter. Parton herself helps out on guest vocals. But this isn't some Grand Ole Opry homage. Kesha flips and filters it through her dreamy vision, turning the sweet tune into rousing rockabilly until the standard sounds refreshed and vividly modern, battle-tested and born again. Just like the woman singing it.
Classic riff-rock return for the bard of the burbs.
Paul Kelly's not drowning, he's waving. Shakespearean dalliances behind him, these waters vividly recall his surging pop-rock fortunes of the Nineties. That's literally true in Linda Bull's full band revisitation of "Don't Explain". Vika's thumping "My Man's Got a Cold" is such a classic Aussie household concept it's hard to believe it took Kelly so long to nail it. He sings the rest, bouncing off the ladies' big harmonies and Ash Naylor's twangsome riffs as the rising moon on a warm summer night and an open fire by candlelight invoke the lusty passions of everyman. All this and a priceless sequel to Roy Orbison's "Leah". Spoiler alert: he lives.
OPN scores OST with analogue electronics, Iggy Pop.
Crime-thriller flick Good Time sets Robert Pattinson on a downward spiral of bad choices. The action's matched to a synthy score from Daniel 'Oneohtrix Point Never' Lopatin, its ambient waft and arpeggiated blips heavily influenced by Tangerine Dream. This isn't just the straight score: distorted voices and sounds from the movie are scattered throughout, as compositional bridges and sound-art devices. It crests with the cathartic finale "The Pure and the Damned". It's a striking song: Iggy Pop's murmured words and weathered croon evoking both the film's fatalism, and his own mortality.
Clear-eyed rock reckoning from Melbourne indie powerhouse.
Meet Jen Cloher. Sure you've seen her around, maybe shared some quality time. But here's where you bust in on her playing guitar naked on her bed. Her girlfriend's away on tour. Again. The job's a slog. The country's a joke. Shut the door on your way out. She's going somewhere with this.
The bliss, longing and jealousies of her life with the celebrated Courtney Barnett simmer in the present, in the wiry opener "Forgot Myself", and the sweet intimacies and raw insights of "Sensory Memory", "Waiting in the Wings" and "Dark Art". The past comes in raging flashbacks to Catholic girls' school, where "to love was to live in sin"; and to scenes of music as salvation, as ecstatic as the Dirty Three in "Loose Magic" and as heroic as the Saints and the Go-Betweens' in the savage "Great Australian Bite".
Cloher's perspective on Australian culture and its music industry's navel-gazing and compromises are brutal. Bickering mynah birds and crabs in a bucket define our politics and sad illusions of success.
It's the weight of three albums that make her every truth shake the foundations of the cosy singer-songwriter myth. Well, that and her band, with Barnett at her back, and a voice that's found a new well of deeply personal resonance. "It's exhausting up here on the surface," she sings. Too true.
Political punk rock brought into razor-sharp focus on third LP.
Not taking into account their liberal use of saxophone, Rhode Island's Downtown Boys come across as a punk rock, political Pixies: Victoria Ruiz has the raw mania of Black Francis at his most unhinged, even occasionally singing in manic Spanish ("Somos Chulas (No Somos Pendejas)"). Produced by Fugazi's Guy Picciotto, Cost of Living is a pummelling "fuck you" to whatever injustice the band sets its unflinching gaze on, whether it's structures built to keep people apart ("A Wall") or being wilfully denied a seat at the table ("Promissory Note"). The unrelenting abrasiveness on show dulls the impact slightly, yet it remains a searing sonic wake-up call.
Second album from enigmatic Sydney folk duo.
The sultry music of Jep and Dep is for solitary nocturnal listening. Channelling Tom Waits, Scott Walker and some elements of Serge Gainsbourg, the duo forge a reverb-happy shimmer on each of these taut, concise songs that are further enhanced by Dep's admirably sensitive production. Jep's voice, meanwhile, possesses an absorbingly lived-in quality, worldly rather than trained, and combines with Dep's more limited croon nicely on "My Berlin" and "Unrequited Requiem". While not exactly eclectic (sticking firmly with the neo-gothic noir), THEY'VEBEENCALLED is supremely atmospheric, and revels in the shadows.
Heady concept record from Brisbane heavy rockers.
On their third album, Young Lions extend the strides they made on 2015's Blue Isla, delivering a concept record that explodes their sound into heady, arena-ready territory. "Burn the Money" and "Destroy Me" are a pair of emotionally wrought, heavy-alterna-rock burners with a deft sense of melody –Muse-lite, if you will, or Coldplay if they possessed any stones – while the isolationist paranoia of "Better World" is a definite highlight. Their approach is writ large in moments like "Headspace" and "Freedom", though, as electronic-flourishes tinge their muscly rock chops with a weighty atmospheric air, providing a depth that's surprising, and welcome.