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Desert and digital combine on vibrant debut.
“Ancient time in a new paradigm” goes the refrain on second track “Two Worlds Collide”, serving as a statement of intent for this extraordinary all-female four-piece from the Northern Territory. So we have an uplifting fusion of Indigenous rhythms (seed pods, clap sticks and so on) with woozy electronica occasionally reminiscent of Azure Ray or Mazzy Star (“Ngabaju”). Sung in both Mudburra and English, the album pulses with intensity as it explores and reasserts notions of femininity and family. Kardajala Kirridarra is proof of the boundless originality of Central Australian music.
Brisbane act deliver career high third album.
The bombastic debut album. The difficult second album. The defining third album. It’s a cliché – but then clichés are there for a reason, right? On their third album, Brisbane’s the Jungle Giants deliver their most coherent and sophisticated record to date, tightening up every loose screw from scattered 2015 predecessor Speakerzoid. From the big hit groove on “On Your Way Down” to jangly closer “People Always Say”, there’s not a drum-thwack or syncopated guitar strum that hasn’t been thought about or worked to within an inch of its life. At times the production can feel over-kneaded, but when the results are this good, who cares?
Canadian collective bring some celebration into the world.
If you’ve ever been in a band, you know how hard it is to get four people in one place at one time to do something. Now imagine there’s 15 of you. That kind of explains the seven-year gap between albums for this Toronto collective. Apparently it was the Paris terror attacks of 2015 that galvanised the group into recording again. And yes, there is a track called “Protest Song” here, but if you’re looking for resignation and anger at the state of the world, you’ll have to look elsewhere. While Broken Social Scene don’t go for the robes-and-Kool-Aid massed chorale of the Polyphonic Spree, they still know how to do joy and uplift. The titles “Stay Happy” and “Halfway Home” let you know where they’re coming from, but they create warmth while keeping the sonic tension and sharp angles. Leslie Feist returns to the fold, most notably on the nostalgic title track, which lives up to its title with thick layers of vocals across a bed of thudding bass and drums, as she sings about “survival by the soundtrack made of our short lives”. Like Canadian compatriots Arcade Fire and Japandroids, the group achieve celebration without pomposity. By the time they close with “Gonna Get Better” you’ll be singing along to this mantra for our times: “Things’ll get better ’cause they can’t get worse”.
Trio tinker with their sound on long-awaited second album.
“I just said goodbye to love again,” Danielle Haim exclaims on tender album closer “Night So Long”, a sparse cut that sounds the least like anything the sisters Haim have done before. It arrives as welcome relief from both the emotional turmoil that Danielle lays bare across the record, and the band’s thunderous energy.
But it’s not all uncharted territory. Written mostly at their parents’ L.A. house in the Valley, Something To Tell You retains much of what made Haim’s 2013 debut so beguiling. West Coast soft rock and Eighties pop remain touchstones for the trio, although here they lean harder into the R&B and funk influences that bubbled just under the surface of Days Are Gone. And it’s these moments that burn brightest, thanks in part to producer Ariel Rechtshaid, who peppers the record with playful fragments of digital fairy dust.
Haim are at their most propulsive when Este’s rubbery bass and Alana’s shiny guitar give way to the sisters’ harmonies, which slice in and out from one another at all angles; their breathy Michael Jackson-like staccato still a prominent feature. Mirroring these twists, Danielle swings wildly between rejection and longing – blissfully repentant on “Want You Back” and stridently independent on “Found It In Silence”. At every new turn, Este and Alana are right there beside her.
Stirring cowpunk from soulful Alabamans.
No fewer than six song titles on this third album feature exclamation marks, giving an idea of exactly how much exuberance we are dealing with here. Yet underneath this high-octane, punk-infused racket there lurks something more subtle, with lyrics exploring the confusion of existence in a polarised America, while musically there is often a compelling melding of country chord progressions with the brash guitars of the MC5, such as on “Sweet Disorder!”. The more restrained acoustic numbers don’t hit the spot in the same way, and a double album seems like overkill, but it’s hard to quibble with such spirited, vivacious rock & roll.
Kanye West’s signee comes good on compelling pop debut.
There’s a lot of hype around Kacy Hill, the former American Apparel model and backup dancer for Kanye West who got her single under Yeezy’s nose while on tour and was signed to his GOOD Music label on the spot. She’s definitely the odd one out in his stable, but the time and care taken with Hill is audible on her LP, a sublime, brooding pop record in which Hill’s almost operatic vocals are a captivating presence across the spacious, elegant, piano-led title track, spiralling around gossamer synth washes on “Cruel”, and powering through what sounds like a lost Eighties teen anthem, the Stuart Price-produced “Hard To Love”.
Corey Taylor’s ‘other’ band leans in to commercial hard rock.
On their sixth album, Stone Sour progress deeper into heavy alterna-rock, hewing ever further away from the meth-shaved brutality of frontman Corey Taylor’s ‘other’ band, Slipknot. Taylor’s voice remains one of the most versatile in the genre – handling melodicism with a silky deftness that’s almost Halford-esque – and Hydrograd delivers poppy power-metal (“Fabuless”, “The Witness Trees”), country (“St Marie”) and swaggering bluesy hard rock (“Mercy”, “Friday Knights”) with conviction. It’s overlong and inconsistent (Chad Kroeger would turn his nose up at the radio rock of “Song #3”), but its energy and gleeful homage-paying to the riffage gods is undeniable.
Kiwi has strong handle on moody, melancholy pop.
Dunedin native Kane Strang laces his second LP with lurching, lugubrious indie rock, delivering dazed vocals that often double up and overlap. It’s reliably brooding, with whiffs of Modest Mouse (“Two Hearts and No Brain”) and Interpol (“Not Quite”). But the long shadow of the Nineties can start to feel limiting, and Strang is most appealing when splashing lyrical acid across the façade of sing-song catchiness. The quietly scathing “Oh So You’re Off I See” nails that brief. Doprah’s Stephen Marr lends a downcast consistency to it all, but it’d be nice to hear Strang double down on the subversive potential of those brighter moments.
The Only Ones’ lost antihero gets first solo album off his chest
Drug runner first, punk poet second, Peter Perrett squandered his big chance with the Only Ones (“Another Girl, Another Planet”) in late Seventies London. Incredibly, at 65 his smoke-ravaged adolescent croak remains unmistakable on his first solo album. His acerbic wit is laugh-out-loud brilliant in the Lou Reed drawl of the title track. With his flinty confessions mixed to wry raconteur effect and his axe-slinging sons picking up his old band’s tight-but-loose cool, songs about love and temptation ring heroically true, from the unapologetic ménage of “Troika” to the stoic abdication of “Take Me Home”.
Political fear inspires Vampire Weekend bassist’s second LP.
Man of the World may be fuelled by the fear and anxiety Chris Baio felt in his adopted UK home during Brexit and as the Trump presidency transpired in his native USA, but you wouldn’t know it. It’s immaculately produced, upbeat, Eighties-inspired pop, resplendent with crisp horns, spritely synths and thick drum machine beats. Baio carries some of Vampire Weekend’s preppy arch louchness, even when his lyrics wrestle with meaty matters. It somehow manages to make the weighty quite weightless, but political doom has certainly never sounded so much fun.
Perth trio refine intoxicating signature sound on debut LP.
Crooked Colours have a sound both calculated and seductive, all wispy rhythms, distant beats and sexy R&B that coolly glides beneath the radar. Vera sees them hone and refine that sound to a tee (and it ultimately nestles somewhere in the middle of Glass Animals and Cut Copy). Intoxicating opener “Flow” is the album’s best track; the remaining songs almost feel like variations on the theme – that is, husky vocals, weightless percussion and stuttering rhythms. Elsewhere lies interesting experimentation, from the lysergic, woozy instrumental title-track, to the hip-hop-tinted “I Hope You Get It” and the solemn, intimate piano closer “Perfect Run”.
Outkast’s other guy limps through third solo effort.
Playing the stable yin to Andre 3000’s unrestrained yang for over two decades has taught Big Boi well, with Outkast’s lesser-half employing a – mostly long-toothed – list of guests to fill the void around his one-size-fits-all Southern rapidfire flow on album three. Contributions range from a soppy Adam Levine hook to a posthumous Pimp C verse, but the politico-swagger of one-time protege Killer Mike shines brightest, his fiery trifecta of verses showing up the LP’s other missteps – most notably, the forced fit of g-funk vets and awkward shifts to EDM (“Chocolate”) and conscious rap (“Overthunk”).
Promising start for a drummer turned lo-fi balladeer.
Returned from a six-year stint drumming in bands around London, Lake Macquarie native Alex Knight has debuted his solo project. Intimacy is key for Brightness, from Knight’s light, wispy singing to his knack for using humble home-recording tactics to evoke wider, more majestic reaches. “Oblivion” opens Teething with George Harrison-style slide guitar, but it soon lurches into the fuzzy, sloshing hooks that later signal Nineties touchstones like the Flaming Lips (“Queen Bee”) and early Smashing Pumpkins (“Silver Birch”). It’s a fairly short album, but Knight shows a tender touch throughout, especially when addressing personal desperation on standout “Surrender”.
Quicksand/Rival Schools frontman goes back in time.
Dead Heavens frontman Walter Schreifels is quite the musical chameleon, having steered a career through classic New York hardcore (Gorilla Biscuits), agit-post-rock (Quicksand), alt-rock (Rival Schools) and acoustic based solo work, to name just a few of his projects. Here he teams up with former members of Into Another, White Zombie and Cults to make a sound rooted in the Seventies, be it Black Sabbath dirge (“Basic Cable”), garage rock (“Away From the Speed”) or prog-esque psych trip-outs (“Gold Tooth”). It’s good, occasionally great, but frustrates when it meanders rather than maintains focus.
Brisbane mainstay delivers towering solo debut.
After a stint in L.A.’s the Silver Chords and setbacks including a serious spinal injury, Lawrie’s solo debut arrives wreathed in expectation. From the gutbucket riffage of pulsating opener “No Rules” onward, Lawrie sets about conducting an operatic spectacle (“High Time to Fly”) – the album’s darkly brooding, guitar-driven grandeur recalling the sonic tableaux of Yawning Man (“Little Red House”), while Lawrie imports ample bruising, Abbe May-like heaviness. Baring her teeth to the void, Lawrie dials back the shrillness of, say, Karen O or Alison Mosshart, while more than matching them for raw menace and pure, animal soul.
Twice the nuclear chill on expanded prog-rock masterpiece.
To their right, the cocksure nu-retro geezers of the Verve and Oasis. To their left, the teeth-gnashing electro-rock juggernauts of the Chemical Brothers and the Prodigy. But it was Radiohead’s third album, symphonic in execution and devastating in its techno-paranoid context, that nailed the future of rock & roll in 1997.
Twenty years on, the prescience of its outlook on humanity splintering under the jackboot of progress is a given. But the stunning scope of the panorama is well worth another spin in the headphones, from the exhilaration of “Paranoid Android” to the uncoiling scream of “Exit Music (For A Film)”, to the breathtaking elegance of “The Tourist”, with its plaintive entreaty to “Hey man, slow down/Idiot, slow down.”
The 11 bonus tracks from surrounding sessions reveal a band in a maelstrom of inspiration. “I Promise” is a bridge from the simpler emotions of 1993 debut Pablo Honey, but the other two unreleased tracks, “Man Of War” and “Lift”, are so rich and dramatically satisfying that any other album would have called them keepers.
The reissued B-sides span the epic landslide of “Polyethylene (Part 2)” and the raw piano-vocal take of “How I Made My Millions”. The ambient collage of “A Reminder” is among several explorations foreshadowing the abstract developments of Kid A and beyond. As a companion to the main event, it’s a lot more OK than not.