Archive for the ‘Grimey sounds’ Category

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We’re here for the souls

January 14, 2009

maeshi

I’m going to play catch up this month, covering off some of the songs and albums that I didn’t find time to cover in 2008 – or I discovered too late.

First cab off the rank is Los Angeles noisepunk group The Mae Shi. I only came across their 2008 release HLLLYH a few days prior to Christmas, but it’s an album that grabs you immediately.  “Grab” being the operative word, because The Mae Shi’s modus operandi is to bash down your door, drag you out of bed kicking and screaming down to your living room where they proceed to play a blistering hour-long set in which they trash your place and leave you to clean up the mess.

It’s that crazy.

There are van-loads of crazy synthesizers, cymbal-tormenting drum beats and ear-splitting guitars.  The vocals are almost universally shouted and concern an even more bloody version of the Apocalypse than the Left Behind books could have imagined.  It’s sort of Rapture of the Living Dead.  The funny thing?  It’s catchy.  It’s crammed to bursting with melodies, harmonies and singalongs.  Ever wanted to crank up a song in the car and shout about coming judgement?  Here’s your chance.

The Mae Shi – “The Melody”

The Mae Shi – “Young Marks”

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Just to leave her

October 3, 2008

Somehow in all their years of existence, I’d never heard a Mendoza Line song – and I’d laboured under the impression that they were emo.  I wonder why?  They’re kind of country rock, if anything.

Now they’ve broken up, mainly due to the marital split of frontpeople Tim Bracy and Shannon McArdle.  From what I’ve read, Tim was the one who walked out – so Shannon recorded an album all about what a shitty year she’s had.

It’s a harrowing listen, as break-up albums that aren’t Fleetwood Mac generally are, but it’s intriguing and gritty and sometimes incredibly beautiful.

The first track, “Poison My Cup”, is probably the most immediate – it sounds like a torch song done by late-period Cowboy Junkies.  It’s a sarcastic kiss-off and it’s an ideal track for angry late nights with a bottle of something strong.

“He Was Gone” is going to get a lot of attention as well, but more for it’s difficult subject matter.  McArdle lets it all hang out at various points on the album, but her frank grieving over the child she never got to have with Bracy makes you feel like you’ve walked in on someone else’s marriage counselling session.  It’s acutely uncomfortable, especially when she sings “You don’t ask her to wait just to leave her”.  Ouch.

It’s not the slickest album of the hear, but it’s easily the most insightful.

Shannon McArdle – “Poison My Cup”

Shannon McArdle – “He Was Gone”

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Soundtrack of our lives

August 9, 2008

Supporting Sigur Rós the other week was Sydney band Pivot.  As the first ever Australian signing to legendary electronica label Warp, they’re about to get a whole lot bigger, which excites me no end.

I first heard them late at night on JJJ’s Australian music show “Home and Hosed” three years ago and they delighted me.  The cut up samples, the jazzy/disjointed guitars and the heavy beats were exciting.  The first album Make Me Love You was made of stuff like that.

In some ways, they should be easily dismissable as “The Australian Tortoise” or something equally reductive.  They’re not at all, even if they use a lot of similar sonic elements to a certain Chicago instrumental band.  Pivot are brilliant at creating textures and melodies and rhythms that stay in your head long after the CD has stopped spinning.

The band line-up is a little different and they’re apparently trying to make something more challenging with the new album O Soundtrack My Heart.  Live, they were definitely challenging, sending out pulses of bass and noise that shook the wooden floor and made your insides quiver.  They still retained the funky grooves and equally bizarre and entrancing electronic sounds from the Pivot of old, though, and that was great to hear.

To my ears, they don’t sound that different.  But I hope that a lot more people come to love them this time around.

Pivot – “Sweet Memory”

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It’s 1997 all over again

June 13, 2008

Over at a friend’s place the other week, we were listening repeatedly to a couple of the best albums of the last twelve months – by Portishead and Radiohead.

Now that’s a sentence that could easily have been used 11 years ago. Radiohead were riding high off their landmark OK Computer and Portishead had followed up their absurdly popular debut with a darker but equally brilliant disc, Portishead.

In 2008, we’ve got Radiohead’s In Rainbows, which I’ve talked about elsewhere, and Portishead’s long awaited Third. In the intervening years, Radiohead have put out three full lengths and a couple of other discs, while Portishead have been missing in action.

When you do something like disappear for a decade, you can either “reunite” and embark on a greatest hits type tour, or you can pretend you never really went away and take up where you left off. Portishead have taken the second approach – and pretty literally, because Third doesn’t really sound like it would have been out of place ten years ago. In fact, its none-more-dark reworking of the classic Portishead sound isn’t so different to what Massive Attack did with their sound on 1998’s Mezzanine.

It’s still made remarkable by Beth Gibbons’ heart-wrenching vocals and by some brilliant arrangements. Whatever year it is, it’s an album to get involved in.

Portishead – “The Rip”

Portishead – “Machine Gun”

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Side Project Alley

June 1, 2008

A “side project” typically arises for one of three reasons:

  1. The instigator is a minor member of a band and is frustrated at their lack of creative input or attention.
  2. They have songs or a genre to explore that don’t fit within the current band’s sound.
  3. They have friends in other bands or from the bar they used to drink at illegally in high school and one night they think “Yeah, we should totally get a band together.”

Retribution Gospel Choir started off as a mix of #2 and #3. Main-man Alan Sparhawk’s day job is with Low, previously the softest, slowest band you could think of. He’s been the principal songwriter in Low over its fifteen-year existence, but Retribution Gospel Choir allowed him to bust out some grungy guitar riffs with fellow sad-sack Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, Sun Kil Moon).

Reason #3 had disappeared by the time the debut album came out this year, as Kozelek has pulled back him contribution to production duties. Reason #2 has also become more spurious with the release of Low’s second last album The Great Destroyer, which was heavy on distorted guitars and upbeat rhythms. Which kind of makes you wonder why Sparhawk needs the other band.

Anyway, the album is quite good, even if it doesn’t explore new territory. Strangely enough, there are a couple of songs borrowed from last year’s Low album, Drums and Guns. This would be completely redundant if Low hadn’t pulled back on the rock and explored more electronic sounds with that album. So they make a nice contrast after all.

Perhaps RGC will take a different turn next album to stay off the Low-beaten path.

Low – “Breaker”

Retribution Gospel Choir – “Breaker”

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Speedmarching

May 31, 2008

If you’ve followed the career of John “Speedo” Reis over any of the last fifteen years, you’ve probably worked out what to expect from him: classic 60s rock ‘n’ roll fed through the rough blender of West Coast hardcore for the most part.

Even as his bands have operated in different sub-genres (mathcore for Drive Like Jehu, pop-punk with Rocket From the Crypt and balls-out-rock in Hot Snakes) – Speedo’s developed a pretty consistent sound.

Now that RFTC and Hot Snakes are both defunct, it could be time for reinvention. But Speedo knows when he’s onto a good thing and new band The Night Marchers is pretty much Hot Snakes Mk. II. Case in point is a pedal-down barnstormer like “Branded”.

No complaints here – to do so would be like criticising The White Stripes for not using enough cello. That said, it’s not all death-by-riffage: “You’ve Got Nerve” is a crunchy, laid-back pop song if ever there was one.

In short, if you liked the old bands, you’ll probably like this one. If you never heard any of Speedo’s previous records, then listen to Suicide Invoice and Scream, Dracula, Scream! But listen to this one too.

The Night Marchers – “Branded”

The Night Marchers – “You’ve Got Nerve”

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Your Convict Past

May 20, 2008

The bartender at the Comet Tavern in Seattle loved Australian music. He liked it so much he happily talked about it with my friend and I at length and didn’t charge us for drinks (although that might have been more to do with liking my friend). The Birthday Party, The Saints, The Scientists, The Beasts of Bourbon: these were like crack for him.

It made me think about a particular strand of Australian rock music that blew up in the late 70s and early 80s, but has been hibernating ever since (I think that’s three different metaphors in one sentence – nice). The kind of primal rock music that reminds you that we’re a nation founded by convicts and are home to some of the most lethal fauna anywhere. Unlike, say, the Lucksmiths, who remind you that a lot of us are latte-sipping urbanites in cardigans.

The reason I’m thinking about this has been finally getting into The Drones and their howling, bluesy Australian rawk. I can’t think of the last time I listened to something so brutal. The guitars on “Jezebel” seem to be made from cut-throat razors and the lyrics are biting and wicked (“I’ll hurt you like an amputee”, “I had a Caesarean but it was not any use”). And I love it.

The Drones – “Jezebel”