Broken Brights – Angus Stone

In the early stages of Angus Stone’s latest album, ‘Broken Brights’, Stone speaks of a man stuck in a dream. It’s a persistent image that has stayed with me, even when listening to the album for an umpteenth time.

‘Broken Brights’ is Angus Stone’s second solo outing but this time he has dropped the ‘Lady of the Sunshine’ moniker. It is a show of faith and confidence from the 26-year old, a man ready to define a path for himself that runs alongside the already paved (and extremely successful) route of the band he shares with his sister.

The album opens with a light pattering of guitar on ‘River Love’, but is defined by Stone’s singing – a raspy but beautifully melodic drawl. The song builds to a soaring instrumental but it’s the subtlety of Stone’s voice that steals this track.

Following is the title track, ‘Broken Brights’, the highlight of the album and an impressive display of song writing. It begins with a melancholic guitar riff but is set apart by what sounds like a suspended note of feedback – a single sound that hauntingly echoes behind the acoustic guitar until Stone begins to sing.

Stone then hits us with the defining refrain of this track: “Is that the old man, walking, in the dark?” His storytelling is subjective and could refer to anyone – to his father, to a crone, to an unknown old man. With lyrics like that of Stone’s, repeated and lucid, they stand out above the music. Beyond that, Stone never changes the way that he sings this particular refrain despite repeating it umpteen times. He never sings with an alternate intonation, it stays the same every time and remarkably never gets boring. It is simplistic and haunting, minimal and impressionable. It stays with you well after the four-minute song ends.

Following that is the second single, ‘Bird on the Buffalo’, with a similar folk accessibility. Similar to the first single, the lyrics here are sung with a clarity that brings them to the forefront of the song but the persistent imagery, almost fairy tale-like (and not the only time in the album), makes them equally mysterious. The images Stone paints with his lyrics always tend to carry a sense of metaphor: “The watchtower man turned and whispered me somethings.” But could this have been been a real occurrence? Indeed, you may find yourself wondering ‘Is this a true story?’ right throughout Stone’s album.

‘Apprentice of the Rocket Man’ is unique for the brief harmonies and layered tremolo guitar that are wonderfully suited for music like that of Stone’s. It rolls into ‘Only a Woman’ that carries Stone’s air of hopelessness: “I reached for words that just weren’t there.” His frustration and coyness becomes an enveloping distorted guitar solo, beautifully replacing words when they no longer do justice to emotion.

In an album covered in acoustic guitar intros, the staccato bass lead-in on ‘It Was Blue’ is refreshing and reflects Stone’s angry refusal: “I don’t need you now and I don’t need you anymore.”  The foreboding has disappeared on this track and is replaced by anger; a damning statement now supersedes the melancholy and metaphor.

‘Broken Brights’ is an excellent record and the more I listen, the more I hear elements – a guitar lick, a vocal rasp – that I didn’t quite hear before. The songs are a mix of gems that instantly hit you or grow on you after a few listens, but it doesn’t take too long to realise how great they are. Stone is a songwriter who tells a story and certainly knows how to construct a melody. His lyrics are every bit metaphor, fairy-tale and self-reflection that makes his album incredibly intriguing but also forever mysterious.

Stone’s album is the dream he speaks of – time to get lost in it.

Tracklist:

1. River Love
2. Broken Brights
3. Bird On the Buffalo
4. Wooden Chair
5. The Blue Door
6. Apprentice of the Rocket Man
7. Only a Woman
8. The Wolf and the Butler
9. Monsters
10. It Was Blue
11. Be What You Be
12. Clouds Above
13. End of the World

This Modern Glitch – The Wombats

Like all bands releasing a second album after the immediate success of their debut, The Wombats found themselves, somewhat unduly, carrying the weight of expectation on their nimble and young Liverpudlian backs. Does the new album live up to the hype that the earlier-released singles hinted at? Are these three young upstarts still caught amidst the ‘love, loss and desperation’ of their first disc?

‘The Wombats proudly present…This Modern Glitch’ starts with a looped synthesizer and the sparse echo of lead vocalist, Matt Murphy in ‘Our Perfect Disease’, a track that describes a relationship as, you guessed it, a disease. It is a diverse enough opener, with quiet synth that is soon joined by a driving bass drum. The chords are catchy as Murphy admits, “we all need someone to drive us mad”, but this opener, like other parts of the album, seems to lack the explosiveness and energy of their debut.

Next are two of the singles ‘Tokyo’ and ‘Jump into the Fog’, which both have nice hooks and more synth introductions. The former has more appeal, with Dan Haggis’ drumming giving listeners something to dance about. Murphy also re-surfaces his knack for simple, clear and addictive lyrics which breed a charming honesty. He again gibes at a past love: “If you love me, let me go, back to that bar in Tokyo, where the demons from my past leave me in peace.”

‘Anti-D’ tries to follow the formula of a single but the novelty is a bit worn on this one. It begins with a bizarre strings intro and adds the too-silly lyrics that can also be Murphy’s trap. His statement, “Please allow me to be your anti depressant, I too am prescribed as freely, as any decongestant” sees this track miss the mark.

‘Techno Fan’ is a more appealing follow-up, with trademark backup singing in the chorus that allows this track to recapture some of the energy from the previous record.

But it is ‘1996’ that jumps out as one of the most complete songs on the album. Despite another synthesiser introduction, one can’t ignore how addictive this song is from start to finish. The lyrical repeats in the verse set up a brooding chorus that reflects on a past decade when things were easier for the now post-teenage Wombats: “Because now it feels like, we kiss with one eye on our TV set, the more I give, the less I get, bring back 1996.” Again, the type of simplicity used in Murphy’s delivery is nothing if not sincere, a man who knows no other way but to tell it straight.

The album rounds off with a few fillers that are listenable enough but the overwhelming synth just gets too much. Closing track ‘Schumacher the Champagne’ has a unique chorus that works well as a semi-lilting power ballad of sorts. The end of this track is enforced by the long awaited arrival of some heavy guitar, be it only layering chords, which for once stand out above the clamour of the synthesizer.

‘This Modern Glitch’ is a very listenable second album from The Wombats but it does miss the mark on several occasions. Whilst a few gems pop up on the disc, the others, despite being catchy at times, lack the energy and declaration that the previous release brought to the table.

Tracklist:

  1. Our Perfect Disease
  2. Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)
  3. Jump Into The Fog
  4. Anti-D
  5. Last Night I Dreamt…
  6. Techno Fan
  7. 1996
  8. Walking Disasters
  9. Girls/Fast Cars
  10. Schumacher The Champagne

I Want That You Are Always Happy – The Middle East

The scope of The Middle East’s debut album goes beyond what was hinted at in their EP, ‘The Recordings of The Middle East’, released two years ago. ‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’, is an extensive album that goes even further in the band’s showcasing of their folk stylings and multi-instrumentation.

‘Black Death 1349’ kicks off the album as a lilting, fingerpicked guitar ballad which comes to life with the soft vibrato from co-vocalist Jordan Ireland, whose vocals beautifully envelop the entire track.

Following closely is ‘My Grandma was Pearl Hall’ which hints more at the haunting and slightly more obscure side of the band which has evolved since their EP. In stark contrast to the opener, the lyrics are sung low and almost breathless, as if the subject is sick and is speaking to us with their last words.

 ‘As I go to see Janey’ lifts the album into more acoustic guitar, punctuated this time by a wonderful harmony that the band have perfected so well, whilst ‘Jesus Came to My Birthday Party’ begins with a quick electric guitar lick that morphs into one of the more lively tracks on the album. It is here that other vocalist, Bree Tranter, showcases her own singing talents and playfully admits of a revelation she had in a world where she accepted the mystical and mysterious: “And I haven’t seen him in a while, now I’m down in the city, and I think I’ve seen him in the eyes, of the strangers that pass”.

It is ‘Land of the Bloody Unknown’ that truly captures The Middle East’s vast and intricate imagery embraced in their lyrics, seeing this album push their sound into an even more colourful ambience than their EP. Ireland cleverly combines somewhat vast concepts with the intimacy of his own life: “There’s a minstrel singing of the holy dove, on them mountain of old St Jerome, there is glass on the floor of the hallway I walk, when the stars bear down from their throne”.

Whilst these lyrics may sound ambitious at times, the homely and beautiful sounds of the band’s musicianship and harmonies make other gems ‘Months’ and ‘Silverleaf’ evolve an overall feel for the album that is undeniably endearing.

With 13 tracks and at a length of 62 minutes, the album is long and detailed but certainly worth the listen. Despite some songs going for a little bit too long, most of them feel appropriate for the album and fit perfectly into it’s doleful, yet hopeful aesthetic. If you have a spare hour and a set of good headphones nearby, do yourself a favour and stick on this record.

‘I Want That You Are Always Happy’ is a vast album that progresses further the harmonies and ballads that were pioneered in the band’s EP. This album allows The Middle East to show listeners that they are not a mere pop/folk band with nice voices but a group that carries grand ideas of imagery and instrumentation and are prepared to take their time to reveal them all.

Tracklist:

  1. Black Death 1349
  2. My Grandma Was Pearl Hall
  3. As I Go to See Janey
  4. Jesus Came to My Birthday Party
  5. Land of the Bloody Unknown
  6. Very Many
  7. Sydney to Newcastle
  8. Mount Morgan
  9. Months
  10. Dan’s Silverleaf
  11. Hunger Song
  12. Ninth Avenue Reverie
  13. Deep Water
  14. Mount Morgan End
  15. My Baby (Bonus Track)

 

 

Brutal Tapes (EP) – DZ Deathrays

DZ Deathrays are a Brisbane thrash/punk two-piece who have started to gather quite the underground following. ‘Brutal Tapes’ is the band’s EP release, following a tonne of gigs including both the Big Day Out and Parklife festivals and successful outings in the US market.

‘Brutal Tapes’ kicks off with ‘Rad Solar’, a frenetic opener that starts the album with brute force. Vocalist and guitarist Shane Parsons sets the tone for the rest of the EP with this track, so full of energy you can’t help but get up and start waving your fists. This song is incredibly explosive but it’s also unique in it’s dynamics, starting as a throwback to the punk of old but containing sparse moments which leave room for builds in tempo and energy.

Following this is ‘Gebbie Street’, arguably the most impressive and addictive track on the EP. After the frenzied start of the album, this second song begins much slower, giving room for Parsons cheeky admittance; “You know our bodies make the right conversation.”  Here The DZ Deathrays showcase their ability to pace and shape their songs with soft moments amongst the punk reverie. The build at the end of ‘Gebbie Street’ is chock full of attitude and a sexy hook.

‘Cops Capacity’ is one of the ‘house party’ tracks recorded for the EP. Yep, it is what they say, a song that they’ve recorded from a gig they did at someone’s house. While there may be some doubt if the recording would be any good, the track actually sounds surprising clear. It begins with background chatter where you can audibly hear the voices of the partygoers and stands as a homage to the band’s humble beginnings – starting out because they wanted to perform at house parties. The track again highlights the band’s bag of party tricks, with Parsons using f wah/phaser guitar affect that sounds out of this world. Literally.

‘The Party’ is the second live-recorded track that follows in a similar vein. Once again Parsons guitar sound is brought to the fore but it seems to be at the expense of Simon Ridley’s drums. The drumming is muffled and forced to take a back seat in this one.

The last two tracks are remixes of the first two songs on the EP. It is an interesting choice to include these on the EP, but both tracks sound very different to the originals and provide a different interpretation.

‘Brutal Tapes’ is a nice release from the DZ Deathrays, with a diverse compilation of songs and unique sounds. In 7 tracks, there are potential singles, live party tracks and remixes. The band’s style has a distinct punk edge, heard in the wall of noise and wail of the vocals in all these tracks, but the use of ever-evolving guitar effects allows this band to begin forging their own distinct and layered sound, breaking away from any stereo-types. Who knew two guys could make so much noise?

Tracklist:

1. Rad Solar
2. Gebbie Street
3. Cops Capacity (House Party Version)
4. Ddiitto
5. The Party (House Party Version)
6. Gebbie Street (Yacht Club Djs Jager C S Remix)
7. Rad Solar (Surecut Kids Remix)

 

Be Strong – The 2 Bears

‘Be Strong’ is the debut album from The 2 Bears, an electronic/dance duo comprising of Joe Goddard (of Hot Chip fame) and Raf Rundell.

The ambient opener ‘The Birds & The Bees’ is a laid-back tune that begins with light guitar and never gets too energetic. Apart from the drum track, the defining elements of this song are the entertaining xylophone and horns hooks which blend into each other and form the focal point for a song that goes without vocals.

Title track ‘Be Strong’ is certainly suited for a rave and is our first introduction to the band’s vocals. It begins immediately with the ambiguous refrain: “Give the music all your loving”, and is followed by a driving drum track that sees this song become immediately danceable, especially through it’s hand-clap chorus.

‘Bear Hug’ is an infectious tune made noticeable by baritone-mixed vocals admonishing for us all to “Have a bear hug”. The 2 Bears experiment with all sorts of instrument backing on the album that always leads to a drum track and often a pop-infused chorus vocal, as in the piano based ‘Work’.

‘Be Strong’ will not necessarily be an instant hit with listeners and requires time to listen and appreciate its intricate beats and the British, half-spoken vocal charm. ‘Increase Your Faith’ promises to build somewhere but never really does and ‘Heart of the Congos’ takes patience as it takes time to develop.

The track ‘Get Together’ is extremely appealing and danceable without ever getting out of first gear, utilizing just the right combination of soothing lyrics and a pop hook.

‘Church’ uses several vocalists layered over each other and becomes one of the fullest sounding tracks on the album. An uplifting call of: “Hey now, hey now, let’s get up together” and a reprise of exotic xylophone playing make for a fun end to the album and a testament to what The 2 Bears are about.

‘Be Strong’ is an appealing debut with several addictive dance hooks and pop refrains but it will take some time to grow on listeners. Some will take one listen and find the album underwhelming but if others can be convinced to give it a second go, that is when the unassuming beats and once-off bridges can reveal their charm and also when The 2 Bears reveal their talent.

 Tracklist:

  1. The Birds & The Bees
  2. Be Strong
  3. Bear Hug
  4. Work
  5. Warm & Easy
  6. Take a look Around
  7. Ghosts & Zombies
  8. Time in Mind
  9. Increase Your Faith
  10.  Heart of the Congos
  11. Get Together
  12. Church
  13. Shakedown

Born to Die – Lana Del Rey

Is all the hype over American singer/songwriter Lana Del Rey justified? Some rate her, others hate her but if nothing else, her sophomore album ‘Born to Die’ has triggered waves that are crashing in all directions.

Once one scrubs aside the mix of scepticism and admiration surrounding this record, what reveals itself beneath is a damn good album with an intriguing mix of unique production and dark-edged lyrics, all brought together with Del Rey’s minimalist yet ever-haunting voice.

The track ‘Off To The Races’ begins sparingly, with Del Rey’s sinister appraisal of her father: “My old man is a bad man but I can’t deny the way he holds my hand”. This wariness of her father in this song is craftily underlined by the insistence that he still loves her “with every beat of his cocaine heart”. Even from the beginning of the album Del Rey makes us aware of her own weaknesses, the darkness in her life that she turns a blind eye to.  The song showcases Del Rey’s deftness in changing from her low voice to falsetto and is matched by an uplifting drum track in the chorus that would easily fit in an R & B tune.

If there is another testament to this self-styled gangster element of Del Rey’s music, it must certainly be ‘Diet Mountain Dew’.  The backbeat is contagious and runs alongside Del Rey’s lilting admission: “You’re no good for me but baby I want you.” Del Rey is not this era’s Lauryn Hill, far from it, but ‘Diet Mountain Dew’ has a definite hip-hop/pop sensibility in its production and a feminine awareness in its lyrics.

The single, ‘Video Games’, is Del Rey’s attempt at a standard ballad with all the predictable production of introductory church bells and melancholic strings throughout. Thus, if it weren’t for her lyrics in this song it would be resigned to the not-quite-Adele column but her persistent imagery asks the listener to think. She weaves a narrative of man and woman in a something-like-love situation but also nothing like it. There is something sinister and even voyeuristic in the union she speaks of that makes it cruelly appealing: “Watching all our friends fall in and out of Old Paul’s, this is my idea of fun.”

The second half of the album continues with Del Rey’s air of sinisterness but her experimentation with backbeats and samples allows the songs to remain unique and never quite slip into an un-remarkable ballad territory. Her confidence is refreshing and comes from her fearlessness to admit to her sadness, as in the appropriately titled ‘Summertime Sadness’ or the ‘have I made it?’ moment in the track ‘Radio’.

‘Million Dollar Man’ has an air of slow jazz to it and Del Rey’s voice doesn’t get any smoother than it does on this track. It sounds like she is crooning to us, like you should fall in love with her right there on the spot but when you actually listen, Del Rey is hurting and we didn’t even notice: “So why is my heart broke?”

‘Born to Die’ is a very good album and while Del Rey’s voice is more than appealing, the record’s real charm comes from its unique lyrics and production. The strong yet somewhat ambiguous imagery interlaced over defining beats is extremely refreshing. Throughout the duration of ‘Born to Die’, we are never allowed to ignore Del Rey’s self-doubt and importantly, her self-awareness.

 Tracklist:

  1. Born to Die
  2. Off to the Races
  3. Blue Jeans
  4. Video Games
  5. Diet Mountain Dew
  6. National Anthem
  7. Dark Paradise
  8. Radio
  9. Carmen
  10. 10.  Million Dollar Man
  11. 11.  Summertime Sadness
  12. 12.  This Is What Makes Us Girls