Friday, March 27, 2015

Death and the Maiden - Death and the Maiden

When we featured the Temporary compilation from New Zealand's Fishrider records (link) last August one of the four songs I chose to highlight was "Flowers For The Blind" from Death & The Maiden.  With haunting vocals dancing over a slinky groove, it was a song that promised much from this Dunedin trio.  Seven months later, the band has delivered on that promise with their self-titled album.  Over its seven tracks, the band creates a soundscape of synths, reverbed and delayed guitars, mechanical drums and crisp bass, crafted with plenty of space around the notes and then chilled to icy perfection.  My favorite tracks are "Flowers For The Blind" (really, one of my favorite tracks of the year), "Civilization", and "Dear ____".

But the true effect of the music isn't derived from individual songs, but rather from the adept combination of languid melodies, melancholy but detached vocals and sharp beats spread in various combinations over the approximately 38 minutes of the album.  It is hard to explain, but Death And The Maiden fills that inner need for a little darkness.  It is satisfying and addicting.  The "replay" button will be your friend.

Death and the Maiden are Danny Brady (synths/programming), Hope Robertson (guitar/drums/vocals), and Lucinda King (vocals/bass).  The album is out now on vinyl, CD and digital via Fishrider Records, and you can grab your favorite format via the Bandcamp link below.  Eventually it is to be available via Occultation in the UK and Midheaven in the US.

Fishrider Records

Thursday, March 26, 2015

The Colourful Band - Sometimes It Rains

Indeed, as it says in the title, sometimes it rains.  Rain can be messy and inconvenient, and tends to be associated with foul moods.  But in a collection of songs about life and love from Scotsman Ian McKelvie, the title seems fitting.  For his last album, the singer-songwriter used a full band for recording, but for this one, while still using the name The Colourful Band, he relied on his solo performance and the quality of his songwriting.   Perhaps it was a risk, but I think it paid off; this is one of the most warm and visceral albums you will hear this year.  Recorded live in a single night, with only Ian singing and playing guitar without overdubs and post-recording wizardry, you feel like you are sitting right next to the man.

The album begins with the reflective, down-tempo "The Road", in which Ian muses about the life's seemingly endless road.  But proceedings liven up considerably for the standout second song, "Hallelujah".  Combining incisive  commentary with a vigorous vocal performance and an acoustic guitar that fills the room.  Thinking about the lyrics, I am suspicious that Ian won't really be giving up women or drink, but we need to give artists space to create alternate realities to entertain, and who can quibble with a song that good?  The next song is the mid-tempo anti-war tune "Arms Against the World (Don't Take Up)", followed by the reflective "I Just Don't Know What's The Matter With Me".  "The Same Old Familiar Story" is an examination of the state of a relationship, and the pattern represented by its path.

Although my personal preference runs to the mid and high tempo songs, one of my favorites is the slower tempo "Rain".  Featuring a passionate vocal performance, it anchors the album thematically, and begins a three-song run of killer tunes.  The other two are standout "The Lights of San Francisco" and "Love Is Hard To Find", which starts soft and builds beautifully.  Both are so good that I had to include them below with the stream of "Hallelujah".

So, I recommend that you endure love, loss, and uncertainty vicariously through Ian.  This is a great one for headphones and a glass of whisky.  I'll assume you know how to use both.

Sometimes It Rains is a digital-only release.  You can find it at Amazon US here or Amazon UK here.  It also is available via iTunes.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Goodly Thousands - Sunshine Hair EP

Like a quick kiss at the end of a highly anticipated first date, there is enough charm on Sunshine Hair EP from Dublin band Goodly Thousands to make it all seem special, but is short enough to leave you wanting more.  With echos of Sarah Records, C86 jangle bands and pristine Scandinavian pop,  the record presents four tracks perfect for the warming days of Spring.  The showcase track is the superb "Sunshine Hair", which features delicate and sincere vocals and jangling guitar that will strum nostalgia chords in your brain.  The following "Walking Home" ups the tempo with a breezy arrangement.  "Kiss Me Upside-Down" bears hints of Teenage Fanclub power pop.  The EP closes with the charmingly wistful "Ponytail".

Goodly Thousands is helmed by singer, guitarist and songwriter Colm Dawson, with Aaron Doyle on drums and Darren Hughes on bass.  Sunshine Hair EP is out on today via Shelflife Records.  It is available on vinyl or as a digital download.

Bandcamp for previous release
Shelflife Records page for EP

Monday, March 23, 2015

REVIEW: Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Although regular readers probably don't need reminding, I am an unabashed fan of Courtney Barnett.  I rated her The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas in my top ten for 2013 (link)  - the year before its US release), and have followed her career arc with interest since.  I'm also aware that a lot of ink - digital and real - is being spilled to cover the release of her debut LP, and associated live shows, so I could be lazy and write "great album, you should own it".  But I strive to be helpful, so while I'll spare you the detailed discussion of her background you can get elsewhere, here are what I think are the two most noteworthy aspects of Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.

The first thing to note, not because it is the most important aspect of the album, but because the sequencing of the songs serves it up first, is that this is a rock album.  You will read much justifiable praise for Courtney's storytelling, adept turn of phase and Dylanesque singing style, but Courtney also is well able to rock your socks off or inject you with a shot of blues.  The electric guitar in her hands is not a PR-generated adornment, and she has played guitar in other bands, including Melbourne's Immigrant Union.  Opening tracks "Elevator Operator" and "Pedestrian At Best" raise a righteous ruckus of crunchy and slashing guitars and pounding rhythms.  And perhaps the best example is the guitar work on "Small Poppies".  Of course, there are a number of shaggy stories told with less volume as well, such as the country inflected standout "Depreston", but suffice it to say that this record doesn't belong in the "singer-songwriter" or "folk rock" bins.

Not surprisingly, the most notable feature of the album is the songwriting.  In my view what makes Courtney's songwriting special is not just the stories she tells, and not just the unique twists -- the punchline, if you will -- but the organic way the story unfolds in her hands.  "Pedestrian At Best" is a push me-pull me ramble of up and down feelings, including what seems be be a laugh at her own recent fame with plenty of side observations.  An example of the unique twists she writes is illustrated by "Aqua Profunda!", in which the narrator tries to impress the swimmer in the next lane at the pool but holds her breath too long, passes out and discovers the object or her interest departed by the time she recovers.  "Elevator Operator" addresses a man who snaps in the middle of his morning commute and heads to a potential suicide spot on the top of a building.  Along the way we learn of his worries about going bald, and the fashion choices and vanity of the woman waiting alongside him for the elevator.  In "Dead Fox" Courtney begins by expressing skepticism about the merits of buying organic vegetables, then transitions to the sight of roadkill ("a possum Jackson Pollock is painted on the tar") and then notes that her hay fever is acting up and they may be one sneeze away from swerving into a passing truck.

I think the best example of the organic flow of a storyline is in "Depreston".  The opening theme is Courtney and her partner, frustrated in finding a home to buy, thinking about looking further out from the center of town (leading to the title of the song, a combination of the town's name -- Preston -- and the depressing feeling it evokes).  But in talking herself into the merits of the venture Courtney observes that at least looking out farther might get them away from all the coffee shops, leading to a discussion of their wonderful new coffee machine and how much money she is saving on coffee.  The house hunt leads to discussion of the life of the previous owner and a rant about the high cost of housing.  I love diversions like this because this is how we think, this is how we tell stories, and this is how we live our lives.  Our focus is rarely on just one topic for one period of time, then shifts to the next one with no random thoughts.  Courtney's ability to capture the essence of the wandering thoughts and and multiple facets of daily life give the songs depth and warmth that is all too rare.

Of course, there will be many good albums this year.  But in my view this is one of the best so far, and will stand as one of the best when the year is done.

In addition to Courtney (guitar), the band for this album was Dave Mudie (drums/percussion), Bones Sloane (bass) and Dan Luscombe of The Drones (guitar).  Everybody sang.

The album is out now.  The US label is Mom + Pop.  In Australia it is out on Courtney's own Milk Records and in Europe via Marathon Artists.  You also can order via Courtney's website and at the usual digital outlets.

Mom + Pop
Milk Records
Marathon Artists

REVIEW: Surf City - Jekyll Island

Surf City never fails to impress me with their vision for guitar pop.  Elements include chiming and jangling New Zealand rock, touches of The Jesus and Mary Chain shoegaze, and Yo La Tengo psychedelic pop.  In the hands of this Auckland foursome the sound is fresh, irrepressibly jaunty and delivered with energy and a breathlessly propulsive rhythm section.  The latest edition is Jekyll Island.  While the band always has been purveyors of rousing jams, this record  in tighter and more focused, and I think it is among their best work yet.

The eleven songs that comprise Jekyll Island are bracketed with psychedelic jams, commencing with the more intense "Beat the Summer Heat" and closing with the more relaxed "Jesus Elvis Coca Cola".  In between you'll find reverb drenched sing alongs with loads of hooks and fuzz.  My favorites include "Hollow Veins" and "Thumbs Up", which has an appealing sound like their south island countrymen, The Bats, and the Pavement-like "Leave Your Worries".  The guitarists weave their magic, and the new rhythm section is crisp and hard.  The production is clean but unfussy, letting the songs and the bands' energy carry the day.  This is highly recommended.

Surf City are Davin Stoddard, Jamie Kennedy, Mike Ellis and Andy Frost.  Davin (guitar/vocals) and Jamie are original members, with Jamie moving from bass to guitar for this album.  Jekyll Island is out this week on Fire Records worldwide, and Popfrenzy Recordings in Australia.

Fire Records
Popfrenzy Recordings