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Not content with being a successful yet obscurantist singer-songwriter with a penchant for self-depreciating everyday glamour, Courtney Barnett is also the proprietor of Milk! Records, the increasingly relevant Melbourne-based record label that she set up herself, rather than go to all the bother of letting someone else sign her up. A commendable effort indeed, even more so when one peruses her astute roster. Jen Cloher’s scuzzy blues-rock proves she’s got as many Lou Reed records in her collection as Rolling Stones ones. Fraser A. Gorman purveys wonderfully convincing old-time country – even more remarkable given the fact he’s Melburnian rather than Texan. Royston Vasie may not have the most original name (its third appearance in popular culture by my reckoning), but they’ve got a decent line in Dandy Warhols-esque garage-pop.
But back to Courtney. To celebrate the release of an upcoming Milk! Records compilation, she’s released ‘Pickles From the Jar’, one of the most unconventional – not to mention sweetly touching – loves songs one is likely to hear all year. Complete with false start, using the tried-and-tested White Stripes arrangement of clangy guitar and earnestly-thudded drums – she’s in love with a man who’s 15 years her senior, and culturally separated by 1,000 miles. But never fear! They bond over a shared love of Christopher Walken – an unlikely cupid, but hey, the man’s a genius, there’s nothing he can’t turn his hand to.
All the bands mentioned here are included on the compilation, to be released on the 31st of August. Their AU$5,000 funding target was crowdsourced on the very first day, but some pledges are still available. For instance, for a bargain £27, one can be the very proud owner of a signed, limited edition 10” vinyl copy. What is hugely encouraging about this project is the level of enthusiasm for artifacts – of music as object rather than transient pleasure. For instance, all three of the “Super Collector” options have sold – what you get for your £111 is a test pressing of Barnett’s second EP, a “virtually extinct” copy of a Jen Cloher / Courtney Barnett split 7”, in addition to the new 10”. That’s it. Unless it’s their parents buying them, this is one seriously hot record label right now. As is Melbourne, for that matter.
By Mary Chang
on Thursday, 17th July 2014 at 12:00 pm
After a 2-year hiatus that saw frontman Jonny Pierce chance a short-lived solo career, The Drums are back, reinvigorated and curiously back to how they were when they first got started in 2008: simply a duo starring Pierce and best friend Jacob Graham. When the band, then a four-piece, first hit the indie scene in 2009 with then Steve Lamacq favourite and summer stunner ‘Let’s Go Surfing’, things looked pretty superficial. When I interviewed Pierce and then drummer Connor Handwick in the autumn of 2010, it was obvious to me quickly, especially from Pierce’s erudite discussion of the importance of film and photography to him while drinking a hot cup of tea, not booze, that there was more to the Drums than meets the immediate eye.
For better or worse, their self-titled debut album shot to #16 on the UK Albums Chart that same year, probably due to the sales of people who didn’t scratch below the surface. However, I think those fans who bought their sophomore album ‘Portamento’ and might have wavered in their loyalty or those expecting another album chock full of chirpy tracks like ‘Me and the Moon’ and ‘Best Friend’ might have trouble stomaching this leaner, meaner version of the Drums.
The vibe off taster track ‘Magic Mountain’ suggests the red satin jacket and high school sports jerseys Pierce has favoured in previous incarnations of the band might be up for retirement permanently. Why do I say this? Because, well, despite naming their song with the same moniker of one of America’s enduring theme park franchises Six Flags, this sound pretty dark. If anything, except for maybe the joyous handclaps at the start, it sounds like it was concocted in a mad scientist’s lab. A mad scientist from Scooby Doo, maybe.
Otherworldly synth notes wiggle and shake against menacing Graham’s guitar notes. Pierce sings high up the scale, the minor key vocal line appearing purposefully dissonant against the instrumentation and driving rhythm. Further examination of the lyrics adds causes additional confusion: “inside my magic mountain we don’t have to be with them / inside my magic mountain our hearts are on / inside my magic mountain I don’t have to be with them / inside my magic mountain our hearts are on”. Is “my magic mountain” some kind of euphemism? I can’t take this seriously.
It’s strange structurally as well, with an unnatural pause at 2 minutes 25 seconds before the song starts again. In its premiere with Noisey, Pierce describes the song as ” ..about shedding off what binds you and protecting what’s good, finding a safe place away from everyone and everything that wants to destroy you”. Hmm. Perhaps maybe ‘Magic Mountain’ is meant to be a grower, but I can’t see it appealing to their pop fans who swooned over ‘Let’s Go Surfing’. This is the Drums, mark IV. I still have an open mind about their future, but this left me cold.
No word yet on when the third album from the Drums will be released, but the word on the street is that the album was completed earlier this year, so I’m expecting something out before the year is out. I’m also guessing from their Soundcloud that they’ve started their own label, Minor Records. Should be interesting to see what comes of it, even if it’s sinister. Watch an album teaser from the duo below.
The new track ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ from Wolf Alice rings with energy. This four piece outfit hailing from London has captured the attention of many, garnering Radio 1 airplay with their crushing guitars yet surprisingly delicate vocals from lead singer Ellie Rowsell.
Starting with a deceptive acoustic line, ‘Moaning Lisa Smile’ changes 10 seconds in with a crashing assault on the ear. The simple acoustic line is carried through the noise and cleverly lifts the entire song with its melody keeping a lightness to it, despite the dark lyrics and heavy overlay of noisy guitars on top. They pack an exciting bit of unknown into that explosive 2 and a half minutes. The soft start of this tune that then opens into a nice hard edge on the interior coupled with the non sequitur, oft indecipherable lyrics harken back to my particular favourite, old style Biffy Clyro. If this is the direction the band choses to follow, they will continue to have a great champion in me.
The new Wolf Alice EP ‘Creature Songs’ will be with us on the 26th of May from Dirty Hit Records. Wolf Alice is on tour throughout the UK now, check out their tour dates here. Below is a video released earlier this month of the band performing the song live in session.
A new song from singer/songwriter James Bay has hit our desk and it’s another one to make the girls weak in the knees. I have really been taken with the soulful, mysterious, bluesy offerings of guys like Hozier and Foy Vance, and Mr. James Bay fits this mold quite nicely. ‘Running’ has both the musical chops to make your breast swell and the lyrics to bring a tear to your eye. Lines like “wherever we go” repeat and build like a call to action until you know you will likewise go running to follow this guy anywhere too.
Making a name for himself on the festival circuit, with 2014’s Liverpool Sound City and the Great Escape coming up next, he’s looking to melt hearts across the country. His influence from old school American folk masters the likes of Bob Dylan and James Taylor can be clearly felt. Starting with deep breathy vocals, the escalating intensity with the emotion of the song mimics the fight to be with the one he loves. A perfect blend of keyboard and acoustic guitar prevents it from being labelled as primarily either and the vocal stands out as the primary instrument.
If you are at either Liverpool Sound City or the Great Escape over the next 2 weekends, I highly recommend you checking out this chap.
James Bay’s new EP ‘Let It Go’ is out on 13 May on Republic Records. Listen to ‘Running’ below.
New Zealander-turned-New Yorker Liam Finn has just announced his second studio album, ‘The Nihilist’, with the online release of ‘Burn Up The Road,’ an anxiously energetic guitar-driven track inspired by late night bike rides through the streets of New York. The album itself was made during a series of late night recording sessions, and ‘Burn Up The Road’ certainly has that frenetic, restless feeling of insomnia about it. Its feverish momentum and slightly unsettling vocal delivery is tempered by contemplative lyrics such as, “It’s rough now but I need you girl / I’m miserable when on my own / Is it worth it if you’re mourning?”
Despite the wailing guitars and frenzied rhythms of its instrumental sections, “Burn Up the Road’ doesn’t completely abandon melody, especially on the vocal hook, “In this town of beautiful girls / I look at the menu and always eat at home”. The song’s inherent melodicism and foundational bass groove keep it from descending into a raucous wash of unintelligible noise. Instead, the strident guitar jams take on an agitated feeling of their own, an all-but-unhinged sense of frustrated self-examination to match the song’s nervously neurotic lyrics.
‘The Nihilist’ is due out on the 5th of May on Yep Roc Records. Watch a live video of ‘Burn Up the Road’ below.
Header photo by Rich Gilligan
Side projects and collaborations seem to be all the rage among established musicians these days, and Bell X1 frontman Paul Noonan has recently jumped into the mix with a venture called Printer Clips. The project consists of a series of duets written by Noonan and performed with female singers including previous duet partner Lisa Hannigan, Martha Wainwright, and Julia Stone, then recorded in spontaneous and unstructured settings.
The first release from the project, ‘Apparatchik’, features the somewhat predictable combination of Noonan and Hannigan, whose voices blend together in harmony as beautifully here as on their version of ‘Some Surprise,’ from the 2006 project The Cake Sale. ‘Apparatchik’ is a very pretty, melodic little tune, which I found myself humming back after only one brief listen, but as usual with Noonan’s songwriting, there’s more to it than what’s on the surface. Lyrically, it has moments of downright ugliness, especially in the lines, “These are the punches that we roll with / This is the shit / But it’s so much easier to stomach it / When I’m downwind of you.” The juxtaposition of that obnoxiously unpleasant line with its elegantly lilting melodic phrasing is jarring, I suspect deliberately so.
The song’s title, ‘Apparatchik’, is an old Russian term for a professional member of the Communist party, now often used in a disparaging way to describe members of any large political organization as parts of a self-perpetuating machine. I almost wonder if Noonan might have been referring to his own role in Bell X1 there, but overall the song seems like a larger rumination on life, especially in its final repeated line, which I believe is quoted from a stencil by street artist Banksy, “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”.
‘Apparatchik’ is the first release from Printer Clips’ upcoming EP ‘The Left Sleeve’, which is due for digital-only release on the 25th of April. A second digital EP, ‘The Right Sleeve’, is scheduled for release on Bone China Records on the 16th of May, followed by a physical and digital release of the full self-titled LP on the 23rd of May. This curious schedule reminds me of the idea Noonan discussed for Bell X1 album ‘Chop Chop’ in my interview with him last year, and it’s interesting to see that design come to fruition, albeit in a slightly different context.
In the end, as always, the interpretation lies with the listener; you can form your own opinion after taking a listen to ‘Apparatchik’ below. Printer Clips will perform a live premiere on the 24th of May at The National Concert Hall, Dublin.
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