Recommended Listening: March 2011
- Published: 12 March 2011
- Hits: 2657
Enjoy this month's collection of eclectic sounds.
13 March 2011
Beth Ditto EP
Beth Ditto is best known as the larger than life front woman of US outfit, Gossip.
The self-confessed punk has caught the attention of international audiences for both her outspoken onstage persona and offstage gay right advocacy since Gossip released their debut self-titled EP in 1999.
In December last year, news emerged that Ditto would step away from her punk styles and work on a solo mini album.
‘Beth Ditto EP’ was produced by British producers Simian Mobile Disco aka James Ford and Jas Shaw.
Ditto’s pairing with Ford and Shaw is a return for all parties, with the singer working with the duo on a track off their 2009 album, Temporary Pleasure.
From the first few seconds of lead off track, ‘I Wrote the Book’, it’s immediately clear that this EP is not intending to be a Gossip mini album. The track’s rhythmic dance music pulsates effortlessly. Ditto’s famous wailing has vanished, a stripped back gentler voice now in its place.
‘Good Night Good Morning’ is coated in casual pop. Ditto is almost shy on this track, her voice so innocent and unassuming.
Ditto turns up the sass on ‘Open Heart Surgery’. The track has a sexier tone and an edgier dance beat. Ditto is in fine form on this track, the key perhaps suiting her vocals a little more than earlier tracks.
By the time we reach ‘Do You Need Someone’, Ditto has hit her stride. The combination of techno lounge beats and her extended vocals has created a perfect three and a half minute dance track.
Ditto has done a superb job with this release.
Let England Shake
PJ Harvey is one of those extraordinary artists who manage to cast themselves in a new light with every album.
The British songstress’s eighth studio album, ‘Let England Shake’, is no exception.
As Harvey fans would be well aware, the singer is not your run of the mill performer. She doesn’t deliver albums for the sake of making record label deadlines. She is, dare I say it, an artist with a capital ART.
Yes, she may warble and rant. She may not be everyone’s cuppa, but you can’t begrudge the woman her ability to express herself by jumping in with both feet.
Harvey began work on ‘Let England Shake’ shortly after the release of her 2007 record, White Chalk.
The album was written over two years and the singer is believed to have sought inspiration for its themes in the prose of wordsmiths Harold Pinter and T.S Eliot and the artwork of Salvador Dali.
The singer is also said to have researched the history of conflict for the album, with a keen focus on the Gallipoli campaign as well as the more recent conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan.
The album’s title track opens with sweet chimes and guitars that bob alone in a scattered beat. Harvey’s vocals are almost purposefully angelic with heavy doses of effects.
A careful listen to the lyrics reveals a darker side to the song, and in turn, the album: “The West's asleep. Let England shake, weighted down with silent dead/I fear our blood won't rise again.”
‘The Last Living Rose’ is stunning. Lyrically it is just so descriptive, as though written by someone who may or may never again see their homeland. Musically, Harvey has chosen to keep things quite simple on this track, letting the words speak for themselves. It is a definite standout for what is becoming quite an intriguing release.
‘The Glorious Land’ prompts me to do some more reading about this album. There is just such a different slant on this track, so experimental and out of place. The lyrics are so sparse and repetitive:
“How is our glorious country ploughed? Not by iron ploughs/ Our lands is ploughed by tanks and feet/ Feet Marching”
‘The words that maketh murder’ is possibly the most disturbing track on the album in terms of lyrical content: ‘I see soldiers fall like lumps of meat’. This track is perhaps another example of a letter to home or a conversation recorded from a solider on the front line.
This album is offers an interesting dichotomy of society.
On the one hand it is quite beautiful in its delivery -Harvey’s vocals are more than pleasant and the musical arrangement is first class. Lyrically it is unlike any album on the charts today. It is subversive without perhaps meaning to ultimately be, though would we expect anything less than Miss Harvey?
Let England Shake is more than your everyday album. It is a work of art that everyone, regardless of political ties, should at least listen to. Thank you Harvey for having the pull to release such an important record.
Great Barrier Grief
While some may see the title of Oh Mercy’s new album as an eco-warrior reference to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Alexander Gow says otherwise.
According to the band’s singer and songwriter, the title is a reference to a point in time, a challenge to over or a complex situation.
“It’s meeting an incredibly beautiful person, but having a mental or physical barrier between you,” he says in the band’s promo for the new album.
Gow does admit however to an Aussie connection outside of his own Melbourne perspective, with the singer gaining inspiration from local veteran songwriters for the album’s ‘Australian’ sound.
Great Barrier Grief is the first album for Oh Mercy and Gow as a solo artist.
On the band’s 2009 debut, Privileged Woes, Gow shared duties with former band mate, Thom Savage. It is believed extensive touring took its toll on Savage who called it quits a few months before preparation began for ‘Great Barrier Grief’.
In a recent interview with Australian street press magazine, The Brag, Gow spoke about Oh Mercy’s new direction as a solo artist.
“A few months before we recorded the [new] album, Thom decided he didn’t want to tour any more. It wasn’t a big surprise. We worked it out like adults. Tom’s an incredibly talented guy,” he said.
Despite Savage ditching official Oh Mercy duties, he is heard playing guitar on the album and has co-written a number of its tracks, including ‘Stay, Please Stay’ and ‘Hold Out Your Hand’.
The newly solo Oh Mercy recorded the album with American producer Mitchell Froom.
Froom has previously worked with Pearl Jam, Elvis Costello and Crowded House.
‘Stay please stay’ has been part of the band’s live set for a while and perhaps as a way to freshen the single, Gow re-wrote the lyrics while in New York. The song has been written from the perspective of a person left behind having to say good-bye to a loved one who is always travelling.
‘Keith St’ is another favourite among Oh Mercy faithful for its kick about blues riffs and casual, laid back lyrics.
‘Mercy Valley’ is a simple track that has a heavy vocal presence. Gow’s voice is just so endearing it makes sense to not over crowd the track.
‘Let Me Go’ is a great example of the ‘Australian’ sound. Lyrically and musically it is charming. Gow has a brilliant ability to carry the listener on a journey - he is quite the storyteller. Again, a simple instrumental accompaniment has been chosen for this track.
‘Tenderness’ is a gentle sonnet.
‘Confessions’ is another great songwriting feat for Gow. Not only does it capture you lyrically, the musicianship on the track is solid.
Great Barrier Grief is one of the best Australian releases in a long time. Gow has a great ability to deliver on all fronts. Not only is the album a standout for its lyrical brilliance, there is no scrimping on musical style.
Great Barrier Grief is my pick for best album of 2011.
Art vs Science
Three years ago, Sydney outfit Art vs Science were scrambling to complete tracks to perform at a friend’s party.
At the time, school friends Dan McNamee, Jim Finn and Dan Williams had nothing.
The trio had toyed with the idea of becoming rock ‘n rollers in their band, Roger Explosion. Yet it was after McNamee ventured to a Daft Punk concert in 2007 that the idea for Art vs Science was sparked.
A few months later, the trio found themselves frantically writing seven songs in 48 hours.
In May 2009, the outfit released their debut self-titled EP. The mini album included, among others, the tracks ‘Flippers’, ‘Parlez Vous Francais?’, and ‘Hollywood ’.
The single ‘Parlez Vous Francais?’ rocketed the band into the spotlight, with the track gaining high rotation on Australian youth radio, Triple J, and its mainstream cousin, Nova 969.
It also carried the band up the Triple J Hottest 100 charts, snaring the second spot just behind, Mumford and Son’s ‘Little Lion Man’.
‘Parlez Vous Francais?’ also gave the band international recognition after it was included on BBC 1 DJ Kissy Sell Out’s cover-mount compilation on UK magazine Mixmag.
Fellow UK radio station, XFM, also named the band one of the 20 bands to watch in 2010. This endorsement helped the band secure UK touring spots with La Roux and Groove Armada.
In August last year, the band released a follow up EP with ‘Magic Fountain’.
Art vs Science released their debut studio album, ‘The Experiment’ through Kobalt Music Australia on 25 February this year.
‘Finally See Our Way’ has a nice punch to it. The dance floor anthem has an epic element to it in the killer chorus. It’s a brilliant track to start an album off on.
‘Take a Look at Your Face’ is quite traditional in its dance style with heavy beats that are on a loop and the occasional online of vocal.
‘A.I.M Fire!’ is different again. This track has more of a house party feel to it. The use of robotic effect on the vocals is a little reminiscent to 90s Regurgitator.
‘With Thoughts’ is a little more chilled than any of the other tracks. It kicks off with a space like sonic burst of synth and then vocals waft along.
‘Meteor (I Feel Fine)’ embraces a rockier sound. This instrumental track is a little odd mixed in with the rest of the album, with its power chords and absent vocals.
‘Sledgehammer’ returns us to the dance floor, with a beat that would get any heart racing.
‘Bumblebee’ is a hardcore number. It actually sounds like a bee on steroids with a bad attitude.
Art vs Science has delivered an impressive debut. At no point on the album does it sound like the band have lost their way or tried too hard.
Jump in the Fog EP
14th Floor Records
The Wombats captured the attention of international and local audiences in 2007 with a flurry of singles including one titled, ‘Let’s Dance to Joy Division’.
The track reached number 76 on the Australian charts and won the youth vote in the same year by ranking number 12 on the Triple J Hottest 100.
A year later in 2008, the band were international touring wiz kids, heading off on their first tour of the United States, greater Europe, Japan and Australia.
The Wombats soon became festival favourites, securing spots at Glastonbury Festival, T in the Park, Reading and Leeds Festival and Splendour In The Grass.
In late 2010, news emerged that The Wombats were close to finishing off their second studio album, ‘This Modern Glitch’ with Queens of the Stone Age and Lostprophets producer, Eric Valetine.
In September last year, the band began releasing a number of the album’s proposed tracks, with ‘Tokyo (Vampires & Wolves)’ released in the UK on 27 September 2010.
Earlier this year, the band released further tracks in the form of their ‘Jump In The Fog’ mini album.
It seems the EP is on the way back for many bands that want to release B-side tracks to an online audience. The Wombats are no exception, with the band releasing this EP track-by-track through their website earlier this year.
‘Jump in the Fog’ is a step up for the band. There is a new dimension to their sound. The band’s trademark cheeky lyrics are still there but there is something new about their sound. The Wombats have a new depth, their guitars and keyboards are heavier and seem a bit sharper. The inclusion of backing vocals and harmonies also adds an extra element.
‘How I Miss Sally Brady’ returns the band to its familiar, flirty affair with beats, skipping beats and gasping vocals.
The standout for ’Addicted to the Cure’ is its great chorus. The tune starts off well, with Matthew Murph’s vocals tracking along nicely. Though it’s only until you reach the chorus, with its great build up, that the fun starts.
Jump in the Fog is a nice little taster for the band’s new long player in ‘This Modern Glitch’.
Erland & The Carnival
Just over 12 months ago Erland & The Carnival were best known as former members of some of the world’s most noted music groups.
Simon Tong was best known for his time with The Verve, Blur and super group, The Good, the Bad & the Queen. David Nock was known for his drumming and engineering skills with The Orb, while Gawain Cooper was a celebrated folk singer and guitarist.
In January 2010 the trio released their self-titled debut album. The band recorded the album at Tong’s former Blur band mate, Damon Albarn’s studio.
Today, the trio has an acclaimed debut studio release behind them and a reputation for tackling a host of social issues, including turning a folk standard about a giant sheep into a social comment on the 2008 suicide of British teen, Shaun Dykes.
Nightingale is the band’s second studio release.
Late last year, Tong spoke to NME about the band’s new album, describing it as “a soundtrack to an imaginary horror film about the supernatural”.
It is believed the band gained inspiration for the spooky elements of the album from their choice of recording studio –the bowels of a ship on the river Thames in London.
‘So Tired In The Morning’ has a taste of British 60s pop about it. The intro is filled with stern tin guitars that would impress The Kinks. Soft vocals amid a rapid succession of swirling electronic and guitars offer a psychedelic bent.
‘May of an Englishman’ continues the spin out feeling, with a slight change of pace with live drums.
‘Emmeline’ is deliciously creepy. Delivered in an almost narrative manner, the listener is informed that in true horror film style, a young girl has disappeared. It’s eerie and a bit of fun.
‘I’m Not Really Here’ is a catchy tune. While remaining in the ‘imaginary horror film drama’, the track has a nice tempo and is rather boppy.
‘I Wish, I Wish’ jumps decades with its synth samples. Unlike the previous tracks that kept true to a 60s style, this track’s use of trickling synth keys propels it well past the 80s.
‘Nightingale’ starts off with blaring keys that soften with the introduction of guitar strumming and vocals. While the vocals are a key element of the track, electronica is the true force. One minute it builds to a nice crescendo, the next it drops always almost completely.
‘East & West’ is a bit of a slow burner. The use of cute electronic samples mixed in with an acoustic guitar and live vocals makes the track rather endearing.
Nightingale is truly an artistic album. There is so much happening on it, so many interwoven elements, both story-wise and instrumentally. It really offers quite a journey.
Music reviews by Kate Kachor at Eleven Magazine