Recommended Listening: April 2011
- Published: 09 April 2011
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Enjoy this month's collection of eclectic sounds.
10 April 2011
For the past 19 years, The Waifs have been the bastion of Australia’s folk scene.
While the humbleness of the band’s original three members, sisters Vicki and Donna Simpson and Josh Cunningham would never afford them to agree with the above statement, those artists who have followed in The Waifs folk footsteps will always be grateful for the path they paved.
Since forming in 1992, The Waifs have released six studio albums. Though it wasn’t until the band’s fourth album 2003’s ‘Up All Night’ that the band took off in a commercial sense.
Up All Night sparked a wildfire of interest at a local level, with the album peaking at number one on the Australian independent charts and number three on the mainstream Australian charts.
The album also went triple platinum and opened up a local and international touring schedule that continues even today.
After a three year absence from recording, the band released a follow up with 2006’s ‘Sun Dirt Water’.
The album again made many take notice, with it being certified platinum and holding the number one independent spot again and reaching number two on the mainstream charts.
It would take another five years before the band released their latest album, Temptation. In fact, according to an open letter from Waifs member, Vicki Thorn, Temptation almost never happened.
“With young families and being so far from each other we never quite know when we'll be busting out tunes again. But happen it did. In true "last minute" form,” Thorn wrote on the band’s website in February this year.
For a number of years now, The Waifs have lived in different corners of America. Thorn lives in Utah, Simpson lives in Minnesota and Cunningham lives in California.
However, it seems the distance oddly helped with the album’s creativity. Unlike the songwriting process of ‘Sun Dirt Water’, which was mainly written by Cunningham, ‘Temptation’ features contributions from each singer.
‘Temptation’ was recorded last year at Underwood Studios in Minneapolis.
According to a note on the band’s website, Thorn, Simpson, Cunningham and drummer David Ross Macdonald and bass player Ben Franz lived together about the basement studio for two weeks.
“You just went downstairs when it was your turn to do a take", Cunningham said.
"It was a great atmosphere to make an album in and I think you can hear that on the recordings."
‘I Learn the Hard Way’ is a blues inspired tune from Simpson. It’s raw and ruggered.
‘Buffalo’ is well measured. Thorn’s vocals have an instant calming quality that is well accompanied by subtle acoustic guitars and soft percussion.
Simpson takes back the mic on ‘Just Like Me’. Lyrically this track is rich with sentiment. The emotion in Simpson’s voice wavers at times on the track, hinting of sorrow and perhaps even loss.
‘Moses and the Lamb’ is Cunningham’s first contribution for the album. The religious bent of the track reflects the singer/songwriter’s recent discovery of faith.
‘Falling’ is delightful in its folk innocence. The Waifs harmonies return on this track, a reminder of how big a part they played on their previous albums.
Thorn’s vocals on ‘Some Days’ are stunning. She has such great timing and shadow and light in her voice.
‘Day Dreamer’ is the album stand out in my view. What a collaborative effort even after so many years apart as band members.
The gospel inspired track, ‘Temptation’ is heavy with harmonies and religious sentiment.
There is little doubt that ‘Temptation’ would be the most diverse album The Waifs have released to date.
The relaxed songwriting process has really helped the band with their sound and allowed greater experimentation. This album, more so than any of the band’s previous records, really showcases the three core members as individuals.
For a band that has been together for almost 20 years, it is quite an achievement to not only continue to work with each other, but to deliver an album that shows the three continue to have such respect for one another.
Peter Bjorn & John
In 2006, a song that contained 30 seconds of whistling as part of its intro captured the attention of millions.
The song by outfit Peter Bjorn and John was an sensation. It was the band's fifth single release since forming in 1999 but the first to chart in Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, United Kingdom and America.
Interesting, while the song was a hit around most of the globe, 'Young Folk' failed to chart in the band's home country of Sweden.
'Young Folks' was taken off the band's third album 'Writer's Block'.
Since 'Writer's Block', the trio has released three albums and acted as producers for a number of fellow artists.
Bjorn Yttling worked with Aussie artist Sarah Blasko on her third album, As Day Follows Night, as well as working with Lykke Li, Anna Ternheim, Camera Obscura and Taken By Trees.
Late last month, Peter Bjorn and John released their latest album, 'Gimme Some'.
‘Gimme Some’ was recorded at Tambourine Studios in Malmoe, Sweden with producer Per Sunding (Eggstone).
Commenting on the band’s new album, band member, John Eriksson, said: “We originally planned to make a punk rock album, but listening to it now it’s definitely a pop rock album."
The trio deliver a round-robin style of song on the album’s lead single, ‘Tomorrow Has To Wait’.
A mixture of droning drums and a single guitar strum provide a tribal type opening before the round-robin lyrical chant. The musical style has such an effect and with the looping vocals makes it easy to sing a long to.
‘Dig a Little Deeper’ has a rollicking drum and charming guitar intro. As with ‘Tomorrow Has To Wait’, this track is an easy listen.
‘Second Chance’ ramps things up a little bit. The cut back guitar chords and vocal ‘oohs’ create an air of excitement that continues until the three seconds of dead air. This single is fantastic, it’s just the complete package: great instrumental work, vocal layers, and a melody that keeps your attention.
Halfway through the album it becomes clear that there are two sides to this record.
The first half is upbeat and light, the second half is a little darker.
This is evident with track five, ‘Breaker, Breaker’. The single is short, sharp and even a little bit punk. For the traditionalists, this will of course be considered soft-punk. However, performed live, this track with its jaggered guitar riffs, rolling drums and semi-throw away vocal patterns could head in an anti-establishment avenue.
‘Cool Off’ follows in a similar vein to ‘Breaker, Breaker’, though isn’t as heavy.
‘Lies’ sits in between the trio’s recent liking for pop-punk and their familiar indie rock.
Peter Bjorn & John’s new album offers a nice mix of their trademark indie-pop styles and a glimpse of a possible new direction for the band.
Tim & Jean
Tim & Jean are champions of flying under the radar.
The high school friends from Mandurah, Western Australia have just released their debut studio album.
Two years ago, the pair were recording demo tapes in their bedroom studio and contemplating entering Aussie music radio station, Triple J's Unearthed High School competition.
After eventually entering the competition, the pair Tim Ayre and Jean Capotorto were finalists with their track 'Come Around'. While not taking home the main prize, Triple J picked the duo to play at Aussie music festival, Parklife.
Since their performance, Tim & Jean have toured across America and supported veteran dance and ambiance artist, Moby.
Despite their small amount of time on the music scene, the band have already been compared to outfits such as US sensations, Passion Pit.
Title track kicks off the album with a nice little punch. There is quite an MGMT feel about this single, with its laid back beats and expressive synth chords that seem to echo endlessly. The track marks a promising start to the album for the pair.
'Veronika' is pure pop bliss. It is incredibly upbeat, bright and bubbly. It's tempo and use of crafty keyboard effects makes it impossible not to like.
'I Can Show You' actually gave me vivid flash backs to the 80s. It was a little scary, though after the initial shock and getting over resisting the fun, this track is really fun. It does becoming a little jarring after awhile - a bit like how bubble gum starts to loose it's flavour. You keep chewing away expecting something to change but it just becomes annoying plain.
The pop bliss is cranked up yet again on 'Come Around'. It's fitting that the single is on the band's debut as it was the track that got them noticed.
'Don't Stop' brings with it a slightly rocker feel with the introduction of electric guitars. There is also a slight move away from the super enthusiastic high pitched vocals of 'I Can Show You'. It's a nice change, and shows the pair are flexible with including different mediums.
It's not surprising that Tim & Jean have thrown a cover on their album. After a few seconds of listening, it is even less surprising the guys tackled Fleetwood Mac's 'Everywhere'. What a cover, they just have such great energy and have done a great job of adding their own flare to it. Great job.
As well as the cover, the duo have taken the time to record a number of acoustic versions of tracks on the album. The contrast between the intensely polished pop and the pair's acoustic vocals is extremely stark yet utterly delightful.
The acoustic version of 'Like What' has such an incredible degree of depth. Not only are the vocals simply beautiful, the lyrics have more meaning.
The guitar intro on 'Come Around' is very delicate and perfectly matched by gentle vocals.
It's so interesting to hear these brilliant pop songs in a completely different light with the stripped back versions uncovering the incredible singing talent of the pair.
Tim & Jean have more than delivered with this their debut album. It is such a treat, and an incredible discovery listening to these fellows. What a talent they are.
The Vines have had quite a rocky road to success.
The Sydney band took to the airwaves in 2001 with their debut album 'Highly Evolved'.
The local release of the band's first single, Factory, failed to impress in Australia. After little interest from homegrown record labels, the band pinned their hopes on interest in the UK.
After British music magazine, NME, wrote about the band's old school rock sound, The Vines eventually signed to UK label, Heavenly Records giving the band distribution in Australia through EMI.
A year later in 2002 The Vines arrived on the international stage. Highly Evolved debuted at number three on the UK album chart, number 11 on the American Billboard chart and number five on the Australian chart.
In the same year the album sold 1.5 million copies worldwide and by the end of 2003 was certified double platinum in Australia.
The band followed up their debut album with 'Winning Days' in 2004. The album took the band to a new level, creating a new level of intensity. In late 2004 recording and touring pressure finally took its toll with band singer Craig Nicholls abusing the crowd at a Sydney gig before assaulting a photographer. In the aftermath of the gig, The Vines bass player, Patrick Matthews, quit the band and the band's record label cancelled all further tours.
In 2006, The Vines released their third album, Vision Valley, to lukewarm acclaim and led to the band being dropped by their labels Capitol Records and EMI.
By 2008 the band were back recording new material for their fourth album, Melodia. The band's album again failed to impression on a commercial front. In November of the same year, The Vines were forced to cancel their performance at the 2008 Hombake, the 2008/09 Pyramid Rock festival and 2009 Big Day Out festival due to illness.
Last year The Vines returned to the Annandale Hotel to perform under the name, 'The Crimes' as a support act for You Am I.
The gig was a way for the band to fly under the media radar and road test material off their scheduled fifth album.
In July 2010, The Vines returned to the live music scene officially, playing Splendour In The Grass before supporting Powderfinger on the first of their four shows of their farewell tour. At the shows, The Vines performed a number of new singles.
All looked like it was getting back on track for the band, however, without the backing from record labels, the band has been forced to self-fund their fifth album.
Gimme Love is the first single off the new album, Future Primitive. The single has been 12 months in the making, with the band completing its recording last year, however a shortage of funds delayed its release.
Gimme Love opens in true Vines fashion - a wild Nicholls scream.
Heavy rock drums echo around Nicholls' repetitive vocals. The Vines have perfected the art of powerful yet simple rock. The beauty of The Vines' sound is they aren't trying to be clever. They are a rock band pure and simple. They aren't hiding, they pump out their tunes loud and proud.
Though let's get one thing straight, Gimme Love isn't going to break records. It doesn't have the same raw energy of 'Get Free', or the passion of 'Highly Evolved' or the quiet brilliance of 'Winning Days'.
It does however champion a return to basis for the band. There is no doubt The Vines have come full circle with their sound. They are a band in rebuild mode, and have been for some time. Yet unlike the band's out there today, The Vines have a staying power and battling spirit that keeps people's attention. Bring on album number five.
Four years ago The Strokes announced they would take an extended break from touring and recording.
At the time, the New York band had just finished touring in support of their third album, First Impressions of Earth.
Unlike The Strokes previous releases, the album had been a slow burner and failed to garner consistent praise and international chart success.
After spending two years on the album, it appeared the task had placed a strain on the band's creativity and in 2007 The Strokes went on an "extended hiatus".
The band's hiatus announcement brought with it wild speculation they were soon to split. However as no confirmation was ever given, The Strokes dream stayed alive.
In the years prior to recording their latest album, Angles, The Strokes have experienced much change.
Amid rumours of drug problems over broken relationships and members working on solo projects, The Strokes have taken five years to deliver their new album.
In March 2009, two years after announcing their break, The Strokes released a statement that work had begun on a new album.
While the album was initially due to be released in 2009, reports of uncertainty over the album's readiness delayed the delivery for another two years. Angles was finally released world-wide on 22 March.
It has been reported that one possible reason for the delay was the band's unhappiness with the production style of producer Joe Chicarelli (My Morning Jacket, Augie March, The Shins). It is understood that Chicarelli only produced four tracks for the band, though only one 'Life Is Simple In The Moonlight' made it on the final cut.
After parting ways with Chicarelli, The Strokes sought refuge in band member Albert Hammond Jr's home studio.
What is immediately apparent about Angles is the change in direction for the band.
The Stroke's bread and butter has always been straight forward drum, guitars and vocals. The band has become famous for their clear cut guitar riffs, matched with percussion and Julian Casablancas's distinct vocals. So to read that The Strokes took inspiration for Angles from the likes of MGMT, and Crystal Castles, I was both intrigued and a tad worried.
'Machu Picchu' starts off with the unfamiliar sound of a kind of electronic siren. It's sound is elongated for a few seconds before guitar chords enter abruptly. The single initially sparks a wave of concern. It's all a little bit too out of control, but then Casablancas's vocals provide the calm. Despite the rocky beginning, the track is a nice surprise.
'Under Cover of Darkness' is cheery and upbeat. It instantly impresses with the back to basics Strokes feel.
The band has been quoted as saying they took risks and experimented on the album, and 'Two Kinds of Happiness' is certainly an example of those experiments. This is such an interest track for the band. The Strokes are almost unrecognisable on this track with its 80s pop beats, double guitars and borderline power ballad vocals.
The Crystal Castles influence can be heard on 'You're So Right' with the looping of electronic beats and echoing vocals. This is yet another track that offered more than a little surprise. While the band has embraced electronic elements, The Strokes have still managed to incorporate new elements into their sound.
'Games' is a brilliant meshing of old Strokes with the new. The electronic intro carries itself nicely across the track. It is a seamless transition, there is nothing chunky about this track, the dance element glides along with the rock portion. It's one of the album highlights in my view.
'Gratisfaction' is old school Strokes with a hint of glam 70s rock. Unusual yes, but seriously enjoyable.
'Metabolism' is another experiment for the band. While the single seems a little heavily layered with the use of guitars, drums, effects and vocals, there change in style still seems to work. It perhaps won't be for The Strokes faithful.
Angles is brilliant return for The Strokes. Considering the length of time the band has spent apart, the album is brimming with new life.
The Great Impression
Many musicians believe a band's second studio album carries the most difficulty. For Sparkadia's Alex Burnett this could well ring true.
After recording Sparkadia's 2008 debut album 'Postcards' as part of a four-piece, Burnett found himself a solo artist when it came to recording the band's new album, The Great Impression.
Sparkadia formed in 2004 under the name, The Spark. The band changed their name to Sparkadia in 2006, releasing their debut EP in 2007.
Shortly after the EP's release, Sparkadia secured more than 30,000 downloads in two months for one of the EP's singles, 'Morning Light' on Australian youth radio station, Triple J and caught the interest of UK label, Ark Recordings.
The international interested continued after the band released 'Postcards', with the album's first single, Animals, receiving high rotation on BBC Radio One.
Extensive touring followed with Sparkadia sharing stages with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, Elbow, Tegan & Sara, The Thrills, Vampire Weekend, Modest Mouse, Hot Hot Heat and Pet Shop Boys.
Ironically it was the touring schedule that turned out to be a difficulty for a number of the band members, with Sparkadia becoming Burnett's side project in 2009.
Since the split with members Tiffany Preece, Dave Hall, Nick Rabone and Josephine Avling (in 2008), Burnett has worked with Mark Tieku (Florence and the Machine) on 'The Great Impression'.
The Great Impression is a stunning solo release for Burnett.
The title track has an instant appeal to it. Whether it's Burnett's sweet vocals or the medally of back up vocals, lively drums and percussion, the track just dances along.
Burnett's vocals are stripped back on 'Fingerprints' with Sparkadia's earlier keenness on electric guitar intros now obviously absent.
'Talking Like I'm Falling Down Stairs' is the only track on the album that has links to the band's former self. There is a feeling that this track may have been worked on by members of Sparkadia before the split or just after. There is a fullness about this track, as though Burnett was able to play off the energy of other members. That's not to say by any means that the rest of the album is empty or has a feeling of being incomplete. Perhaps this track just has more of a 'Postcards' feel.
'China' has a boldness to it. The brash big band sound in its chorus gives the track much needed volume and depth. While Burnett's vocals are beautiful, there is something lacking in the overall lyrics that just seem a little simplistic:'she breaks like China'. The saving grace of this track is Burnett's amazing ability to build much needed tension in a chorus.
On 'Mary', Burnett drops his softness by stretching his vocal range and introducing gospel style harmonies.
The tempo is turned up on 'The Lost Ones'. Alongside 'The Great Impression', this track is a standout. There is an ease to this track, a happy pace.
Burnett has done a remarkable job with this album. To continue on as Sparkadia is a brave move, and one that he has suceeded in.
Music reviews by Kate Kachor at Eleven Magazine