Recommended Listening: August/September
- Published: 13 August 2011
- Hits: 3288
Enjoy this month's collection of eclectic sounds.
This self-titled album from the American indie-folk band is their much anticipated second release.
While I've not been acquainted with the band prior to this record, by all accounts, the album is a shift in style and quite an impressive result.
There is something immediately compelling about this record. It has such incredible depth of sound and beauty.
It always seems quite unbelievable to describe a modern day indie album as containing or exuding beauty – it puts the album at risk of over-hype or under-hype depending where you stand.
However this album is indeed beauty personified.
In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, band singer Justin Vernon said the album is quite a change from their 2008 debut ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’.
“I brought in a lot of people to change my voice — not my singing voice, but my role as the author of this band, this project,” Vernon said.
“I built the record myself, but I allowed those people to come in and change the scene.”
Vernon recorded the album in April Base Studios in Fall Creek, Wisconsin.
The studio was originally a veterinarian clinic which Vernon bought with his brother in 2008.
"[it's] been a wonderful freedom, working in a place we built. It's also only three miles from the house I grew up in, and just ten minutes from the bar where my parents met," he said.
Vernon worked on the album with bass saxophonist Colin Stetson and pedal-steel guitarist Greg Leisz and 15 other artists including band members Michael Noyce, Sean Carey, and Matthew McCaughan.
The introduction on ‘Perth’ is breathtaking. The gentle guitar chords mixed with rolling drums and Vernon’s vocals paints such a vivid picture of sound. The single’s quiet beginning makes way for a burst of colour and movement before rising into a thunderous storm of sound and dropping into quiet calm.
Bon Iver shows great skill on ‘Holocene’, with its instrumental intro a delight of trickling guitar chords and equally beautiful vocals.
‘Towers’ continues the theme of the album – stunning vocals mixed with stunning instrumental. The balance of this single is close to perfect.
Vernon experiments with his vocals on ‘Hinnom, TX’, with his angelic voice dropping a few octaves to a deep drone.
‘Calgary’ is a beautiful track, the balance of the track pushing past ‘Towers’ to achieve perfection. The marrying together of vocals, different instrumentals and beats without losing control is to be commended.
There is not much to dislike about this album, it is such a thrill to listen to; there is so much energy and so much happening on each track. It is a complex, beautiful and surprising second offering.
I am not doing the album enough justice with these words, it is absolutely in need of a listen and I think it’s safe to say it will be a frontrunner for album of the year 2011.
The Grates new album is quite a change for the Aussie band.
Not only is it the band’s most polished and potentially their most serious release to date, it is also the band’s last recording as a three piece.
While long-time friends and band mates Patience Hodgson, John Patterson and Alana Skyring made the trip to the US last year to work on a new album, in January this year Skyring quit the group.
Skyring left the group to pursue culinary arts having enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, a statement from the Brisbane band said at the time.
“With heavy hearts we announce that Alana Skyring, cutest drummer in rock, has left our band to pursue the culinary arts (or in other words, to become the cutest baker in baking). We wish her the very best of luck,” the statement said.
Less than six months after quitting, Skyring has put down her eggbeater and returned to the sticks to join Neil Finn’s new project, The PaJaMa Party.
In Skyring’s absence, Hodgson and Patterson have continued on as The Grates, resuming the recording of their album in New York and recruiting local drummer Ben Marshall.
It’s hard to say whether the changing of the guard is reflected on The Grates new album. It is likely that much of the album was decided while Skyring was still behind the drums, however ‘Secret Rituals’ does herald a new direction for the band.
There is a smoother yet slightly darker feel to this record. The Grates, up until this point, have always travelled down the path of quirky and often mischievous humour.
Since the release of their debut EP in 2002 and the band’s subsequent debut long-player, the band has caught the attention of home grown and international audiences.
‘Turn Me On’ kicks off the album with quite a punch. The brooding guitar intro and vocal layering turns this simple indie-pop track into a multi-dimensional single.
‘Sweet Dreams’ has real staying power. I found myself humming this track for days after the first listen. The chorus has a great pace and energy to it.
The Grates explore a rockier style on ‘Like You Could Have It All’, with the single focusing on Patterson’s guitar skills.
The due step outside their trademark sound with ‘Crying All Night’, with amazing result. While the band continues their focus on stronger guitar sounds, there is a real feeling of experimentation on this track too. The echoing effect on Hodgson’s vocals works brilliantly.
‘The Night Won’t Start Without Us’ is a fun dance track, one of those pre-party pleasers.
Hodgson swaps her indie-pop persona for a strong rock chick on ‘Borrowed Skin’ with great effect.
‘Moving On’ ends the album on a sombre yet sweet note, with Hodgson turning back the dial on the pace and volume of the album.
Secret Rituals is an impressive step for Hodgson and Patterson. The duo has done well to shake off the loss of Skyring and have pushed forward with style and purpose.
Seeker Lover Keeper
Individually, these three singers can hold their own. Together they are something else.
Seeker Lover Keeper is the brainchild of Aussie singers Sarah Blasko, Holly Throsby and Sally Seltmann.
The singers each have their own independent following, with Blasko releasing three acclaimed albums in 'The Overture and the Underscore' (2004), 'What the Sea Wants, the Sea Will Have' (2006) and 'As Day Follows Night' (2009).
Throsby has released five albums with 2004's 'On Night', 2006's 'Under the Town', 2008's 'A Loud Call', last year's 'See!' (an album for children) and this year's album, 'Team'.
Seltmann has also released a number of albums, 'The Last Beautiful Day' (2004) and 'Somewhere, Anywhere' (2007) under her previous New Buffalo guise, and 'Heat That's Pounding' under her own name.
The trio have quite an impressive collective musical resume, and while not intending to top that feat, in September last year, Blasko blogged about the trio's new project.
“Sally, Holly and I have been talking about doing one [an album] together for a while now. At first we thought about just doing a series of shows together, but then decided we’d all longed to be in a girl band,” Blasko said at the time.
“Sally sent some reference tunes for inspiration and a song that she’d recently written, and Holly and I were smitten with the idea. Over the next six months in between touring, recording and procrastinating we all wrote enough songs for an album and decided on New York City as our recording destination.
“We are joined by the wonderful Jim White on drums, Shahzad Ismaily on bass and Victor Van Vugt (producing/engineer).”
The first thing to notice about this album is how each of the singer's individual musical style shines through.
The album's lead off track 'Bring Me Back' is a stripped back, sombre offering. A trio of harmonies beautifully accompanies an acoustic guitar before Blasko's vocals take the lead. As soon as you hear her voice the track transforms instantly. The style, the pace fits perfectly.
From the first hand clap and keyboard note, those familiar with Throsby's sound would know 'Light All My Lights' had her name on it.
Throsby continues the brilliance on 'Even Through I'm a Woman'. Throsby shows great diversity, moving from the quirky samples and loops of 'Light All My Lights' to this track with its straight harmonies and light instrumental accompaniment.
'On My Own' is the album's first solo spot for Seltmann. The singer has such a sweet and subtle voice that suits the gentle, swing of the track.
'Theme I' seems to be the unofficial title track, with the lyrics 'I just want you to know, where ever you go, follows like a ghost, the burdens are not just your if you're a seeker, lover, and a keeper'. The trio are in perfect harmony across this track. The rolling drums on this track and the frantic strings create a superb pace.
Seltmann is back on the mic with 'Everytime'. The melody and guitar chord progression is upbeat and an even a bit rocky. The self-half of this track is really on point, with Seltmann's vocals brilliantly mirroring the tempo and melody of the guitar and drums.
'We Will Know What it is' starts off with stunning guitar work. Throsby takes the lead on the track before being joined by Blasko and Seltmann on backing vocals.
The trio's harmonies on 'If the Night Is Dark' is just so beautiful. Seltmann does a great job in holding the main thread of the track with her now sombre vocals.
'Going to Sleep' has a heavier vibe to it, with guitar, drum and piano parts more prominent.
The trio shares the load on 'Rest Your Head On My Shoulder'.
The first thought I had after listening to this album was, please don't let it be a one off. There is nothing token about this record, it is a beautifully polished and well thought out release. Seeker Lover Keeper is an incredible debut for the singers, and hopefully not their last.
Are You Ready Yet?
This mini album from Clare Bowditch is quite the gem.
In the past, the singer has released albums with the help of the extraordinary talents of The Feeding Set (Marty Brown, Tim Harvey, Libby Chow, Warren Bloome and Greg Walker) and more recently with The New Slang (Brown, Warren Bloomer, Harvey, Sally, Rachel and Annabel Aluka, and Mattie Vehl.
The Melbourne singer/songwriter has spent much of the past 12 months riding the charts on the back of the success of her 2010 album 'Modern Day Addiction' with The New Slang, however this, her latest release, carries only Bowditch's name.
'Are You Ready Yet?' is a seven track release that features three new songs co-written with fellow Aussie acts Gotye and Lanie Lane, as well as re-recorded tracks off Bowditch's previous albums.
The album's title track impresses a real sense that Bowditch has honed her skills of experimentation.
Multi-layered, whispering vocals are the first thing to capture your ears on 'Are You Ready Yet?', before trickling piano notes join soft humming. Muffled drum beats echo in the background and a build up of cymbals cues the entry of Bowditch's familiar vocals. The vocals and subsequent backing vocals on this track are stunning. You can really appreciate Bowditch's choice to record this album in an upper room of a convent - the acoustics are just so beautiful.
'Ya Ya Ya Ya' is an intriguing track. Bowditch again brings a fluid approach to the single, with the chorus hitting us only 20 seconds in, while an extended instrumental element is tucked mid-way through the track.
'The Most Beautiful Lies' is a re-worked version of the same single off Bowditch's 'Modern Day Addiction' album. Unlike the original version of the single, with its rich guitar and drum intro and strong vocals, this version is entirely stripped back. A few bars of acapella harmonies welcome the listener before Bowditch's vocals hit you. As with 'Are You Ready Yet?', this single owes a large part of its brilliance to the recording environment. This track also highlights Bowditch's exceptional vocal ability.
The ethereal harmonies have been packed away for 'I Won't Let Them Talk To You'. The track is upbeat and fun, with round-robin singing a highlight.
'Between the Tea and the Toast' is another re-recorded track, this time taken off Bowditch's 2007 album 'The Moon Looked On'. This version is so far removed from the original that it would be little surprise if some thought this was an entirely new track. Like 'The Most Beautiful Lies', this track has been given the acapella treatment. The finished recording is quite extraordinary. It has such a power to it, the harmonies are so strong and rich that they almost evoke a spiritual presence.
'Miss You Like the Rain' is yet another re-recording with an exceptional difference. The track was originally recorded as 'Yes I Miss You Like the Rain' for Clare Bowditch and The Feeding Set's 2005 album 'What Was Left'. This version is just incredible in its approach. Bowditch teamed with Lisa Mitchell's side project Golden Arrows to record the single and oh boy don't they have an amazing musical chemistry. This track is the album's absolute standout for me.
'Now You're Home' features Bowditch and singer Lanie Lane. This is a brilliant rockabilly track which Bowditch slips in with Lane's obvious talent in the genre.
'Are You Ready Yet?' is yet another masterpiece from Bowditch. While the album adopts many different styles and genres, Bowditch is relaxed and delivers well. With such a solid and well polished team alongside her its little wonder the album is yet another winner.
Leader Cheetah have really wowed with this record.
It's hard to believe that this album is only the South Australian four-piece's second long-player.
However, digging back into the band's history, the talent of their album could come down to the fact that Leader Cheetah (in one guise or another) are not entirely a fresh faced crew.
The band formed in 2007 after members of Adelaide bands Pharaohs and Bad Girls of the Bible came together.
During the past four years, the band has become a festival favourite having played spots at Splendour In the Grass, Big Day Out, St Jerome's Laneway Festival and Come Together.
As well as playing arena shows, they have toured with overseas artists including Dinosaur Jr Dan Auerbach (The Black Keys), Elbow and Interpol.
Two years after forming, Leader Cheetah released their debut long player in 'The Sunspot Letters' and late last month, they delivered their second record in 'Lotus Skies'.
'Lotus Skies' was recorded in Sydney with producer Scott Horscroft (The Panics, Little Red, The Sleepy Jackson).
Commenting on the idea for the album, band singer and guitarist Dan Crannitch attributes much of it to brother Joel.
“He might have a few chords, part of a lyric, an idea for a melody, these little gems he brings out for me to refine. That’s been a revelation and it brings more colour to the sound on this album," Dan Crannitch said.
“The lyrics were written at a time when I was feeling that something was out of whack, emotionally and physically. I don’t know where that came from but it created this need to go deeper inside for these songs and all four of us felt that.”
'Midnight Headlights' kicks off with a brilliant introduction. While some may make initial comparisons to Perth band The Panics, with the single's wild, sweeping and expansive feel, Leader Cheetah make it their own with the help of Crannitch's distinct voice.
'Crawling Up a Landslide' has an alternative country vibe to it with dreamy guitar and loose vocal work.
Harsh guitar chords echo on 'Dark Stands Over'. The third track on the album stands out immediately with its rock influence and carefree vocals.
'Our Love' returns the band to its earlier country vibe. The inclusion of strings, the relaxed tempo and melody leaves the track open for sweet heart barn dancing comparisons. It's rather quirky yet also likeable, particularly with the inclusion of Holly Throsby's vocals.
'So Save Me' is my vote for standout single. The indie rock style of the track just seems to sit so easily with Leader Cheetah, as though no effort is required but rather just raw talent. I even enjoyed the slight leanings the track's sound has to that of early Australian pop-rock veterans Powderfinger. I just cannot rave about this single enough. Crannitch's vocals are on point with much praise needed for the rest of the band - without the guitar and drum work this track would not have the same punch.
Title track 'Lotus Skies' offers quite a surprise. A solo trumpet pierces the air, it's song strong and purposeful. What comes next continues the surprise with the band adopting a latin, salsa style. Despite such a dramatic shift in musical genre, Lotus Skies keeps you interested and entertained.
'Fought With The Devil' is quite dramatic in it's delivery. Soft strings open the track and are quickly collected in a whirlwind of drums and guitars. Crannitch's vocals are smooth and steady, almost floating across the track like well practiced dancers. Like 'Lotus Skies', the track doesn't quite fit in with the rest of the album, however it is eclectic enough to warrant a mention.
Leader Cheetah are quite a force. 'Lotus Skies' is so polished, strong and incredibly impressive.
Rain On The Humming Wire
The Panics make their return to the recording scene with this their fourth album.
In the wake of worldwide acclaim from their last long player ‘Cruel Guards’, the band return after a four year absence with 'Rain on the Humming Wire'.
As the album’s title suggestions, the band’s offering is quite a poetic and thoughtful release.
After escaping the hype the band had amassed in Australia, The Panics jetted off to the UK in 2009 where they took time off before beginning work on their new album.
Most of the recording and tracking of ‘Rain on the Humming Wire’ was completed in Dreamland Studios, just outside of Woodstock, a post on the band’s website said.
All five members found themselves in the woods over a month, rarely seeing anyone else but each other, their producer John O’Mahony (Metric, Alberta Cross, Coldplay ) and O’Mahony’s production assistant.
“We really didn’t see another soul,” lead singer Jae Laffer said in the post.
“After we’d knock off at midnight, we literally just lit a fire and drank Bud. It was like camping.
“We found ourselves, seven young men, out in the forest, kind of going nuts. A month is a really long time in this one little spot. People got ticks. There were rats and woodpeckers and it was pretty full-on. It’s just another phase where you look back and go: ‘I can’t believe that happened.’”
Initial murmurs regarding the new album have led some to claim it lacks the level of mystery and power of its predecessor, in particular the 2008 anthem ‘Don’t Fight It’.
However, after a listen it is clear the West Australian band have filled this record with new found glories.
Lead off track ‘Majesty’ is one such glory. The grumbling of electronic/synth followed by the thumps of an orchestral bass drum offer quite the introduction. Laffer’s vocals punctuate the track with such purpose. It beautifully matches the melody and pace.
The Panics pick up the tempo on ‘Endless Road’, with a brash rambling big band sound. Outside of the instrumental pauses, Laffer’s vocals are the highlight as are the lyrics.
‘Creatures’ is the album's unofficial title track. The extended instrumental introduction moves gently across the track with the lyrics giving away the album’s title.
While stand alone instrumental has been a key feature on this album, so too has the band's focus on its lyrical element. 'One Way Street' opens with a call and response tinny between guitars before Laffer takes control. Lyrically this track is incredible. Laffer's timing and voice on the track could be compared to an early Paul Kelly, his Australianism rich and spoken words provoking.
An example being: 'silence is a beauty bound and memory is hard to take/ if the lights are out across the sky see the leaves die like falling hearts/ their headlights through the smoking trees/down where the lovers park on a one way street'.
'Walk That Mile Alone' has a heavier rock feel to it. It's one of the only tracks on the album that has used deep and dronie guitars.
'How Long' is a rambling track that seems to be a song of forgiveness, a song for a loved one after an argument. It's simple lyrics of 'Give me one opportunity for I simply can not proceed when one question makes me worry/ I made you a message and I paid you a visit I had that song but at the time my heart just wasn't in it'…. 'how long, how long must I be sorry' portray so much more with the band's instrumental backing.
'Everything Is Quiet' has an uncanny feeling of Ben Lee to it. It may sound like such an unlikely comparison, though take a listen. There is something in the 'stow away, throw away' line and the use of the piano that brings Lee to mind. It's a really lovely track, however as soon as I heard the Lee comparison I was quite thrown.
'Rain on the Humming Wire' is an exception album. The Panics have yet again created an incredible mix of musical wonder. They are such a talent.
Music reviews by Kate Kachor at Eleven Magazine