MORE LIKE ALBUM OF THE DECADE: HIATUS KAIYOTE, Tawk Tomahawk

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Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

The frightening cover art on Hiatus Kaiyote’s debut LP Tawk Tomahawk, displays the ferocious floating head of a coyote. Perhaps it conveys the horror that a narrow-minded, conservative listener may experience when hearing this record for the first time. This LP is unsuitable for an ear obsessed with conventional music; an ear that is unable or unwilling to look beyond Genre. Highly controversial, Tawk Tomahawk, with its enigmatic lyricism and musical transcendence, will send ignorant listeners into a terrifying state of confusion, consequently resulting in a distaste that is pretty much marked by their inability to comprehend this disjointed and hardly melodic record. For the rest of us, Tawk Tomahawk is a delicious remedy to jaded ears.

Influenced by the eclectic mix of Erykah Badu, Flying Lotus, Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and pretty much anything Flamenco and Columbian-esque, Hiatus have produced a sound that dips a toe in pretty much every single groovy musical movement of our time. There’s a bit of Jazz; a splash of Latin; half a cup of Hip-hop and a whole bunch of electronica. All of this is interconnected with the soul-drenched voice of singer-songwriter Nai Palm. An acquired taste, each track is vastly different to the one preceding it. Hardly hinting at any melody, Tawk Tomahawk is an incredibly random record, preferring instead to piece together a collection of eclectic tracks that have an increasing amount of syncopation and musical flavours. It is polyrhythmic, weird and heterogeneous. But this is exactly why it is so brilliant.

Putting aside its fantastic subversion of traditional musical form, Tawk Tomahawk is also extremely groovy and sexy. Palm’s uber sultry and sensuous tone, complemented with beautifully arranged key compositions and latin-inspired beats makes for a delectable listen. So unbelievably refreshing, Tawk Tomahawk never falls victim to monotony, due to its continual plunge into various different musical palettes. The album is also made up of both long and short tracks, the latter providing temporary respite from some of the heavier songs. Tracks like Ocelot, Boom Child and Rainbow Rhodes are layered with synths and hip-hop beats; electronic interludes that further validate the band’s musical dexterity. Like the instrumentals, Palm’s voice never stagnates. Where she might sing in one song; she will put her own spin on rap in another. She also harmonises a lot, showcasing her ethereal vibrato.

There is a prevalent theme of nature on the record, with a consistent use of tweeting birds. With its wildlife atmospherics and tribal drum patterns, the instrumental Leap Frog sounds like the perfect soundtrack to a muggy tropical setting. The ode to nature is reinforced in Nakamarra, a track celebrating the Australian desert. Also included on the re-mastered LP is an alternative version of Nakamarra featuring old-school rapper Q-Tip. Mr. Tip is an excellent accompaniment to Palm, harmonising beautifully with her in the bridge. His appearance is short and sweet, a wise decision on Hiatus’ part. Q-Tip lends the track an urban flavour; his briefness preventing it from becoming too generic.

Hiatus’ debut is groundbreaking and incredibly innovative, qualities that remind one of the old days of revolutionary musical fusion.

Review Score: 10 out of 10

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ALBUM REVIEW: SNAKADAKTAL, Sleep In The Water

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Originally published in The AU Review.

 

The cover art of Snakadaktal’s debut LP Sleep In The Water is so beautiful in its minimalism, depicting a body of water disrupted by subtle waves and riffs. Like its visual, the title Sleep In The Water, although initially alluding to a feeling of tranquillity, hints at something more sinister. These conflicting connotations are further addressed in the album, a paradox of lightness and darkness that marks Snakadaktal’s debut as one of my favourites this year.

The theme of water re-occurs in the album both sonically and lyrically. The former is validated through its icy guitar riffs, bubbling reverb and dreamy atmospherics, while the latter is personified through the album’s eerie lyricism, where the notion of water is manipulated as a means of poeticising its darker associations, the feeling of drowning and being in too deep. This idea of water as simultaneously serene and threatening is a consistent motif that enables Snakadaktal to play around with beats and vocals that express this duality.

Sleep In The Water is so beautifully orchestrated, its fluidity and thematically-driven tracks identifying it as a concept album, rather than a collection of randomly positioned songs. “Fall Underneath” is so dreamy and light, its icy guitar and minimal electric percussion transcending the listener into the most tranquil of landscapes. It could easily have worked as an instrumental intro, its sonic lightness epitomising the Snakadaktal signature sound. Phoebe Cockburn’s ethereal vocals do however blend in seamlessly; her voice being another instrument that encapsulates weightlessness.

The effortless transition from “Fall Underneath” into “Hung On Tight” reinforces the infinite fluidity of water. Driven by Sean Heathcliff on vocals, this track is incredibly tender, with Heathcliff’s emotive lyrics “Oh my sister, will you hold my hand/The big blue chair, you’re soaking in” and Cockburn’s breathy harmonies. This motif of drowning and loss is further explored later in the album, however Cockburn sings with such calmness and reflection that it all still feels like a dream, a floating melody and instrumentation that continues to plunge the listener deeper into this simultaneously sinister and calming abyss that Snakadaktal are creating.

“Deep” is one of the most menacing tracks on the LP. The spooky reverb, electronic drum rhythm and heavy synth bassline is very similar in mood to the sombre beats of The xx. Over the top of all of this is a creepy little key pattern that is so light and delicate. Cockburn’s vocals and lyricism are particularly intoxicating here, the former being especially breathy. Lyrics like “It’s too deep” and “The quiet explosion goes straight to the chest” reinforce this threatening motif of suffocation and claustrophobia. After Cockburn’s voice dramatically drops in the bridge, she comes back up for air after a synth breakdown seamlessly evolves into a climactic drum pattern. The interrelationship between lightness and darkness, between pain and bliss is impossible to misinterpret throughout this LP.

“Ghost” is incredibly intimate and minimalistic. It is also heartbreaking, with Cockburn painfully reliving a memory , “We spun around making sense of our luck/Ghost, ghost, ghost” and “Minds reliving the old/Disregarding the new.”

“Feel The Ocean Hold Me Under” is equally sombre, however it’s chaotic instrumentation and fast tempo is a nice little respite from its predecessor’s minimalism. Sounding like the foundation of a Cafe del Mar track fused with ’90’s techno, “Feel The Ocean Hold Me Under” validates Snakadaktal’s dexterity in sonic experimentation. When you thought Snakadaktal had gone as far as they could with dream-pop, they manage to pull the rug right out from underneath you.

The triptych of “The Sun I, II and III” collectively encapsulate the signature sounds of Snakadaktal: Raw emotion, beauty, fragility, tranquillity, vulnerability, pain, weightlessness and above all, a dreamy sonic bliss.  In “The Sun I,” you can actually hear water bubbling beneath the guitar riff. “The Sun III” concludes with a seamless synth fade-out that softly palpitates like a heartbeat. Brilliant work, Sleep In The Water is the perfect soundtrack to a desperately anticipated summer. A tender piece of music only suitable for the most intimate of environments.

LIVE REVIEW: SNAKADAKTAL, The Forum, Saturday August 24

The Roman gods smiled down at us from their ancient ruins. Beneath, the classical instruments manipulated by Melbourne octet Velma Grove nicely complemented the decadent, antiquated aesthetics of the Forum Theatre’s architecture. A mixture of roots and folk, Velma Grove opened the night with an orchestral swell.

Outnumbered by the sheer collection of their predecessor’s acoustics, Fishing took the stage next. A minimalist future beats duo, Fishing’s primitive synthesised rhythms were eclectic and funky. Everyone was getting into the music, including a small group of dancers who emulated the movements of impassioned robots. Fishing were a great ice-breaker, their hypnotic beats and charisma claiming the attention of the entire crowd and hyping everyone up for the anticipated arrival of Snakadaktal.

Halfway through the set of the 2011 Triple J Unearthed High Winners, it became evident that The Forum was not the appropriate venue for Snakadaktal. The beauty of the dream-pop quintet lies in their fragility and mood and The Forum was just too big a venue to accommodate such a delicate sound. The vulnerability and palpable discomfort of the band validated the inappropriate decision to place them in such a sterile environment. They would have been better off at The Corner or an equally intimate setting. The soft and incredibly emotive vocals of both Sean Heathcliff and Phoebe Cockburn were drowned out by both the instrumentals and the noise of the crowd and inevitably lost within the cavernous Forum. The intricate guitar riffs and atmospheric reverb that define the quintet’s debut album were hardly distinguishable amongst the increasingly audible crowd. Although the echo of the guitars and bass were there, the essence of those delicate, dreamy guitar and synth hooks were lost, consequently making it impossible to define one song from the next.

Rather than staring directly at us, they stared over our heads and their expressions were inscrutable. The performance was cold and distant and people in the audience were talking throughout the most emotive tracks. The beauty, fragility and simplicity of the album was lost in the live experience; lost in the huge space and crowd. A real shame. Next time, I would love to see them perform at a smaller, more intimate venue.

EP REVIEW: RAINBOW CHAN, Long Vacation

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Originally published in The AU Review.

 

Hardly a minimalist, Sydney-based artist Rainbow Chan has a knack for knitting together organic instruments with peculiar electronic beats. Influenced by J-pop, anime theme songs and Chinese folk music, Rainbow Chan has created a saccharine EP filled with nostalgic melodies and bubbly production. Beneath the lively electronics, there is a latent melancholy. Chan sings of loneliness, nostalgia and love lost, themes that flow consistently from one track to the next. Although the lyrics are heart breaking,  Chan sings of them with a revered fondness, enabling her listeners to understand her decision to incorporate synth-pop instrumentation that previously appeared so incongruous.

Chan’s skills as a multi-instrumentalist are more than validated throughout Long Vacation. Refusing to believe that less is more, Chan incorporates drum machines, thumb pianos, keys, synthesisers, glockenspiels, harp, guitar and saxophone into her saturated EP. She also sings; a sweet organic tone that complements her sugary beats. Although the former is delicate and controlled, this EP is hardly appropriate for easy listening, as there is just too much going on. However, there is a magic to the way this EP has been boldly constructed. Beneath what appears to be a competitive battlefield of instruments, Chan has orchestrated each bassline, each loop and each solo in a logical fashion. Her arrangements are melodious and meticulous.

“In a Foreign Tongue” opens with what sounds like a harp, followed by a tiny creature scuttling along floorboards. Chan manipulates her voice into a repetitive echo. A glockenspiel and synth bassline drive the track and champagne bottles are being popped in the chorus. Singing above all these strangely mesmerising sounds is Chan, “Love is just the embers of yesterday.” Chan orchestrates all these random noises in a way that sounds appealing and logical. Absurdly experimental, but it works.

“Skinny Dipping” has a faster tempo and a concrete theme. Chan reflects on a happier day; a day of skinny dipping and freedom, “dancing without care, we were younger then.” She sings of this memory fondly, incorporating a number of instruments which sound light and jovial. Guitar, organ and electric keys drive this track.

“Fool’s Gold” is a great jazz fusion number. The saxophone gives it a great jazzy feel, with a creepy synthesised bassline and hypnotic loop enabling Chan to further showcase her love for musical experimentation.

Lyrically, “Haircut” is the most uplifting track on the EP. Addressing the clichéd, yet liberating notion of a post-breakup haircut, Chan proudly sings, “I don’t need you anymore honey, I got a haircut today.” This is a terribly cute song, with a Little Dragon-esque synth arrangement, especially throughout the bridge, which sounds eerily familiar to the bassline in “Please Turn.”

The final track ‘Milk,” is not a personal favourite, due to its monotonous drum machines and lazy vocals. It does however, showcase Chan’s capable vibrato in the outro.

A fascinating and audacious bedroom-produced debut, Long Vacation is a kooky collection of meticulously arranged experimental sounds. Infesting a wide range of genres, Rainbow Chan delivers an eclectic EP. Although it may not be liked by everyone, it is definitely a refreshing treat for jaded ears.

15 minutes with BEACH FOSSILS

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Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

Nearly six months after the release of their sophomore LP Clash The Truth, Brooklyn indie outfit Beach Fossils are gearing up for a debut visit down under. I caught up with frontman Dustin Payseur to discuss his September Australian tour, Clash The Truth and the benefits of D.I.Y recording. I also got him to lift the lid on his side project, Divorce Money.

“I have no idea what day it is.” Dustin is relaxed and casual throughout the entire interview, the antithesis of how I’m feeling during my first interview for Beat. In an attempt to break the ice, I remind Dustin of that crazy video uploaded on his Facebook, the one where he is seen taking a dive at his drummer Tommy Gardner during a set at SXSW and then as a consequence, being politely escorted off stage by security. “We do that a lot,” Dustin laughs. “That guy [security guard] was actually very pissed off at me cause that wasn’t our drum set.”

This kind of stage spontaneity is a habit for Beach Fossils. “Sometimes I’ll be like ‘don’t smash your guitar, don’t smash your guitar’ and then like four seconds later I’ll be like, ‘I guess I smashed it.'”

One wonders if a similar spectacle will occur during their upcoming show at The Corner Hotel. “Don’t expect anything, we will surprise you. We feed off the energy of the audience, so you know, we have to make sure that the audience is prepared to be very energetic.”

After postponing an original trip to Australia late last year due to bad timing, Beach Fossils are extremely eager to make it up to their fans and have scheduled a trip to Melbourne and Sydney next month. Having never set foot in Australia before, Dustin’s enthusiasm is palpable over the phone. “I don’t really know what to expect. I don’t really know how much time I’m going to have there.”

Beach Fossils originally began as Dustin’s solo project in 2009. I asked him if he ever desired to sustain it as a solo idea. “It didn’t really matter, I just wanted to write the songs. If it turned into a band, then I would be happy with it. If it was a solo thing, I would be happy with it. I didn’t really think that far ahead. The reason it started as a solo project was because when I moved to New York I just didn’t know anybody. I really wanted to play in a band, so I just recorded everything myself.”

After meeting the rest of the band in various jamming sessions across New York, Beach Fossils released their debut eponymous LP in 2010. Since then, Beach Fossils has seen a multiple change in line-up, with Dustin being the only original member.

Earlier this year, Beach Fossils transcended from its original days of DIY and stepped into the studio with producer Ben Greenberg to record the sophomore LP Clash The Truth. “I love recording stuff myself. I just wanted to see what it [the studio] would be like, you know, it’s such a different experience. I liked the producer that I worked with, but I don’t really know if I like going into the studio that much. I kind of like the feeling of just doing it at home. You have more control over the sound, more control over everything.”

Beach Fossils’ debut was defined by its low-fi garage sound; minimalist atmospherics fused with subdued vocals. It was recorded in Dustin’s bedroom. When asked if Dustin recommends the DIY approach to musicians starting out, he takes his time in answering. “Yeah, maybe just at least start that way and then go from there. There’s nothing wrong with going into the studio, especially when you work with a producer that you can be friends with.”

Clash The Truth personifies the trials of human existence and the everyday inability to grasp reality. “[Clash The Truth] kind of stood for this idea of daily life, of going through the motions and accepting everything as it is and trying to make sense out of what you want to call reality and then realizing that it’s much different than you think it is. All the time, you actually have no idea what reality actually is.”

This aspect of confusion and self-doubt is personified through Dustin’s lyrics. Thematically, the first half of Clash The Truth deals with an anxious and insecure protagonist struggling to come to terms with reality. The second half, however, is dominated by acceptance and self-actualisation. The idea to construct an episodic linear structure was not a conscious decision for Dustin during production. “I didn’t really think about it on purpose, but most of the songs are about myself and my feelings and everything that I am going through. A few of the songs are about some of my friends and what they are going through. It’s about all these conflicting feelings that come from just being a human, you know, just everybody having the same feelings. You have times where you’re feeling great and confident. You also have times where you’re like ‘I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.'”

So, are there any downsides of being a musician? “I would say no. I think everybody should have some sort of creative hobby that makes them feel like there’s something beyond this experience. Something that can make you emotionally transcend everything that you are experiencing. It never ceases to be a great feeling, to know that other people are enjoying what you’re doing.”

Besides from his work with Beach Fossils, Dustin is also involved in a side project called Divorce Money. He plans to hopefully bring something out with this band sometime next year. “The guitar player just got ran over, he’s alright, but really not in shape for us yet. This summer was supposed to be my summer of playing shows with that band. It’s horribly unfortunate. We had to put that on the back wagon.”

Before concluding the interview, I asked him to describe his music as a means of selling Beach Fossils to Beat readers that are unfamiliar with his sound. “We’re like dub-step.” Really? “Oh yeah. Like a combination of Skrillex and Backstreet Boys.” Say what?

BEACH FOSSILS will grace The Corner Hotel with their spontaneity on Saturday September 21. Clash The Truth is available now through Inertia.

ALBUM REVIEW: LONDON GRAMMAR, If You Wait

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Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

Boy am I glad I chose this record to review. The debut LP from English trio London Grammar is ABSOLUTELY phenomenal. Now I know taste is subjective, but I would be very surprised if this record didn’t receive an outstanding reception. An audacious dive into experimentalism, this record has a little bit of everything. With a splash of art rock in its interrelationship between subtle percussion, haunting atmospherics and a classically trained vocalist, If You Wait also transcends into interweaving landscapes of folk, prog rock, electronica and pop. Vocalist Hannah Reid is stunning, simultaneously aggressive and ethereal throughout the entire LP. Her emotive voice inspires goose bumps and raised eyebrows, her classically trained pipes lending a flawless and theatrical tone to the music. But wait, let’s not forget the other remaining members of the trio. Dan Rothman brings modest guitar riffs and Dot Major, a multi-instrumentalist, delivers an overstuffed palette of keys, synth and electric drums. The first track Hey Now introduces its listeners to a complementary relationship between guitar, keys and atmospherics. Tricked by the illusion that the band must have more than three players, Dot Major validates his diverse multi-instrumentalist skills, playing eerie piano riffs, light electric percussion and spooky synths over the top of both Dan and Hannah. Hey Now is so easy to fall in love with, an appropriate prelude to the remainder of the album. Thematically, the LP is sombre and melancholy in both lyricism and instrumentals. The delicate piano composition in Nightcall is so pretty, yet there is an inherent sadness present. This chilling instrumental complements Hannah’s eerie vocals perfectly: “I’m going to drive you through the night, down the hills. I’m going to tell you something you don’t want to hear. I’m going to show you where it’s dumped, but have no fear.”

We see a change in tempo in Flickers and When We Were Young which takes the trio into almost a pop paradigm. Although a respite from their signature moody repertoire, London Grammar really excel during slower tracks like Hey Now, Nightcall, Stay Awake and Wasting My Young Years. The title track, which is the closing number, concludes with a minute of instrumentation: rising synths that eventually fade out into haunting silence, haunting being one of many adjectives that defines London Grammar. A stunning debut.

Review Score: 8.7 out of 10

LIVE REVIEW: MS MR, Monday July 29, The Hi-Fi

 

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Originally published in Beat Magazine.

If we were excited to see MS MR before the arrival of indie outfit Twinsy, it was pennies compared to how we felt during the support act’s perplexing set. To their credit, they may have been having an off night. Committing musical suicide, the outfit involved two rock drummers. Inevitably, all we heard was a cacophony of snares and toms, disappointing due to the physical presence of both a saxophone and trumpet which were barely audible. The music was ambiguous. The physical presence of sax and trumpet hinted at jazz fusion, however their inability to be heard threw their whole sound into a completely different direction. Restless and aching for MS MR, we were more than relieved when it finally became their turn. Showcasing a contagious repertoire of moody pop, Lizzie Plapinger and Max Hershenow transitioned their audience into an eerie world of spooky key changes and atmospheric synths. One of the many delights of the New York duo is found in Max’s skill as a producer; his humility in engineering subdued and minimalist instrumentation which allows Lizzie’s powerful voice to be fully exposed. Opening with Bones, the versatility in Lizzie’s vocal range was immediately validated. With flawless pipes that seemed unlikely to come from such a tiny frame, she employed a Florence-esque intonation in the final cry of “Dig up her bones, but leave her soul alone”, a desperate lyric that complemented the creepy little riffs orchestrated by Max on his keyboard. Occasionally taking respite from the ominous, yet delectable mood, Max and Lizzie would engage in a sporadic dance number. Both danced to seduce; their skills and taut and toned physiques making the rest of us look bad. What did we care though? We were there to watch them, and they were hot. Lizzie was a vamp and Max couldn’t keep his body still behind the keys. In between songs, they became human again, with a genuine graciousness that melted our hearts. The irony of their performance was found in their stage vigour. They were vivacious, yet their music is thematically grim. Fusing Latin-inspired dance moves with gloomy instrumentals was refreshing and fun, an innovative way to celebrate a new brand of indie pop. Adding dynamic to their set was the inclusion of an anonymous drummer and a synth player. Both drove the rhythm of the music, the guy on synth occasionally whipping out an electric guitar. The synthesiser co-existed perfectly with Max’s keyboard, both responsible for the moody atmospherics that define MS MR’s signature sound. Both Lizzie and Max’s competence as a duo was confirmed throughout This Isn’t Control, a track that saw the temporary disappearance of the two other players on stage. While Lizzie ironically showcased her more than capable vocal control, Max played a spooky little carnival-like riff over the top of it. His subtle harmonies were beautiful and chilling. A flawless set, its only downside being its brevity.