ALBUM REVIEW: THE REPROBETTES, The Reprobettes

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Close your eyes and press play. You’ve been thrown into a time machine, spun around a few times and transported back to the 60s. The Reprobettes play house to the Whiskey a Go Go, the iconic sunset strip nightclub in West Hollywood. The 5-piece girl group rock out fuzzy garage rock, surf rock and punk tunes, while go-go girls dance on the ledges above; all legs, painted faces and shimmer.

The Reprobettes are a delicious revival band, a throwback to the halcyon days of the Californian 60s. Formed in Melbourne in 2012, the all-girl growlers have been impressing audiences with their sassiness and wailing banshee screams. Their debut eponymous album is a decadent ode to female punk. Each song title has a sense of anarchy, whether its subtle or conspicuous and the lyrics are devoted to tales of sour relationships, liberation, rebellion and acceptance. The guitars are fuzzy, with the keyboard adjusted to organ mode, giving the record a vintage surf-rock flavour. Kat Karamitros and Sally Balhorn deliver vocals and harmonies reminiscent of The Belles and Linda Van Dyck.

The album opens with a bombastic “Reprobettes Theme,” an instrumental that wouldn’t be out of place on the B-side of the Pulp Fiction soundtrack. Fans of the genre will be hooked instantly, with the rest of the album easily sounding like a Tarantino mixtape. It doesn’t come as a surprise then when you read online that the girls are incredibly influenced by The 5,6,7,8s, the kooky Japanese girl group who featured in Kill Bill.

The album is comprised of nine originals and two covers, the latter reinforcing the girls’ affection for female rock and roll. “I Don’t Love You No More” by Continental Co-ets and “Stengun” by Linda Van Dyck are covered well here with the latter more bombastic and fierce than the original.

Essentially a punk record, The Reprobettes is a groovy respite from the blatant and self-indulgent pop music of today.

 

Review score: 8.1 out of 10

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ALBUM REVIEW: TAYLOR MCFERRIN, Early Riser

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Originally published in The AU Review.

 

Early Riser – the latest release from Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder imprint – is a lush showcase of Taylor Mcferrin‘s ardour for soul, left-field electronics and free jazz. Not surprising on a Brainfeeder release is the co-existence of melancholia and urgency, manifesting here in seamless tempo shifts and instrumental layering.

Rather than sounding like a fully fleshed concept album, Early Riser sounds more like one big melodic sonic experiment, taking bits and pieces from various modern styles, a technique that is favoured in the Brainfeeder family. I use the term melodic here, because although the experimental elements are undeniable, Early Riser is a lot more ear-friendly and musical than a straightforward sonic experiment like Flylo’s Cosmogramma. Like its title suggests, the album is an ideal soundtrack to an early start, the slow and dreamy build-ups perfect for fragile ears. Imagine hearing Flylo or Thundercat at 6am, yikes!

Essentially a soul-jazz record, Mcferrin’s debut LP switches effortlessly from a stable glide into a free fall, yet never really takes off. The regular anti-climaxes reinforce the “experimental” approach here, with some of the tracks lacking range and finality. Although packing some serious production, “Degrees of Light”, “4 am” and “Stepps” end up sounding half-baked, the absence of a lift off positioning them more like rough drafts than finished products. Having said that, nearly every single track is an enjoyable listen, with delicate piano compositions, lush synth arrangements and jazzy percussion. There’s appearances from label-mate Thundercat, Melbourne’s very own Nai Palm and Blue Note’s Robert Glasper. Thundercat and Glasper come together beautifully on “Already There”, a forward-thinking future jazz number and Palm makes “The Antidote” sound like a Hiatus Kaiyote song, complete with cryptic lyrics and backbeats. As a matter of fact, if you heard “4 am” out of context, you’d assume it was Hiatus Kaiyote, as it’s very similar stylistically to their instrumental interludes on Tawk Tomahawk.

The weakest track here is “Place in My Heart”, featuring RYAT on vocals. Despite being an interesting vocalist, her pitchy folk tone sounds out of place here, maybe because it’s so unexpected on this kind of album. The melody is annoying and forgettable and the basic guitar chords and washed out electronics take it in more of an indie pop direction, a strange and unwelcome choice here.

Despite the confusing “Place in My Heart”, and the few premature tracks discussed above, Early Riser is a beautiful example of contemporary jazz fusion from the Brooklyn-based Mcferrin.

Review Score: 8.4 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: BUSTA RHYMES & Q-TIP, The Abstract and The Dragon

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Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

A few weeks before the new year, Bussa Bus and Q-Tip released The Abstract And The Dragon, a self-righteous excuse to revive “original rap,” the boom-bap golden era of the ’90s. The 28-track mixtape boasts a collection of classics and remixes, with only a handful of originals. Vivrant thing is re-worked, along with Scenario and Tip’s Gettin Up. Busta Rhymes (The Dragon) and Q-Tip (The Abstract) simultaneously revive and validate the legendary golden era of hip hop, “the real hip hop” as The Dragon calls it and he’s right. This is the real hip-hop; the authentic unpolished “boom bap boom boom bap,” beat of the game, the game that both veterans accuse contemporary rappers of disrespecting.

I’ve listened to this record a lot; I’m in double digits here and I can honestly say that this could be the best hip-hop mixtape since Dilla’s Donuts in 2006. It’s all ego and pride, and rightly so. These guys were at the front of the boom-bap movement, the original shit and they should be proud. There’s nothing modest about this album. Busta is all up in your grill, huffing and puffing over rhymes like “You can’t erase me..somehow I’m never done” and “Here I am, RUN.” In the intro track, he also boasts “This is where it all started.” Tip is a little more humble, embodying the role of a minimalist artist as opposed to one who sprays red all over the canvas. The contrast is effective, however it does end up sounding more like Buss’ record by the end of it.

The boys are brothers and it’s represented and re-enforced throughout the entire album, but especially in the intro and Butch and Sundance. They’re a duel force to be reckoned with and new age players won’t be able to ignore the palpable criticism in You Can’t Hold The Torch, a track written like a letter of criticism. “These niggers in the game don’t sound the same” and “You’re hurting the game when your shit sounds off” are only a few rhymes from that heavy complaint. I’ll let you enjoy the rest of it.

Review Score: 9.0 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: WARPAINT, Warpaint

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Originally published in The AU Review.

 

Hours before writing up this review, I shared Warpaint’s latest SoundCloud activity on my blog. Titled ‘Biggie’ and taken from their upcoming eponymous release, Warpaint’s new track is one that Portishead never wrote. No doubt influenced by the trip hop craze of the 90s, ‘Biggie’ is only one example of the new Warpaint.

Yes, there is still the mild post-punk and indie rock flavours thrown into the mix, but Warpaint feels, sounds and tastes a lot more synthetic. Mostly keys and percussion driven, the new record boasts a tighter production and a darker aesthetic. Engineered by Grammy-award winning rock producer Mark “Flood” Ellis (U2, Nick Cave, Nine Inch Nails), Warpaint also became the focus of an upcoming documentary by extremist videographer Chris Cunningham. The documentary is an artistic and abstract video diary of the making of the album, pushing the girls’ music further into the paradigm of art rock.

I love this new record. Arriving nearly four years after its predecessor, Warpaint is fresh and morose, taking all the original aspects of the debut and reshaping them. The Fool was undeniably good, but it was too safe, avoiding a stretch beyond the girls’ take on indie rock. The follow up manages to sound both risky and appropriate, simultaneously evoking a sense of integrity and reinvention. The girls have kept their ghostly riffs, eerie vocals and collective harmonies, but they’ve added percussive breaks and synth-laden keys and atmospherics. Stella Mozgawa is as versatile as ever on the drums and drum machines, transitioning smoothly from a bombastic rhythm into a minimalist one. You never know what’s coming up next, as each track is different to the one before it. There’s an indie folk track (‘Teese’), then a trip-hop one (‘Hi’) and then a punchy punk-rock Kills-esque piece (‘Disco//very’). Its consistent versatility prevents it from becoming dull and its sonic exploration indicates an inevitable evolutionary growth for Warpaint.

Like The Fool, the lyrics are as sombre and enigmatic as ever. “Love Is To Die” says it all in its title and other tracks spit “Eat you alive/rip you up and tear you in two” (‘Disco//very’) and whisper “All you see/you don’t want to see/but can’t seem to avoid” (‘Teese’). In ‘CC’, the girls sing “Give me more/I haven’t heard this before/been holding out for this one.” Mmm, sounds a lot like my reaction to the new album.

Fans unfamiliar with Warpaint will still recognise it as Warpaint. It’s one of those few sophomore releases to deliver something both original and familiar and on top of that, to deliver it well.

Review Score: 8.4 out of 10.

ALBUM REVIEW: CUT COPY, Free Your Mind

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Originally published in Beat Magazine.

 

Cut Copy have always been a band who embraced both the old and the new. They stitch futuristic electronica with retro dance music. When they released their innovative debut and sophomore records in 2004 and 2008, they pioneered the indie dance movement, blending lo-fi indie with 80s pop and disco to create a sound that had both feet planted in different musical paradigms. They have played at indie, dance and electronica festivals, proving a difficult group to categorise. Every record they have released has been progressive, simultaneously different and alike to their previous work, validating an integrity that made myself and others follow the band consistently throughout their career. Free Your Mind however, is a step back. Almost ten years after the release of their debut Bright Like Neon Love, Cut Copy have gone twenty years back, delivering both an idea and a sound that is just way too retro, way too old school and much too antiquated.

Everything about this album is corny. The album and the title track tell you to “free your mind,” the tracks have titles like We Are Explorers, Into The Desert, Meet Me In A House Of Love, Take Me Higher and Walking In The Sky. The lyrics are all wishy washy and cheesy: “In these arms you’re always welcome/if you are a sinner or you are a saint,” “You gotta reach the sky if you want your life to shine” (Free Your Mind) and “You gotta live your life today, tomorrow is a world away” (Walking In The Sky). Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, the distorted monologues and voice-overs joined in: “This information is crystallising into your mind” (Let Me Show You Love), “He’s the one who gave me the horse/so I could ride into the desert” (Into The Desert) and “the waves just came rushing in and splashing on the rocks/sort of a spiritual experience” (The Waves). The whole thing reminds me of that scene in Zoolander when Derek is being brainwashed and it’s all cheesy and comedic. Along with Relax, Free Your Mind would be the perfect soundtrack to that scene. Will Ferrel may as well be the voice-over in all the tracks, the outcome would still be the same. Unlike Derek though, I wasn’t brainwashed into thinking this was right and I didn’t leave the session with a free mind.

Sonically, the album is alright. Catchy yes, but dully repetitive, like a lot of house music. A lot of the tracks sound like lost Depeche Mode and Corona ones (Free Your Mind, Meet Me In A House Of Love), complete with squelchy bass lines reminiscent of old acid house days. It never kicks in enough to be considered dance music and it’s too corny to be taken seriously as a musical treasure. It’s trying to be psychedelic, but the lyrics and monologues are so cringy and lightweight, skimming the surface of real spirituality. It never goes further than “We’re on a journey to the morning sun” or “I’m a man who’s walking in the sky.” It doesn’t really fit anywhere, except the scene in Zoolander mentioned before. The only thing that would make sense is if Cut Copy actually came out and admitted that it was a joke, an experiment in cult narratives and hipster philosophy. Even the video clip of Free Your Mind is ridiculous, showing a topless hippy Alexander Skarsgard walking around his estate,  admiring his brainless cult followers. Hey, he was in Zoolander wasn’t he? It all makes sense now.

Seriously though, I was really disappointed with this one. I miss the days when Cut Copy were independent and progressive. This whole pseudo-psychadelic narration meets 90s house thing is stagnant, outdated and just plain weird. Instead of freeing my mind, it just pissed it off. Bring back the old Cut Copy.

Review Score: 5.7 out of 10

ALBUM REVIEW: GOSSLING, Harvest Of Gold

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Originally published in The AU Review.

 

The transition from acoustic to electronic is often an inevitable one. It’s a common shift for acoustic instrumentalists who want to explore new sonic possibilities and challenge traditional paradigms. In her debut LP Harvest Of Gold, Melbourne singer-songwriter Gossling moves away from the folk-driven aesthetic of her previous EPs and implants a new seed into her music.

Ditching the acoustics for electric guitars, drum machines and keyboards, Gossling’s debut sounds less like an Australian folk record and more like a pop one. Her instruments may have changed since her last release, but Harvest still contains that strange idiosyncratic voice and those profound lyrics we as an audience fell in love with three years ago. Stitching together all of the familiar and unfamiliar aspects of Gossling’s music, Harvest is a symbol of demarcation between what Gosling’s music was and where it’s heading.

It doesn’t take a triple j addict to be able to recognise a new Gossling song before it’s identified as one. We all know that voice, that eerie child-like intonation mixed with an adult’s wisdom. She’s the less annoying daughter of Sarah Blasko and the Australian cousin of Sweden’s Lykke Li. Her voice may be distinctive across her entire repertoire, but her use of instruments in this particular record is definitely a surprise. ‘Never Expire’ is a real dark synth-pop track and ‘Challenge’ – despite its melancholy lyricism – is almost a disco song.

The electric piano compositions in tracks like ‘Harvest Of Gold’ and ‘Songs of Summer’ are incredibly pretty and delicate. The only instrumental downer in the entire album are the drums. Throughout, the rhythms really don’t change much and they’re all quite feeble. I’m all for minimalism, but versatility was definitely missed on the drum kits here. Although new and exciting for Gossling no doubt, the music isn’t exactly original or particularly memorable when placed against the backdrop of the Australian indie scene. Although a smooth sonic transition, it’s not the sounds on Harvest that will be remembered, but the storytelling.

Collectively, her debut LP is hardly a joyous one. The title track and ‘Songs of Summer’ are about inevitable loss and temporary love. ‘Vanish’ is a response to the death of Jill Meagher and a reflection on the illusion of safety and ‘Pulse’ is infested by paranoia and anxiety. Oh and ‘A Lovers’ Spat’ reeks of damaged love and broken hearts. Comforting it may not be, this is where Gossling excels. Her voice is uncanny; it only makes sense for her lyrics to be creepy. In saying that, her voice can only do so much; it’s her lyrics and acute storytelling that really gets those little hairs rising and those tears rolling. In the title track, Gossling equates love with a harvest, a rather pessimistic analogy which signifies the inevitable expiration of both: “Oh harvest lover/cut when we’re grown…it’s temporary love for you and me.” Yikes! Hardly an image for idealistic young Gatsby’s of the world. In ‘Challenge’ she sings “Feeling down is a constant pull I’m never gonna see it disappear” and in ‘Big Love’ we hear “Big loves are the ones who let you down/but the little ones, never fill you up.” Yeah, maybe chuck out your razor blades before pressing play on this record. Having said all this, Harvest shouldn’t be labelled a mopey downer of a release. It’s not a letter of complaint; it’s a reflection of universal and unisex truths and experiences. It’s basically a reality check for the delusional.

Gossling has equated the routine of a harvest with the routine of love. It grows, it flourishes, it reaches its peak and then it’s cut, it’s destroyed. The following season, it goes through the exact same routine and so on and so forth. There’s the illusion of the harvest of gold, the illusion of love, the illusion of safety, security, etc. By illusion, I mean the illusion of believing in the permanent. Jill Meagher thought she was safe, she wasn’t. Gossling thought the songs of summer were going to last forever, they didn’t. Ironically, Harvest is anything but disillusioned. Yes, it may be cynical and disheartening, but it is spot on in its narrative of truth. Fine songwriting indeed.

Review Score: 7.8 out of 10.

ALBUM REVIEW: CFCF, Outside

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Originally published in the AU Review.

The thrill of the unknown is not a new concept, nor is the notion of oppression and alienation. For the counter-culture anarchists of the 1960s, escapism was generally achieved through the use of psychotropic drugs. Following in the footsteps of his dissatisfied predecessors, electronic producer Mike Silver (CFCF) addresses this desire of escapism in his latest release, however the catalyst did not arrive through psychedelic substances, but through travel.

Back in 2010, when Silver began writing Outside, he was travelling frequently between Montreal, Toronto and New York. The Montreal-based producer’s girlfriend at the time lived in Toronto and he would often take the train into New York for work. On the train, he would lose himself in the changing scenery: the enchanting forests and mountains. The lyricism on Outside was simultaneously inspired by Silver’s intrigue with nature and new environments and his feelings of loneliness and claustrophobia as a result of stagnation and social restraints.

The LP is an ode to new environments, unknown and exciting beauties that represent stability and freedom. Outside solidifies Silver’s frustrated consciousness of feeling trapped, tiny and claustrophobic in his sterile world. The album’s artwork – a harsh, thick line painted across green bush – further epitomises this universal barrier between nature and social reality. Thematically, the record is a moving repertoire of songs personifying this yearning to escape, to “Jump Out Of The Train.” Sonically however – like its perception of social reality – it does stagnate and repeat itself.

The album is incredibly percussive, a nice touch that provides the LP with a primitive aesthetic. Throughout, Silver does his best to simulate the sounds of the forest. In “Beyond Light,” the train’s rail wheels can be heard through the repetitive percussion and its shrill siren wails through the sharp chords of an electric guitar. There’s the sound of twittering birds and footsteps in “Find,” an instrumental track with the addition of a real melancholy blues guitar. Both “Find” and “Transcend” in particular, sound like those old meditative tapes my teacher would play in high school during one of our “reflective naps.” Lyrically, “Jump Out Of The Train” and “This Breath” hit the nail on the head with their moans and groans of frustration. In “This Breath,” Silver loses all inhibition in the forest with the lyric “Let me go, abandon me/I will find my way.” “Jump Out Of The Train” is a particularly heartbreaking moment, with the lyrics “I can’t feel a thing…..I can’t help but feel so small.” The desire to escape convention and routine is reinforced in “I pretend I’m all alone….have no name, have no home.” In the final track “Walking In The Dust,” we hear the chirping birds again, followed by a soothing whisper telling us about “waking in a strange place/waking up alone/nobody around and no way home.” Silver tantalises us with this tale; it’s not meant to sound threatening. By the end of the record you’ve heard the same synths, rhythms, chords and atmospherics half a dozen times. There are the same birds, the same intonations and the same mediative bass lines. The only track that is remarkably different to the others is “Feeling, Holding,” a mid-tempo track that borders on synth-pop, yet the lyrics are so subdued that you can’t even hear the words.

Silver has delivered a record which simultaneously glorifies the unknown and turns its back on law and order. However fascinating fantasies of nihilism may be, these ideas are hardly original. We saw them through the Beatniks and through 60s psychedelic rock. We read about them in Huxley’s The Doors of Perception and listened to them in The Dark Side Of The Moon. Outside, although sonically repetitive, is pleasing to the ear and should definitely be included alongside Enya’s discography in a pregnant woman’s playlist.

Review Score: 6.9 out of 10.