Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 in Lists - The Year in the Rearview

Attempting to construct some sort of 'round up' of a year is, by now, so cliched and so many options are available that to do it seems almost redundant. However, it is worth stating that there was an unusually broad range of excellent albums and songs and it is the discovery of this music that seems the greatest challenge. Though much of it comes from seeing local live shows, and a little from friends and various websites like, Pitchfork, Mess+Noise and , almost none of it comes from radio or any technology not popularised in the last 15 years. This increasing reliance on technology seems to accompany a push away from it, to a romanticised version of music before this time. Few of the albums populating Top 10 of 2011 lists take advantage of these technological developments and ignore them when it comes to the writing of music, which still seems best done by people over 30. When someone is imaginative and reconsiders the concept of an album and sees the whole process as a chance to reconnect with an increasingly distant and often distracted audience, as Bjork did with Biophilia the result is not wholly successful. Biophilia was so revolutionary that barely any consideration was given to the music (a charge some rashly made against Bjork herself). 

All this shifting does beg the question how much more differently can we listen to music? It could hardly be more casual or integrated into our lives. The idea of incredibly convenient music which is about incredibly inconvenient experiences seems to dominate Top 10s; the war-laden stories of confrontation on PJ Harvey's Let England Shake, the traumatic and tragic personal history of Girls' singer and songwriter Christopher Owens and the futility of escape from suburban ennui that lies like a fog over the Twerps glorious eponymous debut. Now that digital downloads have finally passed physical sales (50.3% vs 49.7%) there's no reason to think it will stop anytime soon despite passionate listeners espousing vinyl over all else and a culture-lead concept of authenticity reigning supreme.

1. Let England Shake PJ HARVEY
2. Father, Son, Holy Ghost GIRLS
3. Hello Sadness LOS CAMPESINOS!
4. Go With River OWLS OF THE SWAMP
5. Twerps TWERPS
6. Biophilia 
7. Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming M83
8. New Brigade ICEAGE
9. Rolling Blackouts THE GO! TEAM
10.50 Words For Snow KATE BUSH 

1. Underneath Tonight LOWTIDE
2. Heartlove ALPINE
4. Too Beautiful to Work THE LUYAS
5. Holiday in America BITCH PREFECT
7. Need You Now CUT COPY

9. Turn Me On THE GRATES
10. Crystalline BJÖRK

1. Lowtide
2. Alpine
3. Tully on Tully
4. Collarbones
5. Bitch Prefect

1. Belle and Sebastian GOLDEN PLAINS
2. Gang of Four CORNER HOTEL
4. The Antlers CORNER HOTEL
5. The Go! Team CORNER HOTEL

4. The Good China, The Bon Scotts THE GRACE DARLING
5. Collarbones SUGAR MOUNTAIN

1. Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews BBC RADIO FIVE LIVE
3. Adam and Joe BBC 6 MUSIC
4. Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me NPR
5. This American Life NPR

1. Mad Men AMC
2. Game of Thrones HBO 
3. Lawrence Leung’s Unbelievable ABC
4. At The Movies ABC
5. Media Watch ABC

1. True Grit
2. Le Quattro Volte
3. Tree of Life
4. We Need to Talk About Kevin
5. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II
6. Jess + Moss
7. Certified Copy
8. Melancholia
9. Tiny Furniture
10.The Guard

Odd Future; horrific lyrics and rampant egos fuel songs with no structure, melody or purpose beyond offense, though it’s just as easy to construct an argument for their being band of the year.

It’s Fri-ee-day Fri-ee-day / Gotta get down on Fri-ee-day – Rebecca Black, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon and most of the developed world at some point.

Obama to go, anarchy to reign, music to become increasingly cross-referential; first London Olympics to be a fiasco, world not to end, but very interesting things to happen. It will be a glorious year to be alive.

Monday, December 12, 2011


The Grace Darling

Neither French nor animalistic, Animaux are one of the more competent bands to grace the small stage of the Grace Darling.  The first of the evening’s three bands (none of which have fewer than seven members), Animaux specialise in the brand of polished soulful pop beloved by teenage musicians having fun with their instrumental proficiency, which means there are riffs copped from all over the place everything is played and sung with technique to spare, and is totally bereft of actual pop or soul. Despite this, it’s hard to deny the fun being had on and off the crowded stage. It’s also the first of three exemplary displays of sound engineering by the mixer who does a brilliant job juggling instrument swapping, horn sections, copious percussion and multiple vocalists.

As audience numbers pick up, The Bon Scotts give them something to get excited about. Featuring harp, baritone horn, accordion, cello and a rhythm section raised on The Waterboys and Beirut, songs like Let’s Do What the Catholics Do and Lovely Bones (‘this has nothing to do with the book or film, that’s an unfortunate coincidence’) showcase singer Robert Zimmerman’s (yes, really) deft way with words and references. So passionately delivered is the music, its pace so frantic and acoustic instruments so prominent the songs sound politically driven, though the only politics Zimmerman is interested in are personal. The band’s gifted arrangements and banter like ‘this song is about songs you love now that will eventually be used to sell you crap, like fridges’ betray an imagination at work that will only get better with time.

By the time The Good China assemble themselves amongst the plastic foliage and paper lanterns decorating the stage, the venue is packed. Within minutes of the first song kicking in, you’re forced to ask ‘how can a band this good not be everywhere?’ While there are at least four singers in the octet, each with a different style of song, the songwriting quality never drops and the variations on attention-wresting imaginative pop music seem limitless. Singer James Grech favours clipped Phoenix-like funk, Nick McMillan an exciting Go Team!-style verbose intensity while backing vocals of Mietta Sancolo and violin of Quyen Le are the most notable examples of the musical prowess needed to make songs seem this thrillingly simple. Tonight’s show is to launch new single No More Maps, No More Roads one of several high points in a stellar set.

Monday, November 28, 2011


St Michael's Church

A queue snakes down the broad stairs and along Collins Street in the balmy heat. It’s not the usual mix of punters given the Melbourne Music Week setting, but soon we’re all brought together in pews facing a broad podium, littered with instruments, a lighting system desperately drawing attention to itself, fold-back wedges and religious paraphernalia that sits beneath a giant pipe organ and stained glass windows. It's a beautiful room, a sold out gig, and a very appreciative crowd is assembling. 

James Wallace aka Wintercoats opens the evening’s proceedings, his gaunt blue-lit frame poised over a violin. Soon, layers of bowed notes build and percussive taps, flicks and jabs follow. As with most proponents of loop pedals, songs build gradually but unlike most, his technical mastery and pedal manipulations don't detract from the rich atmosphere. Wallace’s fantastically emotive voice is often subsumed beneath his ephemeral cascading violins, especially beautiful on the closing Working on a Dream; its unassuming majesty perfectly suited to the reverential surroundings.

Looking like kids still at school an hour after the last bell (a combination of nerds in the library and bad boys in detention), Montero is one of the finest bands 2011 has offered up. Though they hark back to whatever the least-referenced years of the 1970s and 80s are, they don't recall any act or era specifically. Swung beats and a Moog will always attract the terms ‘psychedelia’ or ‘prog’, but Montero have no time for labels; the charisma of Ben Montero, drumming of Cameron Potts and talent in their all-star lineup is too compelling. Songs like Clear Sailing and Rainman are highlights of a stellar show and hint at forthcoming releases bound to attract praise more gushing than this.

The gentle malevolence that lingers through the surprisingly celebratory songs of The Orbweavers is markedly offset by the sweet banter of birdlike singer Marita Dyson. Songs about Merri Creek, the Melbourne sewerage system and flash flooding are interspersed with illuminating factoids of local history, accidental insults directed at her pets and obsessive punctuality. The deft guitar of Stuart Flanagan and trumpet of Daniel Aulsebrook lets their dark country balladry soar and linger beautifully In their succession of quiet achievements, tonight is another win.

Ambling from the nearby bar, the restless crowd give a mixed response to the almighty riffage and power of Beaches as they ease into gear. With less vocals and more chug, the excellence of the sound system and bright acoustics of the room mean songs that roar like jet engines on record become sheets of fuzz with a buzzing lightness. Ebbs and surges are handled deftly and the occasional vocals from singer Ali McCann come as a respite from the blinding walls of white.

After a lengthy wait, the room darkens and the icebreaking sounds of HTRK detonate among us. Watching the duo is a difficult experience with bright pulsing lights trained on the crowd and the band bathed in dark blue. Listening is far easier, with their sounds so brilliantly sculpted and powerful and the room so ideal that what those sounds do is almost secondary. Almost. Unfortunately here lies the weakness of HTRK; songs seem exercises in shifting blocks of noise, each one sharing an asexual grind and annoyingly vague and indistinct lyrics, the repetition of which amplifies their annoying vagueness. This may, along with the alienating light show, be their intent, given their love of subversive music and cinema. But, unlike their touchstones, there are no surprises or innovations here. Nigel Yang’s guitar is almost as an aesthetic afterthought, so buried is it beneath the synths and icily cyclical beats and so processed is its sounds. There is masterfulness in their execution but emptiness inside.

Saturday, November 26, 2011


The Palace Theatre

Looking, and sounding like five guys who met in the Wolfmother audition queue (but actually being three quarters of Tame Impala), Pond seem at home spread across the lengthy Palace stage; no mean feat for a band used to playing Perth warehouse parties. In front of a wall of amps, their vintage guitars, crusading riffs, copious bouncing hair and indistinct impassioned wailing is, as with many recently celebrated Australian bands, totally derivative and incredibly well executed. Playing like they're headlining, songs like You Broke My Cool allow singer Nick Allbrook to wander the stage, occasionally flinging his arms out as if to say 'this is it! How good' A version of Tears of a Clown that's more Caligula than Smoky Robinson allows for some deft twin guitar action, and the audience (and The Flaming Lips) are suitably impressed.

Minutes later Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne crosses the stage to cheers as he helps roadies and techs assemble equipment, all wrapped in white tape, heavily stickered and customized. Checking the instruments, inflatable space bubble, dry ice, massive screens and tiny video cameras and effects would, ordinarily, be akin to a magician giving away tricks, but the Lips' sleeve is full of so many more that it only adds to the excitement.

Coyne's pre-show disclaimer includes an apology for their short set at Harvest due to: ’festival timing and a dilemma with trains and buses. Tonight, we have no limits, we will play longer and better and louder.’ True to form, the first five minutes include the birth-through-psychedelic-supernova-vagina entrance, Coyne striding over the crowd in his space bubble, massive balloons, exploding confetti cannons, swathes of jet-powered dry ice, two teams of leggy dancers, air raid megaphone sirens and the firing of numerous streamer launchers. All the distractions are dispatched with in an awe-inspiring burst of props and massive bass riffs, which begs the question ‘how are they going to top this?’ The answer; songs. Straight up we get She Don’t Use Jelly before being exhorted, as we are between every song, to get noisy, and Coyne needs all the help he can get, with his voice parched and frail from overuse, so we provide an admirable choir for Jelly and throughout the ensuing, brilliant The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song. Coyne's backless acoustic guitar exists just as much to burst massive balloons of confetti as to make music. TV On the Radio stand to the side of the audience with Pond with smiles as broad as ours as Stephen Drozd plays the iPhone for Is David Bowie Dying, which sounds huge, before we’re lead through a long, drawn-out version of Yoshimi, even more poignant for being played among the burst balloons and scattered detritus of happier songs. See the Leaves sees Coyne don giant hands that shoot lasers at disco balls, which is a perfect introduction to Drug Chart. We call The Lips back for a blinding encore of Race For the Prize and a magnificent hymnal Do You Realize, a pair of modern classics that conclude one of the most remarkable gigs of the year.

Friday, November 11, 2011


On the eve of her first Australian tour and the launch of her debut EP, ANDY HAZEL finds out about the long musical history and striking fresh sounds of multiple Age EG Music Award nominee SOPHIA BROUS.

When a debut single is musically proficient, lyrically unusual, artfully produced and stunningly delivered, it’s going to attract attention. Streamers, the lead single from the eponymous debut EP from Melbourne band Brous has been thrust to high rotation on JJJ as well as garnering community radio play and an Age EG Music Award nomination for Best Single. Despite a short musical career of surprising twists and turns, recent developments are something that vocalist, composer and chief architect Sophia Brous is still grappling with. “I’m really pleased!” she says happily. “It’s funny, when you view other people you think things are going well and achievements like this are all there is to their life at the moment. It is fantastic, but it’s not like the world has turned purple, life goes on.”

Life, for Brous, constitutes of a range of creative projects, which sees her week divided between writing music and playing gigs. It’s a work ethic befitting someone who can lay claim to an impressive array of achievements, including debuting onstage with Gil Askey, becoming, at 22, the youngest ever director of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival (a role she recently stepped down from), and winning a scholarship to the New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. These experiences feed in to the truly unusual and powerful sound that is being introduced to the world through Streamers. “When I went to the States, it was the first time in my formal music training that I had been introduced to music like exotica and tropicalia, and film noir soundtracks and was able to focus on them in an concentrated manner,” she says emphatically, highlighting influences that permeate the EP. “Many people who’ve gone through that system go through a process of unlearning, and it was like that for me. As soon as I got back, I went straight into jazz clubs and performing, but then there was a period of feeling like I wanted to explore other things, so I stepped back and started writing. It’s interesting,” she says, pausing, “as soon as I stepped away from jazz, I got the festival job; I jumped into it and gave it my all and it was a great experience, but now that Brous is out there, it’s time to be focusing on that.”

Unsurprisingly, when Brous focuses on something, impressive results follow, and so it is with the EP. Amazingly enough, with Brous’s powerful voice and poetic turns of phrase, the band’s music arrests almost as much attention. “The band were long time friends of mine and people I knew well before they joined,” she says keenly. “It began with James Rushford. We had an interest in pop melody, Europop, art music and avant garde and after playing with him I got further into melodies with a sense of darkness or depth. Shags [Chamberlain] was the last person to join the group, but he is a really important part of it,” she says with a rare pause for contemplation. “As oppose to having musical training, he has great taste in gear and an encyclopaedic knowledge of music and sounds which makes him great in the studio, this guy has 10000 records in his bedroom, so how could he not? I had a clear idea of what I wanted before I went in, but it’s difficult to communicate outside of music terms, and that was a great thing about having Shags there. I don’t have knowledge of synths, but when I write I have a very clear idea of the sounds I want, and sound is the core of my music – every song begins with the foundations of melody. To communicate the sound in my head means I’m singing stupid sounds to people, or playing recordings to focus on the exact tone I want, and Shags really gets that. Scott [Horscroft], Shags and me coproduced the whole thing. I bring the chords to the band and ultimately it’s what you do next that is the most interesting thing. Everything has to come back to the fundamentals; that’s the whole process on the writing - the melody, then lyrics. Then it’s a matter of extrapolating out and building around it, like architecture.” Other band members, or architects, include Alexander Garsden, Jeanette Little and Joe Talia, shining examples of the fertility of the Melbourne music community, which Brous seems intent on feeding back into.

“Initially we recorded nine tracks as a session - a few I wanted to hold for the album, some others as B sides - and this collection of songs felt cohesive. For the EP, it felt like this was enough of a first statement to come out with. We’ve written a lot of music since then and I can’t wait to get to work on that, but with Brous, there is a certain timbre. It’s dramatic and epic in scope, but I’m interested to see how this can be done in sparser ways with fewer instruments,” she says enthusiastically. “When we were recording and producing the EP Streamers was such a big song to create,” she continues breathlessly. “It took the most work, it was draining to record and it is a workout to perform; I call it my Jane Fonda song,” she laughs. “We had a lot of gear in the studio to play with, and time to develop countermelodies and give the song a certain robustness. Recording it was something that happened over time and in stages - because of my job we could only work in bursts - so the song was constructed in stages, which is funny because you can hear the song develop like that when you listen to it,” she says of its unusual structure. “I wanted a strange dislocation.”

Even with the quality and universally positive reviews, Streamers runs the danger of overshadowing the quieter and less exuberant songs on the EP, but that’s something Brous can justify. “Because Streamers came out first, and with the video getting lots of views online, people have had time to sit with it. I think every song on the EP has that scope of arrangement and heart and soul put into it; none of them are fading flowers,” she laughs. “A song like Little Ticket is a condensed version of the drama that people are talking about in Streamers. More is great, and giving something a sense of grandeur is great, but I don’t want to overwhelm the song,” she says carefully. With the company she keeps, you can be sure that’s unlikely and any density the songs have will only reward deeper listening.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


The Palais

When joining the throng in the foyer of the Palais, it’s fair to say few of us are expecting to be regaled by a 5-foot version of Michael Buble upon entering the theatre. However, 17-year old Australia’s Got Talent finalist Liam Burrows (who one signed-photo clutching patron later assures me later is ‘going to be really famous one day!’) is a graduate of the Sinatra school of entertainment and offers good clean fun versions of popular jazz standards. As much as the audience adores him, and as impressive as his voice and charisma is, it’s his assurance that ‘the Pointer Sisters are up next’ that gets the biggest cheer.

While some of us are holding out for The Pointer SistersPinball Count from Sesame Street, it seems that, on stage, five versions of Marcellus Wallace are occupying the bandstand. Before we have a chance to wonder how such well-built men and their muscley fingers are able to play their instruments so precisely, lights dim, applause breaks out and the voices of the Pointer Sisters tell us sweetly, amidst tinkling chimes, that they ‘love the way you give your heart so freely’. And with Happiness, we’re treated to the sight of Ruth, Issa and Sadako, three generations of Pointer. With the hem lines of their skin-tight black dresses ascending as their ages descend, the familial bond is evident long before Ruth explains that Issa is her daughter, and Sadako her granddaughter. The lack of Anita is soon forgotten as the power of their voices bind and blistering version after blistering version of some of the greatest pop songs from the 1980s erupts. Automatic is the first to get some excited audience members up the front and clapping, and it’s a safe bet that none of these people know of its recent popularity through Grand Theft Auto.

Ruth is the star of the show, clearly at ease on stage and with a voice as strong as ever, though Issa’s take on He’s So Shy makes it easy to forget she was only seven when the song was released. Going back even further, the band’s (Grammy award-winning) country and western roots come to the fore for their crowd-hushing takes on Slow Hand and Fire. While these songs didn’t have quite as much slap bass, ugly computer-fed guitar solos or as many boisterously emphasised endings the first time round, focus rarely leaves the girls and their voices. Closing the first set Dare Me, possibly the most underrated pop hit from that whole decade, sounds unbelievably fresh, keytar solo and all. During the break the band introduce themselves with hilariously funky instrumental solos, the sisters return in red, pink and orange dresses. Fashion was never their strong suit, but that they look a bit daft seems totally right, and who cares what they wear when I’m So Excited goes into Neutron Dance, and is followed by Jump? Even when Liam Burrows is brought back out to remind us that he’s short and 17 and only knows one word from the song Jump, it seems that the Pointers can do no wrong. With the band giving us a few more funk blasts, the ladies dancing in unison as they exit stage left, the show’s over and the merch desk gets very busy indeed. Here’s hoping they don’t leave a 28-year gap next time.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


The Tote

"Good evening, we are the Native Cats and you need us now more than ever," intones Peter Escott, vocalist and button pusher staring us down. The sonorous voice and compelling lyrics make Native Cats one of the more underappreciated bands going. Perhaps as they’re from Hobart and signed to a label based in Boston, Melbourne hasn’t caught on, but there is an energy about this band few bands manage to match about their new album Process Praise, and its rendering live.

Opening with Hit and launching their second album, as are the headliners, the audience, most of whom are holding pints, have a lot of hair and look a lot like Charlotte Gainsburg or a member of Fleet Foxes, are wrapt. Julian Teakle's guttural bass and intimidating looming presence offset’s Escott’s intelligent fury and forces deep melodies which Escott avoids (except when playing his melodica). Cat’s Paw highlights his us of the Nintendo DS and a drum machine run through a Korg, which sounds like no other band in existence. Songs veer between sparse, sexual new wave pop with bitter lyrics about isolation and physicality (Cavalier and closer Dani Dani) and a rich layered 80s pop (Elements of Style). That they choose to live in the sparse end of the spectrum, sounding like a pissed off Young Marble Giants, actually gives them a greater power; melodies sound lonely and lost and the rhythm aggressive and taut.

Few bands articulate and understand menace as well as Batrider. The Adelaide three-piece knows exactly how to balance the weight of each instrument and the resultant power is impossible to deny. Their new album Piles of Lies makes up most of the set with Hold a Grudge, Just Another Person and Hand Cream standing out, despite the dynamic shifts and raw, tearing vocals which sound as if they’re fighting against the plate reverb and a rhythm section that Alibini would pay to have his name attached to.

The stench of Indonesian cigarettes drifting in from the mingling groups outside accentuates the stoner rock aspect of their music sweetly, and it’s the music that arrests attention. Sarah Chadwick’s guitar is either a shivering afterthought or a million broken metallic frequencies ricocheting in an icy vacuum. Sam Featherstone’s bass is like a compressed 303 tone that moves like an endlessly shifting cord and Stephanie Chase’s bright forceful drumming and copious reverb elevates what could be dirges to something altogether stronger. It’s a unique sound and an incredible show.


Catching up with DEAN WAREHAM on the eve of his highly anticipated Dean Wareham Plays the Songs of Galaxie 500 tour, ANDY HAZEL learns about 80s music, looking back and Leeds.

“Man this call quality is terrible,” says Wareham of the second time we’re connected for his interview. “The sound quality of music and phone calls is awful these days.” Having been producing music long enough to make a judgement like that, Wareham comes across more like a man stating a fact than a grouchy elder statesman. Front-man for the critically adored bands Galaxie 500 and Luna for the last years of 1980s and best part of the 1990s respectively, Wareham has spent most of the last decade working with his wife and former Luna bassist, Britta Phillips, under the moniker Dean & Britta. This move saw him replace spacious washes of guitar fuzz and minimalist articulations of malaise for a slower output of film soundtracks (The Squid and the Whale), occasional albums (L’Avventura, Back Numbers), and a live score for the film project The 13 Most Beautiful…Songs For Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests. Given that there is no chance of a full reunion, and the success of their Screen Test shows is bringing them to new countries and the strange new taste of corporate gigs, it’s fair to wonder why this, and why now?
”Well,” he says with a sigh, “it’s exciting to play these songs, it really is, and with the release of the reissues it seemed the right time. We’ve been determined to get Australia no matter what and that involves taking a risk. Often people want a big guarantee on shows there, or they’ll have big label support, but I looked at it and it was like ‘it’s going to do alright, let’s go’.”

Born in Wellington, New Zealand and having spent a large part of his childhood living in Sydney, there is an understandable importance to touring here. “I don’t get to New Zealand often, every five years or so. Everyone there thinks I’m American because I have one of those confused accents from living in confused places, like Sydney, New York and Boston,” he says with his accent beginning to audibly shift across oceans throughout the interview. “It seems the longer I’ve been away from Australia and New Zealand, the thicker and heavier my accent got. But then I think it’s a generational thing. I look at my cousins and their accents are far thicker than my parents, and, no, I can’t do good impersonations,” he finishes, lying.

One of the most critically adored bands of the late 1980s, Galaxie 500’s triptych of albums Today, On Fire and This is Our Music were released 12 months apart from 1988-1990 and found small groups of obsessive fans wherever people in their teens and 20s congregated. “On this tour it’s been strange finding where we’re popular,” he says lightly. “You find people who’ve been waiting 20 years to hear a song played live all over the world. We were always more popular in England so they responded especially well there, but a few months ago we played in Sao Paulo and had 1000 people singing along to every Galaxie 500 song, which was unexpected. In Hong Kong and Taiwan we seem to get a lot of people to the shows and we never officially released a record there, so you never know until you get there,” he pauses. “I always think that you can feel when people are excited or if they want to feel something, you give that energy back to them. Sometimes it’s the function of a Friday night in a good bar though, and not every show can be that way. Sometimes it’s a Sunday night and you’re playing in…Leeds,” he says laughing.

Witnessing the affection in which his songs are still held, and deciding to evenly split the albums for the shows means mining his personal history and assuming the role of a time capsule guide. “I do find it strange that I play this role evoking this era,” he says carefully. “It was not a great period to be making music, before grunge hit. At least in the US the popular music in the charts was absolute crap; Bon Jovi, Huey Lewis…no indie bands dreamed of cracking that or getting big or anything. Now you can have a band like Vampire Weekend or Arcade Fire in the chart, it was a very different time. The songs act as channels and as I sing these lyrics I wrote 21 years ago, it takes me back to thinking about my life then, especially touring Galaxie 500 songs. When you’re touring you think of the last time you were in a place. It’s strange, because now most of the audiences weren’t born when those songs were written”.

A band long beloved by musicians and critics, it’s not surprising that Wareham has a proliferation of ‘Best Of…’ chart rankings and hyperbole with which to promote his music. That he chooses to use none of it says even more. It’s perhaps more telling that this tour coincides with some very nice (and nicely reviewed) reissues of Galaxie 500’s three albums. “I read the initial reviews in Pitchfork and Mojo and Q, but I don’t have a drive to read every review that comes out. Yeah they got great reviews, but I’ve seen both sides of that. With Luna, there was a period in England where they built us up and destroyed us. I had that experience with Luna at first that was hostile, then the reviews eventually turned. There is a discussion on Pitchfork about us and somebody was incensed by what they’d written or where they’d ranked us or something. It’s funny; it’s such a subjective thing. Back then we didn’t think we were the most important band or anything, but I look back at a list of records that came out in 88 and 89 I think we are among the best that year.”

This music, which has always been divisive largely due to Wareham’s falsetto (which he still has), has always been renown for its simplicity, which was, as with a lot of great music, not by design. “I didn’t feel like I was hoodwinking people,” muses Wareham. “But I thought it was strange when people would write that I was a great guitar player. I was like ‘…wha?’ I like the way I play, but thousands of people can play circles around me. Ultimately you learn it’s not about how fast you can play or styles, that has its place, but sometimes it is your very limitations as a musician that is a virtue. Practicing week after week, I feel like we stumbled onto the sound we had, with the help of our producer Kramer.”

While celebrating the past gets old fans and readers of music blogs into venues, Wareham is thinking more about the future as we catch the tail end of this tour. “We’ve been touring so much, but I’ve not written a song in about a year which is strange for me. That Warhol Screen Test show took off in a way we didn’t expect, as did playing these Galaxie 500 songs. I wouldn’t want to do this forever. I like it of course, but this trip will be the end of it. I’d like to go back to the future.”

Monday, September 26, 2011



The near-empty room fills rapidly once the sounds of Sleep Decade begin to fill the room, emanating from the four members like billowing clouds. Looped guitar textures, simple bass motifs and scattered drums drift out as songs form out of the air and at first seem barely held together. Sleep Decade are one of the most perfectly named bands going, once their ephemeral rock kicks into gear, you’re already seduced by its dazed beauty and the attention to detail of guitarist Casey Hartnett. Songs like First Leaves and People are OK finds a multitude of ways to make expansive, languid sounds fascinating, particularly the Pygmalion–evoking relentless guitar loops of the latter. News that the recording of the debut album was completed two days ago is heralded by a performance of the song Bicycle which has a sparse momentum that screams single. It’s another song that should surely appeal to other people raised on the sounds of Kid A.

Recently shifting their name from Tully and the Thief to Tully on Tully, curtains part to reveal a nervous-looking Tully (aka Natalie Foster) dressed in a baggy smock-like dress and with a wraparound braid already dancing on the spot awaiting the onset of opening song Blinded. There is no need for nervousness though; the crowd is onside from the first note and every song more warmly received than the last. Foster’s somnambulistic movements and wholly physical devotion to each word make her seem as if she’s giving more than any other performer, so convincing is her delivery. Words are broken, lingered on and resurrected; lyrics are cast like spells and the band act as a wonderfully intuitive whole. It’s riveting stuff, and utterly unlike anyone else. The musicianship of the four-piece band is more than proficient, Pete Corrigan’s deft keyboard work and the pealing chords from Gretsch-wielding guitarist Greg Rietwyk are especially impressive, and their meshing is well arranged with little doubling of chords and a refreshing lack of overplaying.

Songs swell and break with Foster riding the changes as if barely resisting some internal force. Close to Over is brilliant in its manic tumbling and tight brevity, and there’s no reason why with the right promotion the smart pop Organ Song shouldn’t top charts. Foster’s theatrical edge belies a knowing confidence, and it’s hard not to think that were a copy of their forthcoming album stuck to the cover of each Frankie magazine they’d never go hungry again. Is This Love? showcases Foster’s warmly expressive voice, an instrument that never needs to get sweet to win favour. The stunning single Hard to Breathe, whose launch tonight’s gig is in aid of, allows for more vocal twists and turns than usual which matches the subject perfectly. Lyrics sometimes lose their impact through repetition but that’s a minor gripe with the sheer charisma on stage, and the powerful rhythm section backing everything. Closing song No Problems There, finishes the set with a flourish and seals the deal that this is one band whose debut album is something to anticipate.



A Richard in Your Mind gig is always a chance to sample some of Sydney’s more interesting bands in addition to a show by one of the country’s most underrated groups. It’s also many people’s first experience of this curiously named new venue, part private club part anonymous alleyway dive, whatever it is it’s old, strange and blessed with a great PA.

Drifting onstage and soon issuing forth warm tones and twisted beats, the duo of Fishing are a strange prospect. While making music driving down rainy motorways to, with mid-paced big beats and warm reverb-heavy chords and choral voices. Motifs linger and leave to be replaced by swells of reverb and what sounds like echoes of an old Kompakt compilation. It’s oddly emotive in parts, and ruthlessly in-your-face in others, at times the duo seem to surprise each other with their moves and closing with a mashup of TLC's Waterfalls/No Scrubs is a deft twist.

It’s safe to say that without the 1988-1991 output of My Bloody Valentine The Laurels wouldn’t exist, or would be a more interesting prospect if they did. As it is, a dearth of ideas is substituted for with copious effects and even more volume. Indiscernible lyrics and a seamless jagged wall of barely controlled noise can be beautiful; here it is tedious, swampy shoegaze. If there were something beautiful or profound in these songs, it would get lost, as much of the crowd did during their set.

With their current tour featuring the welcome addition of Alyx from Kyü on vocals and keyboard, Richard welcomes us with a “Hey man, thanks for coming out…even though we're inside,” before blowing our minds with their take on whatever passes for psychedelic pop these days. Richard in Your Mind explode preconceptions as easily as bassist Brent explodes a bottle of champagne during one of the albums finer moments Maybe When the Sun Goes Down. This is a concert of rare ambition and warmth. Take the Sun Away is folk-fuelled bliss, Birds recreates the journey to a Hawaiian beach as a three-minute pop song, while the mourning harmonica of Tear Filled Ocean is our return. Closing with blistering versions of their glorious I Will and a wholly worthy cover of Please Please Me, it feels the show can’t be bettered, but, just to prove me wrong Candelabra from 2010’s fantastic My Volcano leaves no need for an encore.

Friday, September 23, 2011


The Corner Hotel

Any gig that begins with the support band’s drummer escaping Houdini-style from a straightjacket suspended above the stage and doesn’t steal thunder from the headliners is going to be a) different and b) good. Dane Certificate, drummer and escapologist moves from the straightjacket to the drums and the unholy noise of Adam Harding & Friends erupts gloriously. Thrashing the hell out of his kit as Harding and Steve Patrick send slices of distortion through the air like a chainsaw through ice, Harding’s baritone guitar takes a beating as he recreates the sound of a Tumbleweed EP being played very loudly on a dying cassette player. Lou Barlow joins for last song Redrum and concludes a perfectly chosen support set.

“A show of hands…how many were here last night?” asks Barlow keenly surveying us. “Not many of you…damn, I was hoping to slack off,” he grins. Slack is a perfect word to describe tonight’s set, beset with lost capos and plectrums, a busted snare drum and copious rambling banter to cover for it. It’s perfect. Sebadoh shouldn’t be tight and unfussy, and we get a set that contrasts gloriously with the previous night’s bracing rush through the past. Bursting to life with Too Pure, Barlow’s voice evokes a warm rush of familiarity like a welcome phone call from a long lost friend. On Fire follows and highlights his piercing guitar tones; as if he borrowed it from Neil Young and couldn’t change the settings. Ocean and Skull become instant highlights and gradually the nearly sold-out venue unfolds their arms and moves from calmly appreciative to excited and not afraid to heckle. On the Rebound and Magnet Coil immolate brightly as songs follow in short bursts of fury as Barlow and bassist Jason Loewenstein (who still looks 25) swap instruments and Loewenstein’s fiercer fodder and dirtier guitar gets drummer Bob D’Amico even more unhinged.

'Lets get this Monday night momentum going' he drawls ironically before launching like Evil Knievel into S. Soup, with its ‘crazy people are right on’ hook, causing D’Amico to break his snare. The ensuing 10-minute gap allows Barlow to wax lyrical about his love for Eddy Current ("it's Brendan's birthday today y'know"), Klimt ('"you should definitely go see the Vienna exhibition, it's great") and his hatred of Americana ("fucking middle class white guys plucking on banjos, is there even such a thing as Australiana? God I hope not."). Part way through Not Too Amused D’Amico returns and the set reawakens. Careful, Sister, Dreams and a bitter Drama Mine punctuate a set full of highlights before Willing to Wait and a story of its near inclusion in Friends closes what must rate as one of the gigs of the year; all 32 songs of it.

Sunday, September 18, 2011



As important as the onset of an Alex and the Ramps residency is, it’s fair to say that the venue is as much on show as the band tonight. This is the first gig to be held here since the pub/restaurant/venue opened quietly in late August, and given the layout, quality of the PA and people behind it, it’s safe to say there’ll be plenty more.

First up though, is the showcasing of the newest addition to the headline act, drummer Pascal Barbare. Recent replacement of longtime Ramp Jon Thjia, he pedals his own brand of indie rock weirdness with his band Pascal Barbare & Teeth. Which is ironic, as teeth is what this music could use. Loose harmonies coast on swelling and lulling anthemic indie rock, laden with ‘la la la’s and noodling Gretsches. It’s innocuous enough, but with the talent present, and several moments where the careful use of dynamics and control of textures come together, it seems better will come. Judging by the quality of Barbare’s solo work, the potential is definitely there.

Witch Hats too, play a relatively subdued set, possibly due to their recent single launch, described as ‘loud as fuck’ by the band. Playing most of new album Pleasure Syndrome, the songs are oddly mid-tempo and lyrics almost discernible. Now into their sixth year, a cynical intelligence seems to have subsumed the biting humour and bludgeoning danger that came with a Witch Hats show; it's as if they've thought before acting for the first time. Musically tighter than ever before, the band are still able to shift the tone of a song in a moment, that they choose not to is slightly frustrating and probably makes more sense on record. Ash Buscombe’s bass sound has an intensity that even Albini would leave alone, and it punches fiercely against the dour garage rock. The lack of stinging malevolence, once bottled, set alight and flung into the face of a Pony 2AM crowd, is a difficult thing to replace. Songs like Sessa still channel it, but it seems something else is on their minds now. Perhaps the venue is too shiny and a messy warehouse party would bring it back.

For anyone who hasn’t seen Aleks and the Ramps for more than a few months, matching expectations with their new lineup is initially disorienting. With 2/5ths of the band replaced since their phenomenal Midnight Believer album, and the role of each member so vital to the output, it’s a tough move they’ve had to make. Fortunately, the quality of songwriting is maintaining its upward trajectory and it is this, as well as Aleks' and Extreme Wheeze’s guitar theatrics, Flying Diamonds’ banter, new member Whistling Nancy’s random anecdotes and the sheer talent present that wins over the sizeable and curiously heavily-bearded crowd.

“So, what do you think of the Phoenix?” asks Aleks, three songs in. “It's a pretty nice place, I got some yummy food, it's got a good vibe,” he says to murmurs of concurrence. Their set is loaded with new material and songs In the Snow for the Time Being, Pray Tell and Crocodile all manage the astonishing job of not being flattened by the brilliance of earlier singles Antique Limb and Bummer (‘a song about doing a brief stint in jail for ordering a Taser online and not realizing you couldn’t bring them into the country’). The audience, a mixture of the curious, the local and friends, respond warmly and react with glee to the dual guitar-behind-the-head solos and the band’s propensity for ending a song suddenly. It’s rare to see a band manage such a shift in members and still deliver such a cohesive and exciting set. Tonight’s show, along with the forthcoming album provides another reason to get happy about the forthcoming summer.



The night begins with a bewitching performance from perfectly chosen support Geoff O’Connor. Another artist in the process of losing the lazy labels that beset his brilliant earlier work, O’Connor seems more at ease than ever, inhabiting a strange world of sensuality, electronica and lightly breathed but deeply resonant paeans to the power of allusion. It’s heady stuff, and his subtlety is unfortunately swallowed up in the rapidly filling room.

If O’Connor encourages us to lean in a little closer, then Cut Off Your Hands blast us to the back of the venue with their ambition, copious guitar pedals and impassioned vocals. Sounding like a cross between BRMC and JAMC, COYH are massively successful at what they do, and its unfortunate the chatting couples and steadily drinking friends don’t notice the slicing riffs of guitarist Jonathan Lee and McCullough-esque pleas of singer Nick Johnston. Highlighting their recent release Hollow, songs like You Should Do Better, All it Takes and Hollowed Out are rallying cries that the combination of reverb and cavernous venue render indecipherable, though intentions are loud and clear.  

Bathed in blue fluorescent tubes, dry ice and in front of a massive reproduction of their album cover’s exploding droplet, the quiet, amiable people of Architecture in Helsinki, metaphorically march on stage and scream ‘LET’S GO BACK TO 1984 FUCKERS!’ We gladly follow. 

Using warm and intimate sounds as they’ve always done, the icy control and volume with which they deploy them is their greatest asset. The weightless pop of Moment Bends harks back to cultural references the crowd are largely (and in some cases thankfully) oblivious to. This means edgier singles like Hold Music, Escapee and That Beep render the crowd as noisily engaged as one of the nearby footy games, even album tracks like Everything’s Blue and I Know Deep Down get mobiles-in-the-air and dudes-on-shoulders responses.

Occasional synchronised dance moves, clumsy RAWK!! guitar solos and introductions like ‘this song is about living here in a kind of random way…maybe you can pick up on the vibe,’ show that their sense of humour is more pronounced than ever. Twice mentioning how humbling it is to be playing The Forum, AiH never have to try to win us over. Closing with Heart it Races, Do the Whirlwind an unrecognised It’5 and blistering Contact High, the show is a testament to how, over a period of 10 years, you can shift not only your sound but also your fanbase whilst remaining totally true to your ethos; from inner Melbourne concerns and crowds, to outer if you like.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011



With stiff competition elsewhere in town, it’s a respectable crowd that gather to the warmth of the sounds of Full Ugly as they plough through another impressive and shambolic set. Hardly a band whose name is dropped frequently, there is a slow-expanding fondness through their frequent support slots, and it’s a safe bet that the album for sale ‘(‘let me know if you want one’ says their Myspace) will sell out eventually, that is if their members other bands (who include most of tonight’s bill) don’t sap their energies.

The Harpoons seemed to sneak onto the scene in 2009, vanish for a year then burst back a few months ago to ever increasing hyperbole. Few bands can be in possession of such a talent as singer Bec Rigby, who sings like a somnambulist possessed by Fontella Bass, nor songs as proficient and simple as theirs. Though beginning nervously, their 50s chop, casually deployed 3-part harmonies and bright, simple riffs (on instruments surely twice as old as their players) seem to embolden the band as they progress, matching the increasing volume of punters with each song. Tracks like I Want You Around, All of My Days and Be My Lover betray their full surf-rock/French pop base and at the same time leave enough space for Rigby’s voice to soar. This space in the songs belies their true gift, that of restraint, and a million bands trying to be the next DapTones could watch and learn - and then have their minds blown by Faith, the show-stopping, set-closer. It’s almost inconceivable that these songs aren’t covers.

After that slate-cleaning pop tightness, it’s nice to have Milk Teddy get everything messy and spread reverb and delay all over their sloppy rock. Fronted by Tom Mendelovits (who is filling in on bass for Love Connection’s forthcoming US tour and could seemingly start a career in stand-up comedy should he want to), the band is excitement in a can. It’s hard to predict which turns songs will take, and not be caught up in the fact that the band seem to see the gig as hilarious fun. Mendelovits has a rare talent for missing notes yet providing exactly the atmosphere-capping ululations needed to give the songs greater connection, as well as dropping comments like ‘structurally, that last song was alright, post-structurally however…’. The nimble bass of Rachel Stanyon and guitar of Bronny Potts drives them to places you most definitely want to go. Final song Dreambone is a highlight, as is Mendelovits’s introduction: ‘this next song is going to be released on a forthcoming split seven-inch with The Ancients,’ he announces to the visible and audible shock of the rest of the band, ‘nah, see that was a joke.’

Love Connection have undergone a reinvention since last year’s adulated and thrilling debut album. Despite this love and their imminent tour of the US, the band have written and nearly completed their new album, most of which gets an airing tonight. Gone is the superfluous floor tom, the keyboard chords and guitar slashing have beginnings and ends  now, and though the overwhelming feeling of songs as sonic explorations is still there, hand-drawn maps have been replaced by GPS. Songs like You Don’t Need Muscles to Get Love (signed off with a ‘take that Meredith!’ from singer Michael Caterer), The Sun is in Saturn and the dance-inducing Lost City of Gold are thrilling in their force and textures, getting the audience clearly on side from the outset. However, it’s the closing duo of Omni and Sex in the Cinema that blast away fears of difficulty following up that debut album and plant this band firmly in the small pool of ‘justifiably hyped’ Australian bands.



With the Kiwi contingent high, there was little question tonight’s show was going to be a big one. Quite how big, was something of a surprise.

Opening act Mulholland, is a Kiwi with a Lennon-esque bite to his voice. As at ease singing as chatting, comments like 'I'm serious when I say you guys are awesome,” to cheers and claps, before deadpanning 'but we're better' make him instantly likeable. It’s a conclusion you could draw from hearing his songs. Existence is Futile is a heartfelt ballad about resurrecting Elvis to celebrate the opening of a sandwich ("There are days you look up to see / A talking vagina with a 50 foot wingspan"), and Let’s Go Fishing a blinding power-pop salvo featuring Elroy Finn on bass. Bizarre humour is a welcome change from the typically deathly serious troubadour, even if songs like the staggeringly beautiful Meet Me In The Hallway are anything but funny.

As soon as Teeth & Tongue take to the stage, the three very stylish Melbournians making some very stylish music are at risk of seeming pretentious; no easy-going Kiwi-accented banter here. But their vocal-heavy, keyboard-driven urbane swagger disarms the room of Liam Finn fans with an unexpected charm. Singer Jess Cornelius seems born to perform and the band generates an interesting take on atmospheric pop. At times T&T linger on Kate Bush-via-Fitzroy quirkiness but as the set builds and the room reaches capacity, it’s safe to say many new fans are won.

With no aplomb and loud cheers Liam Finn and Eliza-Jane Barnes amble on stage and launch into a set which lives up to Finn’s opening pledge: “We will play songs we find fun, we hope you do too. In fact we fucking promise you!” Tonight, there is a prominent use of electronics. Songs are reborn through a Line 6 delay pedal, allowing Finn to smash a drum kit while niftily triggering loops with his left foot. It’s not until mid-set and Fire In Your Belly that a folkie side emerges. To The Chapel follows and things get decidedly mellow for a few minutes before Finn is back looping heavy fuzz-saturated riffs and beating the kit.

Mulholland and Elroy then join for a mesmerising and blistering take on Cold Feet and we’re given the caveat: “We’re doing things differently tonight. We’re playing tomorrow and don’t want to double up.” More than a reinterpretation of songs, tonight is an example of loudly and lovingly articulated charisma, and it’s very hard not to be caught up.