Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Palace Theatre
Though audience numbers seem lower than those of their last visit, and the mood more respectful that jubilant, it’s clear Animal Collective command a loyal following. Few of who are intrigued enough to arrive early for support act Africa HiTech; a duo working a laptop, turntables, a mixer and a small synth. Starting out by meshing soundscapes and soulful singing over some Kompakt style minimalist techno, we’re soon treated to a journey through 90s dance music, complete with 80s new wave sampling. Beats become more complex as bubbling synth lines and squelchy sine waves ride heavily compressed beats and occasional looped raps. It’s oddly nostalgic and incredibly infectious.

The crowd packs in as 9:45 approaches. Lights dim, chatter is replaced with cheers as radio samples ricochet and flickering saturated projections light the stage, lined with large inflatable glowing teeth and arching tentacles. The four members emerge to a rise in cheers and immediately begin tweaking dials, pushing buttons and gently drumming. Easing into Rosie Oh, the projections move from being vibrant patterns to cut-up nature documentaries and clips from bucolic animated films. Drummer Noah Lennox takes the lead vocals and his voice is unusually strong and clear. Keyboardist Avey Tare leads us through almost every other song in the set, from the ensuing Today’s Supernatural on; his vocals style tends more toward manic passion than guitarist Josh Dibb’s more grounded delivery and Lennox’s more varied expressiveness.

Recent single Honeycomb and most of latest album Centipede Hz get an airing, and though the crowd responds vocally, there is little physical involvement. Animal Collective show a near pathological fear of silence as songs segue into and out of each other, and disappear into patches of sprawling atonal and percussive chaos. These are gleefully disorientating at times, but just as often suffocating and meandering, a superfluity of ideas and their clumsy merging betrays a lack of editing that seems oddly appropriate for this age of three-hour movies. It’s a lack of rigour apparent in the songwriting too; many songs sound more like four people exploring a vague theme rather than a band fleshing out a song. Passages of fantastic loping polyrhythms underscore many of the newer songs (like Moonjock and Monkey Riches) but, unlike their finer moments, there seems to be no strong personality or theme, though the colour scheme of saturated red and fluro pink and green is bold and original. The appearance of older track Lion in a Coma wakes the crowd and its space, vocal harmonies and simpler rhythms stand in stark contrast. The same is true for 2009’s Brother Sport, which triggers an explosion of glee in the crowd, a feeling capitalized on by its extended rave-like outro and merge into set-closing thrill of Peacebone. Returning for an encore that features a new unnamed song, a boisterous take on My Girls and the Centipede Hz track Amanita the band leave us sated for another year and, it seems, another album.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Ding Dong Lounge

In the five years since the Morning After Girls (aka the MAGs) left these shores for New York, economies have crumbled, styles have risen and fallen, yet the band have remained untouched. Though lineups have shifted, the core duo of Sacha Lucashenko and Marty Sleeman ensure the aesthetic remains the same. Time has, if anything strengthened and honed the band’s sound into one that transcends their oft-touted influences and renders them one of the best rock bands in the country. Ten years on the job will do that, and tonight’s show stands as the most recent proof.

In lieu of a support band the audience (most of whom seem to be ex-MAGs members) check their smart phones, push their hair out of their eyes and sip pints. No one seems under 30 and music, it’s safe to say, is taken very seriously here. Even as the room fills to near capacity, the mood is cautious and chatty.

The gig slides smoothly into action; incense is lit, soundscapes play over the PA and the band arrive to little fanfare. The spacey riff for opening song Corruption pulls attention toward the band and for the rest of the show, it’s hard to look away. The sound is huge; the drums punish, basslines swerve and buckle, the guitar riffs are singed with distortion. So far, so neo-psychedelic, but where the MAGs really show prowess and progress is with the vocal attack. Sleeman and Lucashenko’s voices blend, twist and spar against each other, giving an acrid edge to the warmth of their guitars and the keyboards of vital talent Johnny Livewire. Never sounding this powerful or coruscating, Death Processions, and the 90210-featured Alone render the audience a noisy, cheering mass. Though the band never acknowledge it, a triumphant homecoming is unfolding.

Psych-rock has long been the realm of lazy, effects-reliant guitarists who never need learn a barre chord to sound like the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and its current faddishness is no doubt partly down to this simplicity. Conversely, it’s one of the hardest genres in which to sound individual and inspire affection. However the MAGs are smarter and their songs better constructed than many of their peers, national or international, and there is no such bland chording here. Older songs like Shadows Evolve and The General Public get whoops of recognition while newer ones sound even better; layered, powerful and immediate, they couldn’t be written by anyone else. The encore of a blistering Who is They? and the near-pastoral version of There’s A Taking leave the audience far too happy for a group of people wearing so much black.

Though there’s no danger of the group disappearing into the fresh batch of bands pushing the guitar-chord-as-crashing-wave sound, the MAGs have made their biggest step toward perfecting this oft-abused style and with news of a new album due later this year, it’s good to have them back.


HiFi Bar

With the heat sweltering outside, the cavernously empty interior of the HiFi Bar is soon brought down a few degrees by an icy blast of bracing post punk from local trio Terrible Truths. Bereft even of chords, the band’s stripped down sound is filled out with a twin vocal attack, busy drumming and brash attitudes. With the aesthetic of the Raincoats and the accurate simplicity and drive of Love of Diagrams, the band play as if they’re being chased, a fear of silence or slowing down drives every song. It’s a fantastic show and bodes well for future releases.

An equally excellent choice for support and also sounding as though they’re beamed in from 1981, NO ZU are the most kinetic band in town. Each member of the sextet plays accurate and simple motifs that spiral in and out of time in a captivating way, though songs are interchangeable they prove there are still variations on funk in 4/4 left unplayed. Songs often sound like uncontrolled breakdowns, in danger of getting lost but with a whip crack of timbale everything is brought together. This is what tightness looks like.

The buzz about ESG’s live-to-air at RRR yesterday has helped crank the atmosphere in the now-packed room from buoyant to excitably hyperactive. To the sound of Tom Tom Club’s Wordy Rappinghood the band walk out waving happily. ‘How you doin' Melbourne?’ grins singer Renee Scroggins over the near deafening cheers of the crowd, ‘this is a song called Dance’. With powerhouse drummer Valerie and percussionist Marie, the Scroggins’ are one of the most heard and least celebrated bands in history. The music itself is some of the simplest dance music ever released - drums, bass, percussion and minimalist vocals - yet it’s so effective it becomes instructive, and also explains why they were (and are) sampled so widely; they got it right.

Their classic and much-sampled UFO follows and includes the only use of guitar. Percussion drives the songs; dual tambourines, vibraslap and copious use of congas and cowbells are the only sounds to flesh out the massive bass and powerhouse drumming. Every introduction is met with deafening cheers, Time Shift, The Beat, I Feel Tonight and the almighty anthem to leaving bad relationships Closure, all cause such a burst of positivity amongst the crowd that this gig quickly becomes the happiest of all 300 plus gigs this reviewer has been to since writing for this publication. It’s phenomenal just how strong the effect of this music and the sight of these women playing it are. Further testaments to danceable simplicity follow My Love For You, You're No Good and Moody are dispatched with joyous precision. An encore of You Make No Sense elicits a brief stage invasion by dancers and the smiles on the faces of the band as they’re brought out for a second encore seal this as being one of the finest gigs in eons. All this and they didn’t even play their best song.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

CD Review: YO LA TENGO - Fade


By the time a band release their 13th album in their 29th year of existence, there is every reason to think all they wanted to say has been said, and something else is more worthy of your attention. In most cases, you’d be right, in the case of Yo La Tengo, no. Not by a long shot.

Fade is it’s fair to say, one of the best albums of their very lengthy and surprisingly stable career. Though more down-at-heal than their most heralded releases, there are enough moments here like the clattering euphoria of closing Before We Run with its stinging string bursts and Georgia Hubley’s sleep-spoken lyrics, to remind you of how great they can be, and are. Throughout, the careful layering and texturing of songs, hidden in their apparent simplicity, is something wholly their own and even more notable than on their last release, 2009’s Popular Songs.

Seemingly influenced more by the band’s brace of film scores (Shortbus, Old Joy, Adventureland) than the guitar histrionics that epitomised the band’s last show in Melbourne, there is a delicate and sensitive quality to many of the songs. They only cut loose once here, on the 90s-indie rock throwback of Paddle Forward, but it’s a thee-minute Pavement-esque burst of brilliance you want to put on repeat.

In interviews leading up to it’s release lead singer and guitarist Ira Kaplan termed Fade a return to the themes of their two most celebrated albums 1997’s I Can Hear The Heart Beating as One and 2000’s …and Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out and of course, he’s right. Their peculiar brand of joyous nostalgia is here glowing like an amp valve, yet neither of these albums had the despondency that threads these ten songs together or its bouts of sparseness. More than anything though, there is a richness that still finds room for spontaneity that hasn’t been present since those records. Asking John McEntire to produce seems an obvious but smart choice (breaking a 19-year relationship with Roger Moutenot), and one that keeps the sprawl under seven minutes.

Opener Ohm is YLT at their Velvets-aping finest, all churning chords spectral harmonies and a percussion-driven rhythm loop. Stupid Things is one of the few songs here that hints at the band fans fell in love with so long ago, and it too reveals hidden complexities on multiple listens. Unlike Superchunk’s critic-uniting blazing return to form in 2011, Fade is more of a humble offering, but one that is richly rewarding.


Northcote Social Club

Though it’s been a while since the storming World Without Men single, Jessica Says (aka cellist/vocalist/songwriter Jessica Venebles) is such a fascinating artist that a pause for reinvention and rumour of a new album makes you wonder not only where she’ll go next but confident she’ll arrest attention when she does. As it turns out this most compelling of vocalists has moved from the intimate fragility of her work so far and confidently into the world of icy electropop. Now fronting a four-piece made up of singer Emma Russock, brother violinist Nick and synth/laptop operator Aaron Lam, the set is laden with glistening, reverb-soaked paeans to psychological obsession, twisted love and generally being extremely assertive. It’s a stunning set, and songs like Xanax Baby, Queen of the Night and the closing Rock Candy suggest a stellar album in the offing.

Fresh from blowing minds with their video for recent single Adriana, Montero open their set with Clear Sailing/Alpha World City #2, silencing and flummoxing early-comers. A Montero gig is very much dependant on the mood of frontman and songwriter Bjenny Montero and tonight sees him in ‘slightly unhinged’ mode, which means bug eyed stares, strange interactions with an optical fibre lamp and some coruscating vocalising. The synth-pop bounce of Mumbai follows before a bizarrely faithful version of Max Merrit and the Meteors’ Slippin’ Away From Me. These soul-pop musical roots ground the final two songs Ya Gotta Be Alone and You’re Gonna Make a Monkey Out of Me, both of which follow the Montero default move; a tender piano intro, a killer drum fill and some scorching 70s psych pop.

Though the Little Red elephant in the room is never mentioned, it exerts its influence in strange ways. New Gods consist of singer/guitarist Dominic Byrne and guitarist Adrian Beltrame of Little Red, synth player Dale Packard of Ground Components and bassist Richard Bradbeer of Eagle and the Worm, so the band are, unsurprisingly, incredibly well rehearsed. Their songs are big on hooks and tight on harmonies, and the opening few almost perfunctory in their delivery. Byrne is actually apologetic for the few moments that stray from this script; a ‘folk dirge that isn’t depressing’ Wonders of the World is hastily pushed into the past once finished, the brief and mellow 10000 Miles with its harmonica is laughed off as soon as its over, and a saxophone-lead free jazz moment is dismissed as ‘just us fucking around’, but it’s these deviations that are the most interesting moments. Byrne seems far smarter than he is able to express in this context, as the Bill Hicks-dedicated Eyes of Love hints. It’s not until the final few songs (Skipping Stone, Day Off Work and the ‘medley of our hit’ On Your Side) that the guitars cut loose and the clean, choppy, mid-paced fare is left behind and we can see what the band as a true combination of the talent therein. Fronting two bands beloved of our national youth broadcaster is admirable, but I’m betting Byrne’s best is to come.

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Palace Theatre

A smattering of applause greets World’s End Press as they step out to stretch along the front of the stage, packed with a phenomenal amount of equipment. If there is one band in this city playing the long game it’s these guys, and it shows. Singer John Parkinson’s voice is stronger and more expressive than it’s ever been, and his hyperkinetic performance makes them electrifying to watch as well as move to. Newer songs take their Moroder-like chug, add arresting vocal harmonies, some monolithic bass and send it into the stratosphere; every song sounds like a 12” remix of a hit. Echoes of Japan, Human League and Talking Heads may be touchstones but the band are such meticulous musicians and arrangers that their sound is all their own. Final song Someone’s Daddy is the strongest example yet that they’re ready to break out in a huge way, and it’s no surprise they leave to peals of rapturous cheers.

By now all four levels of the Palace are full and the crowd, broad in age range and dress style, are clearly amped. Suddenly, the stage lights die, strobes blast, bursts of percussion erupt and Hot Chip emerge, waving and launching into Shake A Fist. For a bunch of demure British men who would look more at home around a kitchen table playing Dungeons and Dragons than making a crowd of thousands react as if One Direction gatecrashed a slumber party, they know how to bring it. Following up with Boy From School and new single Don’t Deny the Heart, the crowd soon becomes a writhing, flailing mess. Now featuring New Young Pony Club drummer Sarah Jones, there is a fluid accuracy to the band’s playing and the humanity inherent in singer Alex Taylor’s lyrics stops even a hint of mechanisation to what is partially programmed music. Writer of some of the greatest songs about loving fellow men (whether physically or in a more genial ‘matey’ way is enticingly vague), Taylor is a brilliant example of how an intelligent, literate writer and composer can make intelligent and literate pop seem innately appealing to people who hate the term literate being applied to music.

Tonight is their last show of a ten-month tour, so unsurprisingly the set is tighter than Jones’ snare drum. Now five albums into their career, with a ream of modern dance classics to draw from, the newer work segues smoothly into the floor fillers. Flutes, Over and Over, Ready For the Floor (which leads into a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere) and the gentle mid-set drift of Look At Where We Are (and it’s hint of Prince’s If I Was Your Girlfriend) are sequenced perfectly.  

Howled back on for a bashful encore, Al Doyle (not only playing five instruments in Hot Chip, but also a recent multi-instrumentalist for LCD Soundsystem) explains how loved we are before airing the rarely-heard Crap Kraft Dinner, a sterling I Feel Better and the anthemic album highlight Let Me Be Him; a thumping finish to a stunning gig. There are few bands attracting so large a crowd with this sort of music, and that they do it entirely on the quality of the songs and an absence of concession to trends makes their success all the more admirable.

CD Review: THE TIGER & ME - The Drifter’s Dawn

 Four | Four

In the endless striving for an open, honest, unaffected and authentic sound, there is a chance to be left by the wayside as dozens of combos ply the folk-rock route so beloved of Australia - a no bullshit approach to getting the creative urge out in a time-honoured tradition. The Tiger & Me, who have impressed a lot of people already, got themselves signed to ABC Music’s indie arm Four|Four before releasing this, their second album, are in no danger of getting lost. Not only do they have genuine live passion, a versatility that sees them suit a rowdy wake or a solemn funeral, but qualities many of these other bands lack; focus, and a work ethic.

Recorded live by Steve Schram, this natural approach is fitting for the sometimes drifting sometimes driving acoustic guitars, propulsive rhythms and deft mingling of the voices of singers Ade Vincent, Jane Hendry and Tobias Selkirk. With a welcome disregard for genre, the sextet play whatever works live, and as so may other bands do, they end up recording what gets a response, It’s when they venture away from that default situation that things get interesting. Songwriting chops are revealed on the gentle, growing lilt of The Door Swung, and ethereal beauty of A Want That You Wouldn’t, both redolent with subtleties that would get overlooked by a crowd ready for the upbeat singalongs. These, like opener Dance With The Devil, Waltz #3 and The Prophet Told Me are where things get a little more Baltic/Gypsy/Open Studio and audience responses tend to get divided. The bouncing pop of single Pantomime bears little resemblance to anything else on the album, but that’s more a demonstration of the breadth of their writing than any misleading gesture.  

With an East Coast full of dudes strumming acoustic guitars and getting free and international with rhythms, it’s refreshing to find an Australian group who know when to rein in the jams, work as a multitalented collective and know how to sift through a sprawling range of styles to come up with a coherent and punchy album.