2012 – A Year in Review – A list of music that made an impact

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Album of the Year

“Koi No Yokan” by Deftones

Song of the Year

“Stranded” by Lee Ranaldo

Australian Album of the Year

“Strange Flowers” by Regular John

Australian Song of the Year

“Dancing On Your Grave” by The Halls

Favourite New Artist of the Year

The Halls

Rock Album of the Year

“King Animal” by Soundgarden

Metal Album of the Year

“Self-Titled” by Corrosion of Conformity

Pop Album of the Year

“The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than The Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do” by Fiona Apple

Band of the Year

Baroness

Solo Artist of the Year

Grimes

Australian Band of the Year

Foxsmith

Australian Solo Artist of the Year

Coco Baulch

Film Clip of the Year

“Stranded” by Lee Ranaldo

Gig of the Year

Lee Ranaldo at The Zoo

Movie of the Year

The Dark Night Rises

Top Eleven Albums of the Year

  1. “Koi No Yokan” by Deftones
  2. “King Animal” by Soundgarden
  3. “Yellow and Green” by Baroness
  4. “Between The Times and The Tides” by Lee Ranaldo
  5. “Blues Funeral” by Mark Lanegan
  6. “Down IV Part I  – The Purple EP” by Down
  7. “Self-Titled” by Corrosion Of Conformity
  8. “Noctourniquet” by The Mars Volta
  9. “Come Home To Mama” by Martha Wainwright
  10. “Banga” by Patti Smith
  11. EP ++ by +++ (Crosses)

Top Eleven Australian Albums of the Year

  1. “Strange Flowers” by Regular John
  2. “Self-Titled EP” by The Halls
  3. “Toward The Low Sun” by Dirty Three
  4. “Arrest The Slide” by Thirteen Seventy
  5. “The GoldenBridge” by No Anchor
  6. “Come Up Invisible” by We All Want To
  7. “Magnetic North” by Kellie Lloyd
  8. “Self-Titled EP” by The Boys
  9. “Mouth” by The Sea Shall Not Have Them
  10. “Misshapen Giants” by The Slow Push
  11. “Sad Summer Hits” by Texas Tea

Top Five Brisbane bands / artists of the Year

  1. The Halls
  2. Foxsmith
  3. Little PlanesLand
  4. Thirteen Seventy
  5. Kellie Lloyd

Favourite Live Music Venue of the Year

RICS

Favourite Radio Program of the Year

Exit Stage Zed on 4zzz

Top Five Bands who will take over the world in 2013

  1. Baroness
  2. Palms
  3. The Halls
  4. Foxsmith
  5. We All Want To

Re-issue of The Year

My Bloody Valentine (EPs, Isn’t Anything and Loveless)

Review: Foxsmith Demos

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FOXSMITH are an incredibly kool thing and they are a band that I’m quite fond of at the moment. Hailing from Brisbane (Queensland, straya), FOXSMITH make a beautiful sound that to my ears sounds like a mix of dream pop, slacker, rock n roll roar, angular slintesque rhythms and a whole lot of Kim Deal cool. Its music funded by heartache and a real good time, that late Friday night movement from party queen to “what does it all mean” melancholy. It’s soaked in cool, but the kind of cool that bands like Sonic Youth exude, hard to mimic but easy to admire. Its pop music covered in all kinds of dreams and schemes designed to destroy all your emotions and to make you swoon.

FOXSMITH are in the middle of recording some new noise meditations but I thought I’d take the time to review the current demos.

The first track that really grabbed me by the heart and took me into a landscape of escape was the reverb soaked dream pop bubble of “Struck The Match.” The groove is pure sex and moves along with the kind of cool that both Kim’s dealt in their respective punk rock bands. I love the mid-song breakdown and the way it creeps back into the kool thing groove and travels along with the kind of post punk repetitive echo that Warpaint demonstrated so well on their debut album. I guess you’d call this a ballad, either way it’s a beautiful slow dance number. I’ve always loved the slow songs.

The heartbreaking guitar and vocal intro and verse of “Sun God” are soaked with the kind of yearning that swirls around every early twenties crush. When the chorus explodes it’s a glorious danceable pop song moment that gives you a platform to rejoice and also sway away your bummer frustrations, its cathartic stuff. This verse and chorus pattern is repeated with a fierce pace getting more and more and intense ceasing every now and then to introduce an eastern flavoured keyboard line which helps you catch your breath. The mid song breakdown is a quick Sonic Youth guitar chord exercise that erupts again into that anthemic chorus. This is a heartbreak classic.

“Smoke” is a track that kicks in with a Sea Shanty groove but as it grows it starts to show a pixies backbone and Sleater-Kinney rock n roll freakouts. It’s equal amounts of hush and lush and is rock n roll creaminess with yet another explosive chorus. “Smoke” illustrates that FOXSMITH are a band who are clearly very disciplined pop song writers and the way the chorus sails with a burning intensity, reaching that anthemic state of bliss, makes you think that it is either the biggest fuck you to an ex-lover or a celebration of a brand new French kiss. Either way you feel it and you get lost so deep inside the emotional landscape being crafted.

FOXSMITH are a very smart group of songwriters and a total godhead band. They adhere to the two simplest and most right on aspects of great pop music, emotion and sonic freakouts. Add a rhythm section who balances all the maths of the “post” genres with a funkadelic sense of fun and you have the perfect coin. I’m personally a big fan of the vocals and the lyrics on display. It’s a nice mix of twee and slacker but is soaked in so much cool. I may be repeating myself there but it is the only accurate way I can capture the impact of the sound. I keep listening over and over again to the lyrics to try and get a glimpse of what kind of deep pain has funded the melodies. Perhaps I’m trying to look to deep and maybe lyrically it’s a bunch of nonsense, but as a listener and lover of music the lyrics in “Struck The Match,” “Sun God” and “Smoke” haunt me with possibility. The best lyric writers always bury the meaning and use the emotion of the melody to birth a wonder in the listener and this is certainly happening when I listen to FOXSMITH songs.

I got minor criticisms, but they are just the usual fan boy requests that suggest that they should do more of this and less of that. FOXSMITH just need to work on the dynamics of the songs so they can collide and run together in a smoother more moody way. I picture with the right producer they could evolve the mood of their band to the sound that Warpaint achieved on their debut “The Fool.” If they muse on the psyche freakouts of a band like Flaming Lips and mix it with the rock n roll roar of Sleater-Kinney I have a feeling they will soon be the indie communities favourite band. But fuck the bummers of minor criticisms; FOXSMITH should already be your favourite band.

FOXSMITH are without a doubt, the most exciting band existing in Brisbane, fuck it, in Australia at the moment.  Someone tell Ricky Kingsmill that the next big thing is FOXSMITH and that our airwaves desperately need their bummer sunshine pop music played daily. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll hurl, but most of all you’ll dance motherfucker dance.

FOXSMITH are pop music elite.

10 cassette tapes out of 10

http://www.facebook.com/foxsmithmusic

Review: “Strange Flowers” by Regular John

RegularJohn

The Australian music landscape seemed to be populated with a whole bunch of Psyche Rock in 2012. When you look at what is being offered there will always be the popular vote and the unpopular vote. It all depends on your ability to dig deeper beyond the radio waves and general empty calories of what the audience, record companies, promo companies and media sell you to find the good stuff. In 2012 the overweight 10cc sounds of “Lonerism” was the lazy mans psyche rock record and in the tradition of Straya music continued the tradition of promoting something that sounds like a lesser version of an already established band. In short, Tame Impala is a poor man’s Flaming Lips.

Regular John on the other hand, they are the psyche rock band that Straya needs.

Regular John is an incredibly vital sounding band in the landscape of guitar rock in 2012. They are dark, moody, intense, heavy, weird and of course packed full of pop music skills. Regular John make music that is about the exploration and evolution of the Riff and while the band is rooted in the traditions of bands like Kyuss there is still so much more to the pulse of this bands sound. When I listen to Regular John I hear the forward thinking hardcore punk of Fugazi, the LA drug sleaze of Jane’s Addiction, the free jazz freakouts of Ornette Coleman or Miles Davis and the poetic dust of The Doors. There is My Bloody Valentine cream and Rowland S. Howard steam with an incredible amount of Melvins Sludge and Carole King Hugs.

Ultimately though, the band is their own thing and anything vintage that pops out is an exercise in saluting the history of music and manipulating it in their own vision as opposed to ripping it off directly.

“Strange Flowers” is a beautiful one track album separated into ten separate tracks. This is music that you need to listen too without distraction. When I put the album on and the first groove of “Sky Burial” hits my headphones you know that you are being taken on a journey. I’ve found the last couple of nights when I sat down to review the album I’ve had to just turn all the lights off and just lay down on my bed, with my headphones and just get lost in the sound of the album. It is almost drug like the way the sounds on “Strange Flowers” seduce you and weave in and out of your mind, it is quite an emotional journey and it is pure stoke the whole way through.

I have started to grow quite an emotional attachment to “Strange Flowers” and I really can’t separate the tracks, to me it is all one song and that is the only way I can listen to it, front to back. This is a positive in the day and age of low attention spans and digital downloads. Regular John has taken to the time to write and sequence a full piece of art.

It’s not my job to tell you all what to listen too because music is a personal thing. This time round though I will say that Regular John have made an Straya classic that will sit next to the revolutionary sound of bands like Birthday Party, Beasts Of Bourbon and The Church. You can waste your time with the 10cc and their “Lonerism” hype machine, and of course anything else being offered up as Psyche or “The Alternative,” or you can actually spend some money on a band like Regular John who makes intense, experimental, vital and beautiful music. Regular John is a true joy to listen too and I’m so glad that they exist and I can’t wait to see what comes next.

“Strange Flowers” by Regular John is my Straya Album of the year for 2012

10 Cassette Tapes Out Of 10

Review: “Banga” by Patti Smith

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If anyone talks to me about influence and who I’m essentially trying to mimic creatively as a front person, lyricist, artist and performer my answer will always be Patti Smith. She is the queen of my creative existence and anything good that I’ve done recently is due to her influence on my life.

In 2012, Patti sounds more vital and more intense than she did when she first exploded onto the scene with her debut “Horses” and like every great artist of our time she continues to evolve. Her new album “Banga” is a beautiful yet mellow affair but it still contains all of the intensity and poetry that Patti is renowned for. This album is like a warm hug from your Nana and it is the perfect music to listen to when the confusion of youth haunts you but the notion of time running out has caught up.

What I love about Patti is the way she mixes her poetry with a more traditional rock n roll style. Patti knows how to write straight up rock n roll and these tracks are a plenty throughout “Banga” but it is when Patti delves into her spoken word melodies and poetry passages and the band just hovers behind her building the emotion as she does, that I’m truly turned on by the power of Patti Smith’s version of rock n roll. This is when I love Patti Smith the most and on “Banga” we get a lot of moments like this.

If you’re not a fan of Patti Smith you must educate yourself and buy everything she has ever released. It is some of the best rock n roll you’ll hear.

Patti Smith, my hero

10 Cassette tapes out of 10

Review: “Americana” and “Psychedelic Pill” by Neil Young and Crazy Horse

Neil Young and Crazy Horse

 

I love Neil Young the best when he plays with Crazy Horse. They are the greatest garage rock band in the history of garage rock bands. The way Neil plays when he is backed by the Horse is always otherworldly. A lot of my favourite Neil Young moments are when he plugs in and rides the E with the horse (I’m repeating myself I know) and in 2012 we got two records from Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Musicians at this age normally glide into mediocrity and cease to challenge themselves creatively. Neil Young is not that artist and over the course of his 40 year career, Neil has always remained driven creatively and never stayed in one spot for too long. This is what makes Neil Young my hero and that is what makes the two records he released with Crazy Horse this year so vital.

“Americana” is the first album released and is a collection of traditional American Folk standards. It is quite a history lesson and although the songs are of the folk tradition Neil and The Horse make them their own. These are songs the band could have conjured up themselves. As always, the production is beautiful and dusty and rooted in the vintage fuzz. It is warm and noisy with the guitars front and centre and the ever reliable rhythm section pumping away giving the noise the pulse and drive it needs. It’s beautiful stuff.

“Psychedelic Pill” is a double album of all new material. The album opens with the 27 plus minute song “Driftin’ Back” which is pure Neil Young and Crazy Horse sonic spirituality. The way the song ebbs and flows and travels is a joy to behold and still puts the band front and centre of rock n roll revolution. This is my favourite song of 2012. The rest of the album unfolds itself to be a journey through the past with nods to the future. Lots of noisy guitars and disjointed solos mixed with epic passages of jamming and what feels like pure improvisation. “Psychedelic Pill” is what rock n roll should sound like in 2012, futuristic with blood and dust sprinkled throughout it.

Neil Young and Crazy Horse, may they live forever.

10 Cassette Tapes Out Of 10

Review: My Bloody Valentine reissues

MyBloodyValentine

 

One of my highlights of 2012 was the release of the long overdue My Bloody Valentine re-issues / remasters. To finally hear the collective works of one of my favourite bands ever cleaned up and digitally enhanced had been a dream for as long as I’ve been a fan. The results are pure heaven and to have the lush dreamy landscapes of “Isn’t Anything,” “Loveless” and the EPs finally sailing into my ears in high fidelity makes me very happy indeed, but I’m repeating myself so I think it is time to dive into what makes these reissues so special.

If you are a stranger to My Bloody Valentine let me pitch you their sound with a few easy descriptions. My Bloody Valentine is responsible for the whole “shoegaze” section of indie rock and although this is a lazy way to describe the beauty of My Bloody Valentine it is a nice starting point. If you have heard any hip indie thing use “Shoegaze” to describe their sound, that is because of My Bloody Valentine. Sure there are a few other bands that collectively helped shape this sound but My Bloody Valentine are at the centre of it.

So how do I describe My Bloody Valentine?

Well I have been throwing around my own little genre tag lately called “Shiver Pop” and a lot of great bands that I’m discovering, especially locally, are making this kind of sound. The first time I ever thought about the idea of “Shiver Pop” however was when I discovered My Bloody Valentine when I was just 19 years old. I was attracted to just how lush and dreamy their sound was. It was full of layered guitars that were creamy and floaty while still framed with harshness. Add to this the buried duel male / female vocals and the way in which they hovered underneath these sonic paintings. It was an exercise in art and in the spirit of rock n roll. I was convinced that the band was the most unique thing I had ever heard and to this day I still maintain that. So getting back to my original point, I’d describe My Bloody Valentine as the perfect representation of what I think Shiver pop is.

My favourite album is of course the guitar masterpiece “Loveless” and although I still love all the EPs and “Isn’t Anything” quite deeply, it is “Loveless” where the band finally arrived at their true sound. This was the dream album for any band and it was with “Loveless” that My Bloody Valentine gave a new language to not only indie rock but rock n roll as a whole. The reason I say that is because I found out about My Bloody Valentine by listening to bands like Deftones and Type O Negative who were big fans of the band. Listening to “Loveless” made me understand how the Deftones got that glide in their riffs. So in term of my life “Loveless” was a revolution and one I still love entering into each time I listen to it.

With the reissues the noticeable difference across the board is that the volume of it all, the mix and the overall lushness of each release is turned up and well balanced. The way it all sits together sounds even more amazing in my headphones. On “Loveless” in particular I can hear the subtle layers of backing vocals jumping out but still remaining beautifully buried in the mix. The way these vocals now add extra mood is just pure sex for my ears. After waiting years for new material, hearing the old stuff remastered is enough to tie me over until the new album gets released.

Whether you are a first timer or a long time fan, you need to own these re-issues because they are pure heaven. My Bloody Valentine will change your whole world.

10 Cassette Tapes out of 10

Review: “Freak Puke” by The Melvins

Melvins

I pity people who aren’t fans of The Melvins because you are missing out on some of the most forward thinking music ever made. Sure on the surface it is just really loud and really progressive rock n roll that is rooted in sludge and hardcore punk but once you delve deeper into the entire Melvins discography you’ll find just how much sonic territory the band has covered. The Melvins are the band who Tool claim as one of their biggest influences. Mastodon bow down to the power of The Melvins and just about any band in the past 20 years who have mixed hardcore punk, sludge and added prog rock and experimental flourishes to the template have The Melvins to thank. They are that influential as a band and along with Fugazi is a band who I define as the perfect example of indie rock.

“Freak Puke” is their 19th Studio album (well 55th official release if you include EPS, Live Albums, Compilations and Collaboration albums) and we find the band returning to their three piece line-up. Although the previous line-up (which includes Jarred Warren and Coady Willis) is still in existence this is a diversion for the band and has been released under the “Melvins Lite” moniker. We see the return of Trevor Dunn who this time round is playing a Stand-up Bass.

“Freak Puke” is full of all of the great sounds that have coloured The Melvins rock n roll language. This time round the sound is altered by Dunn’s Stand-up Bass which adds a new level of mood and heaviness. It also gives the record a very percussive feel with a big focus on the rhythm section which helps shape a new sound for the bands usual brand of sludge.

This is a great record and continues the Melvins commitment to sonic evolution. It is brimming with new ideas and also gives you a dose of the Melvins we all know and love.

Fuck You, if you don’t like The Melvins you’ve got no taste.

10 cassette tapes out of 10

By Dan Newton

Review: “Come Home To Mama” by Martha Wainwright

Martha

 

Martha Wainwright has so far released two flawless albums of sophisticated folk music and her third album “Come Home To Mama” is no exception to the delicate way she crafts her music. I have to say though; this is my favourite collection of Martha Wainwright music. There is so much Joy yet so much pain a lot of pop skills mixed with a lot of darkness and shiver. It is the sound of a real professional communicator doing her best to showcase her emotional landscapes and stories of her existence. A lot of people try to be this honest but a lot of the time they mix fantasy with fiction to cloud the truth. Martha Wainwright is all truth and her heart is well and truly on her sleeve.

The highlight of this album is her version of “Proserpina” which was written by Martha’s late mother Kate McGarrigle who herself was a famous Canadian folk music singer. Having recently become a mother herself, hearing Martha sing her own Mother’s song as a tribute is one of the most emotional things I’ve ever heard. It is hard not to be moved by the hurt and the yearn bleeding all over the track. Lyrically, the song is in the traditional folk story vein but the emotional delivery given by Martha showcases the pain of her loss and also her struggles with the joy of her own journey into Motherhood. It is a very beautiful song and for me sums up the talent of Martha Wainwright.

“Come Home To Mama” is beautiful music and you all need to own this record.

10 Cassette tapes out of 10

Review: “Noctourniquet” by The Mars Volta

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When I muse on what The Mars Volta offer the world I start to think that they should honestly be my favourite band. Don’t get me wrong I am a massive fan and have been since day one. I still remember freaking out on their debut album “De-Loused In The Comatorium” when it was released in 2003 and I would show everyone I knew but not a lot of people seemed to get just what a special band they were. I remember reading on the internet, post ATDI break-up, just how bold and intense Omar and Cedric planned to make their new project. This excited me quite a bit because I was already turned on by how progressive and forward thinking ATDI was.

Fast forward to 2012 and after following the band religiously since their inception I have watched the band get more progressive, weirder and take there place in the rock landscape as one of the most interesting and vital bands of the 21st Century. Add into this the amazing solo work from Omar and you have a collective that is committed to the progression of the rock n roll language. Thank fuck I always think to myself.

So nine years after their debut album, what does The Mars Volta have to say in 2012? Well quite a lot actually and it was with great pleasure that I heard them apply the year zero theory to their sound and in an attempt to evolve they have taken the sound back to basics. The real joy of “Noctourniquet” is of how it reminds me of their debut album, not in sound but in spirit.

“Noctourniquet” is not full of horns or jazzy passages and is at its core a very simple collection of rock music. The album is heavy on electronics which help give some new dynamics to the Mars Volta sound. Overall the lack of horns gives the sound a new urgency. “Noctourniquet” is a disciple of the less is more theory and by adopting this discipline the band has given themselves more room to breathe and have steered the sound into the new decade. The sonic weight loss will only help the band build on their language moving into the next ten years of their career.

This is also the first time in a while that I’ve felt emotionally attached to a Mars Volta record. The melodic structure and lyrics of this movement of music almost feel like love songs to my ears. I haven’t been this moved, emotionally, by a Mars Volta record since “Frances The Mute” and it is nice to see emotion favoured over science.

I had low expectations for this album, which is how I’ve attacked each Mars Volta album since “Amputecture” and although we’ve had some great music offered to us since that point, “Noctourniquet” is the first time I’ve had my expectations met and exceeded. It is an incredibly strong album and great way to start the new decade for rock n roll’s most progressive band.

The Mars Volta is future punk.

10 Cassette tapes out of 10

Review: “Between The Times and The Tides” by Lee Ranaldo

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Every asshole music journalist with a healthy knowledge of clichés is always going to refer to Lee Ranaldo as the “George Harrison” of Sonic Youth. I had read this many times over the years and although I acknowledged it myself it wasn’t until the release of Lee’s amazing solo debut “Between The Times and the Tides” that I fully believed. Lee Ranaldo was the dark horse of Sonic Youth and he should have sung more of the songs in Sonic Youth.

Does Lee Ranaldo make George Harrison music? Fuck No, Lee is his own sound and on his debut we hear Lee take his sound to all corners of the rock n roll universe. I must admit I thought Lee would take a more acoustic turn but Lee has made a rock n roll record in the Neil Young tradition. It is full of fuzz and guitar freakouts but underneath that is the dust of folk music. When it rocks out it is at maximum guitar freak out and sounds similar to the refined buzz of Sonic Youth’s 2000 to 2009 releases. The moment on this album that I love most though is “Stranded” which is a gorgeous love ballad and I still maintain that is sound of love in the new decade. It is a song that I will always include on any mix I’ll be making in the coming years.

The news of Sonic Youth’s hiatus was heartbreaking but the solo material released so far from each member is strong enough to continue the Sonic Youth language over the next 20 years. Lee Ranaldo has made the best album thus far and combined with his stellar live show, I can’t wait to witness just where Lee will take his sound over the next few years.

Lee Ranaldo is his own man and on “Between The Times and Tides” he proves just what a powerful songwriter and artist he is.

10 Cassette Tapes out of 10

Review: “Born To Die” and “Paradise” by Lana Del Rey

LanaDelRey

 

I am so in love with Lana Del Rey. She is this mysterious and beautiful sound that haunts me every time I listen to it. She is a shiver up my spine and her music sounds like a David Lynch film and has Twin Peaks eeriness. It sounds best late at night with the lights off when your mind is clear. This is storytelling songwriting but it swirls in pure fantasy. I don’t doubt that Lana Del Rey has sprinkled some fact in her fiction but the way she positions herself in each song makes me feel like she has a future as an actress. Like Lana herself has stated, this is indeed Hollywood Pop and is full of glitz and glamour but like Hollywood it has a darkness suffocating the disintegration of your dreams of being star.

“Born to Die” and “Paradise” are full of slick and lush production and are clearly linked to Hip Hop culture but to my old ears it sounds like an update on the Portishead sound. This is essentially a very American sounding update on the Trip-Hop genre and is of course in its most basic form is just plain old pop music. Naturally I was cynical about what Lana Del Rey offered to the evolution of music and although her sound isn’t exactly originally in its scientific make up it has a mood that is unique. It is this mood that draws you in and resonates with you. It is incredibly seductive and casts a spell over you and as mentioned just saturates you in shivers. The album and EP play out like cinema with each new song opening up the complexity of our lead character, Ms Lana Del Rey. It is not a new idea but in 2012 it is nice to see an artist striving for a bit of Cinema in their sound.

Lana Del Rey is a star and she will continue to become a very important part of the cultural lexicon and whether she continues to make music or does cross over to film, who cares. She is vital and hype worth investing in.

8 Cassette Tapes out of 10

Review: “Visions” by Grimes

Grimes

Grimes is the sound of dream pop circa 2012 and I’m so very glad that she exists. I know that Pitchfork and the hipster elite celebrate her and I think that this is something that they got right. The music Grimes makes is so incredibly right on and I absolutely love it. It contains all the float and swoon of bands like Cocteau Twins with the weirdness of Bjork. In fact, if Bjork retires anytime soon I have got a feeling that Grimes would be the perfect replacement for the evolution of her – Bjork that is – quirky brand of pop music.

I find myself listening to this record at different points of the day and you just relax into the grooves and soundscapes. It puts you in a trance of wonder and Grimes deals with the kind of dream pop fantasy that I’ve only ever heard Cocteau Twins achieve and although I’ve already pointed that out I think it requires repeating because Cocteau Twins are a very special band.

I’m also impressed with just how back to basics and lo-fi the whole affair is. This isn’t a grand exercise in overproduced sheen. It still is very dusty and to hear Grimes use some incredibly basic loops and samples yet still manipulate something unique is the part that inspires me the most.

My advice is to believe the hype because Grimes is only going to get better and better.

9 Cassette tapes out of 10

Review: “Uno, Dos and Tre” by Green Day

GreenDay

I have an interesting relationship with the music of Green Day. I’ve been a fan of the band since 1995, when I was just twelve years old and the album that started it all was Dookie. I was young and it sounded incredibly vital to my ears and it sat beautifully in my collection alongside Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Silverchair. I followed the band religiously right up until the release of Nimrod which was a big album for me in 1997. I loved Green Day; it was a nice mix of humour, seriousness and a bit of fuck you thrown in. It was how I understood punk rock to sound at that point in my life. After a lull in supporting the band, I reconnected with the band again in 2002 when I brought “Warning” very cheaply at Big W. This was an album that many fans rejected but I fell in love with it. It showed a new level of maturity and signalled a bit of a crossover period where the band would learn how to graduate to a more grown up rock n roll institution. Still, at this point I never really celebrated how much I loved the band. I don’t think it was shame or anything like that, I just got to a point where I understood that some bands are worth sharing and some bands, and your love for them, are worth keeping to yourself.

What happened next – in terms of the Green Day discography – I was not expecting. They released the very epic and very inspired rock operas “American Idiot” and “21st Century Breakdown” which are two absolute classic rock n roll records. These albums made me commit to being more public about my love of Green Day. I wasn’t as willing to see them as a guilty pleasure, but to call them a guilty pleasure is selling my love of the band short because I felt no guilt for liking them. I honestly had no fear of social consequence for enjoying something as basic as Green Day music, I guess it came down to having more people in my life express dislike for them than actual love. I figured it was easier to just keep it a secret affair.

This brings me to 2012 and the announcement from the band that they will be releasing three albums back to back called Uno, Dos and Tre. This is a brave move in a climate of digital downloads and very low attention spans. I personally was very excited because the band was doing what had been done in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s where bands would release multiple albums in the course of one year. This is the most positive thing about what Green Day have done with these albums and it is something that more bands in their position should be doing. Whether this remains to be a one off gimmick or whether it ends up being something the band continues to do, who cares – a mainstream rock band releasing this much material over the course of a year is a positive thing we need to embrace.

This brings me to the music contained on Uno, Dos and Tre. The first thing I’ll say is that you honestly need to own all three because strangely there is a beautiful sonic continuity connecting all three records. After listening to these albums consistently over the past week I can tell you that they all belong together. Yes, the band stick very close to the formula in terms of what we’ve come to know and love about the Green Day sound but the power of this music is coming from the way the band has captured the old energy of the Dookie, Insomniac and Nimrod days with the new Rock Opera focus that came with American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. I don’t really hear Green Day as punk rock any more; I think they have become the power pop band that they always set out to be. Even on their pre-Dookie albums you could hear the band striving to be the pop band they evolved to be. Melodically the album is perfection and Billie Joe has become a master of adding the anthemic to these garage rock songs. There are also hints of Guns N Roses, strictly in some of the dynamics that jump out.

It is hard to pick a favourite album in this trilogy because they all offer so much enjoyment. Tre certainly has the epic feel that I loved on “American Idiot” and “21st Century Breakdown” with Uno giving me the same great feelings that “Nimrod” did while Dos is very Foxboro Hot Tubs. Mix it all together and you get some of the strongest rock n roll I’ve heard.

Being a fan of Green Day in 2012 is certainly a controversial thing especially when I’m 29 years old and should know better. Liking a band like Green Day does not stop me from enjoying the weirdness and experimentation of lesser known musical movements. Green Day for me is a process in sentimentality and has the same warm feeling as catching up with your Best Friend for beer and candy. I don’t listen to Green Day in order to understand how to evolve myself or my own creative desires, I listen to Green Day because I like my mainstream rock n roll to sound fucking great and Green Day are hella tight and a band who I continue to enjoy the older I get.

10 Cassette Tapes Out Of 10

Review: “The Industrialist” by Fear Factory

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Fear Factory keep making the same album over and over again. After the beautiful resurrection that occurred with the release of “Archetype” in 2004 and “Transmission” in 2005 the band once again changed personal and welcomed back original guitarist Dino and got rid of Christian and Raymond. The band essentially became Vocalist Burton and Guitarist Dino with some hired hands handling the rhythm section. This was when the soul of this machine died and the machine essentially became mechanical, robotic and scientifically modified to deliver a very cold and very template “Fear Factory” by numbers sound. This was a great disappointment because Fear Factory used to be at the forefront of Heavy Metal evolution and with their 2005 album “Transmission” they showed great promise of taking the sound firmly into the new decade with a different sound. Unfortunately this was not meant to be.

The 2010 released “Mechanize” – the first new material with Dino – was an experiment in attack over evolution. The band proved over the course of that album just how heavy they could be but it was at the sacrifice of their adventurous spirit which was disappointing. It started to feel like you’d heard it all before. The hype surrounding the release of “The Industrialist” was rooted in the whole “return to form” ethos that so often gets lumped on any Metal band that has lasted longer than ten years. Although I was disappointed with “Mechanize” I couldn’t turn my back on Fear Factory because I still view them as a great heavy metal band.

“The Industrialist” is indeed a step in the right direction and is a better record than 2010’s “Mechanize” but it is still a demonstration of the band becoming the machine. Like the narratives that so commonly exist within the Fear Factory universe the band has lost the ability to sound human and without that soul you just have a very auto pilot sounding record. That is my main complaint with Fear Factory circa 2012.

All of these criticisms aside, I still get enjoyment out of Fear Factory. They have one of the most unique and recognisable languages in musical history and I love the collision of riff, industrial and melody. It sounded amazing in 1998 and it still gets me off in 2012.

Fear Factory is an ongoing organisation that has had many different eras and this new part of the story sounds like it is only beginning and hopefully as the machine grows and evolves somehow the creative souls at the centre of it will remember to be a little bit more human with their approach.

7 Cassette Tapes out of 10

Review: “Down IV Part I – The Purple EP” by Down

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My love of Down is quite a simple thing to sum up and I’ll pitch it to you in this way, the band has Members of Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, Crowbar and Eyehategod and are from New Orleans. Anyone who has a healthy understanding of sludge and heavy metal culture will know that NOLA and the above mentioned bands are vital players in the advancement of the Riff. Down is the logical end result of throwing all of those bands together and in 2012 it is nice to hear a band take the Sabbath sound into future and even doomier directions.

Black Sabbath will always be the sound of Heavy Metal for me and I’m always going to favour slow sludgy doom riffs over fast over the top speed and mathematics when it comes to Metal. Down do this sound beautifully and after three flawless (that is right, you heard me no flaws) studio albums the band have taken a different course for the release of their fourth movement of music. The band is releasing four separate EPs that will focus on different areas of sound. “The Purple EP” is the first EP to be released and it is six solid tracks of sludge and the classic Down sound that I love.

Raw as fuck and full of emotion, this is heavy metal for the 21st Century. Guitarists Pepper and Kirk riff with a confidence and intensity and degree of emotion that is unmatched. Mix this with the Bill Wardisms of drummer Jimmy Bower and punch to the dick groove of bass player Pat Bruders and you get the idea of just how well constructed the Down brand of rock n roll is.

I may be bias, due to my hero worship, but for me the thing that will always make Down so unique compared to the other Iommi worshipers is the vocals from metal legend Philip H. Anselmo. Phil is the greatest Metal vocalist to ever exist, period. No one comes close to his passion or his delivery and he has the ability to make the most boring “metal by numbers” bands sound a million per cent more exciting with his bark. What Phil brings to Down is a passion and intensity that lot of the other sludge bands can sometimes lack. He is living every word as he spits it out and you can’t help but pump your fist and bang your head. It is all “fuck yeahs” and all that kind of stuff but there is real emotions funding these Anselmo life musings. This dude is one tough motherfucker and a person who I idolise quite hardcore.

It is hard to review this EP because it is only the beginning of a four part journey into the Down universe. So my criticisms of it being too short are not really relevant because the band has more to come.

Just shut your fucking mouth, buy it, sit down and listen to it.

10 Cassette tapes out of 10

Review: “Toward The Low Sun” by Dirty Three

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All the post rock bands that exist will never come close to the power and creative peaks of Dirty Three. Quite simply, what the Dirty Three offer the world is incredibly unique whereas all the post rock bands tend to deal in obvious templates of dull dwindles into predictable explosions and annoying Jonsi vocals. Unless you are ISIS I really don’t care too much for that post rock “sound” – it is all a little bit too scientific for me, Dream Theatre for Hipsters.

“Toward The Low Sun” has been a long time coming and for the band to still be pushing boundaries this far into their career is so inspiring. The album is full of minimal explosions of noise and as always is driven by the real secret weapon of Dirty Three, the drumming of Jim White. When I think of the perfect drummer Jim White is usually the first person to come to mind. His approach is so spacious and emotional in that free jazz tradition and really is the heartbeat of the Dirty Three sound. So much of the music on “Toward The Low Sun” is powered and given the space to express itself courtesy of Jim White’s drumming.

The Obvious star is Warren Ellis who gives us some new instrumental expressions on this album. His amazing and aching violin passages are still front and centre but we also get a wide array of different pianos and various stringed instruments favoured over the traditional Violin, Guitar and Drums sound of the band. This is all tied together with the subtle fret work of Mick Turner who as always sails in between the noise to give the song even more emotional context.

A lot of the post rock and instrumental bands who exist in the indie universe always play like an instrumental band which is their greatest mistake. Dirty Three never did this; they always played like a rock n roll band and like a great rock n roll band they show moments of discipline, looseness but also they never forget to communicate maximum emotion with their music. These aren’t pointless collisions of sound that Dirty Three have created, these are real songs with stories and aches and emotions pumping behind them.

Dirty Three make beautiful music and in this ugly landscape of scientifically altered music, it is nice to hear a band still be so expressive yet so spacious.

“Toward The Low Sun” is a demonstration in perfection

10 cassette tapes out of 10

Review: “I Bet on Sky” by Dinosaur Jr.

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It is impossible for Dinosaur Jr. to make a bad album. I own pretty much everything the band has released, from the original line-up, to the middle J Mascis only period, all the bootlegs and BBC sessions material, B-side compilations, rare singles and of course the three new albums released since J, Lou and Murph re-united. None of the music contained across the discography is bad. It is all solid and always contains beautiful ear bleeding country.

“I Bet on Sky” is the third album released since the band re-united and although it is still quite a sonic and rock n roll affair the album itself has a mellow feel to its fuzz. J Mascis of course leads us through his mumbling musings on life and lets his guitar playing do the bulk of the emotional talking. The two token Lou Barlow tracks as always give great continuity to proceedings.

There is nothing new on offer with this album, but when it comes to Dinosaur Jr. it isn’t about providing you anything new. The band has their own unique language and each new album is a warm hug from old friends. I have never had any complaints about any of the music made by Dinosaur Jr. It has always been full of great emotion and adventurous fuzz. “I Bet on Sky” is no different and over the course of 40 minutes you are transported away to a new emotional landscape that only J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph are capable of making.

8 Cassette Tapes out of 10

Review: “EP ++” by +++ (Crosses)

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+++ (Crosses) is the new side project for Deftones singer Chino Moreno and in 2012 they released their second EP simply titled “EP ++” and much like their first EP it is a glimpse at the new romantic sounds that the band are creating.

+++ (Crosses) mix the beauty of trip hop with the sounds of bands like Depeche Mode, Cocteau Twins and Sisters Of Mercy to make one of the newest and most unique sounds in modern rock music. The music may be funded on darkness but there is a real joy to the sound.

I’m always attracted to anything that Chino Moreno does, but with +++ (Crosses) I must admit I’m quite excited. It is the next logical step in terms of finding the perfect vehicle for Moreno and his brand of heartbreak swoon. Deftones will of course always be his greatest musical achievement, but looking at his work outside of Deftones, Moreno’s other band Team Sleep were renowned for playing with a more lo-fi aesthetic, +++ (Crosses) on the other hand  is full of big production and it really soars. This is the sound of future pop music and although it deals in the clash of electronics and the organic, it doesn’t spend time trying to serve one over the other. These two creative vehicles exist in harmony to create, as I mentioned, the sound of future pop music.

10 Cassette Tapes Out of 10

Review: “Sun” by Cat Power

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In 2012, Chan Marshall finally made the perfect Cat Power album. I know a lot of people will argue that this is a false claim, but to my ears this is the album that Chan has been threatening to make her whole career. “Sun” is the kind of album that an artist builds, after years of getting lost in the wilderness of experimentation. After spending years blowing our minds with her minimalism, Chan finally adds some extra ingredients to give us the perfect mix of modern production with her aching minimalism. It is like sitting down to eat the perfect meal.

Not to divert too far off the track but I think it is worth me mentioning how much Chan Marshall means to me. As an artist, I take a lot of influence from her music. Before I joined rock bands, I spent a period of time writing and recording my own minimal ache songs and during this whole period of time, I just wanted to mimic my hero, Cat Power. I’ve got hours and hours of demos that I recorded under my “The Myth Of Love” solo moniker that were just me tripping on Chan and essentially writing her love letters via my music. One day in the future I plan to follow that path again, but for now I try to think like Chan Marshall in terms of how she would attack the role of a singer in a very experimental and very sonic rock n roll band. Anything that is good in my delivery as an artist comes from her.

This brings me back to “Sun” which as I mentioned above is the sound of all things Cat Power coming together and sounding perfect. When I first heard “Sun” I was just blown away at the new creative leaps taken by Chan. The album is full of beautiful modern electronic and hip hop production all mixed with her minimal styling’s. This album made me want to drop everything I was doing musically, it gave me new ideas on how to deliver and communicate existence. It makes my heart swoon and takes me to new landscapes of love and devotion but also opens up my mind to the past aches and heartbreak mistakes. This is the modern sound of falling apart but somehow finding hope amongst the wreckage.

I’m not as plugged into the myth of Bob Dylan as some people are but I often feel like Chan Marshall is the female re-incarnation. The stories and chameleon energy of Dylan is consistently hovering underneath every new movement of music that Cat Power offers. Most artists spend years trying to tap into the type of honesty that Chan Marshall deals in but rarely do they get close. “Sun” is the first step in a braver direction for Cat Power, one where she escapes past expectations and the first time that she colours the canvas with some brand new blues and haikus. This is 21st Century folk music without the twee and it sounds raw as fuck. There are more roars in “Sun” than any of the distorted rock n roll existing in our modern era.

It is quite apparent that I’m a big fan of Cat Power and to me she can do no wrong and “Sun” is the perfect example of why Chan Marshall is the most vital musician in existence at the moment. Hip indie film makers will make movies about her in 20 years time, our kids will strive to mimic her when they pick up acoustic guitars and all of us mere mortals will struggle to understand just how she manages to put this much emotion in her music.

“Sun” will wake you up to just how unconscious you have been and will be the first warm hug you feel. “Sun” is an essential album for anyone who claims to like music in 2012.

10 Cassette Tapes Out of 10

By Dan Newton

Review: “Sugaring Season” by Beth Orton

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Beth Orton is an angel in my mind, a sweet silky sound that is the true journey of any coming of age new romance that diverts into a tragic breakdown of communication with the trust breaking and the darkness of heartache fast peppering your existence with a hurt that shapes a desire for new names and a brand new landscape of light. It doesn’t matter where here career is, Beth always manages to bring tales of broken hearts and brand new starts and helps give sound to the confusing journey of love.

“Sugaring Season” is no different and picks up perfectly where her last album “Comfort Of Strangers” left off.

“Sugaring Season” is a very grown up record and takes us back to basics in terms of the sonics, dynamics and overall song writing. It is rooted in the traditional folktronica that Beth was apart of spearheading in the 90’s but it adds a new wisdom to the blueprint.

To my ears it sounds like the kind of break-up record that will appeal to the 30 years and over crowd. When I say this, I don’t mean Beth has ventured into mediocre adult contempory, quite the opposite, but what I really mean by my initial statement is that “Sugaring Season” will appeal to that post 30’s person who is watching all their friends get married, find love, start families have blossoming careers and essentially not making the kind of juvenile mistakes in the arena of love that you are. That is the kind of confusion funding the emotion behind each song on this album. There is hope buried underneath that and a commitment to self improvement but just when the song steers in that direction the emotional backdrop nestles back into the ache and pain of the aforementioned post 30’s confusion.

This is a classic Beth Orton that relies on emotional evolution as opposed to musical revolution to sell its message. It is the perfect record to initiate you into the Beth Orton universe.

10 Cassette Tapes Out Of 10

Review: “Former Lives” by Benjamin Gibbard

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My love for the music of Benjamin Gibbard peaked with the release of “Plans” by Death Cab For Cutie. I’ve loved the two records the band released since but the special connection I once had with his music faded with time. This being said I still put “Transatlantacism” and “Plans” on quite a big pedestal and see those two records as some of the best music released from 2000 to 2012.

This brings me to Gibbards solo album “Former Lives” which I picked up with excitement. I’ll admit I had read little press about this album and formed an assumption that the album itself may be a return to the electro swoon of The Postal Service. It is quite clear upon listening to “Former Lives” that this is not the case.

The album is a nice collection of songs that don’t exactly do anything too new and all of those Gibbardisms are peppered throughout the entire album. This is storytelling songwriting circa 2012 and Gibbard is clearly one of the best examples of this vehicle of musical communication in our modern era.

I must admit I was very underwhelmed with what I heard, but for some reason once the album ended I found myself pressing repeat hoping to find the ache buried deep somewhere underneath the cowboy hat. Unfortunately I never found it but I did discover an artist who has grown up and started to make the crossover to becoming one of those important musical figures who survived. This album is very country and western in the vein of Ryan Adams. I love that sound, but my own expectations were the enemy of enjoyment when I was listening to “Former Lives.” I’m still trying to understand if this type of sound suits Gibbard who I always put in a more Morrissey or Robert Smith category. All that being said the songs sweep by perfectly sticking to your standard verse, chorus, verse, bridge, chorus mantra and they all have amazing lyrics which help frame the emotion of each song.

Benjamin Gibbard is an artist who I am glad exists because I still get enjoyment from music that he makes. It may not always hit that part of me that his earlier material did but he still crafts beautiful music that attacks your heart. “Former Lives” isn’t saying anything new but it doesn’t have too when you have such an established voice. This is nice music for neat people and the kind of summer soundtrack that will no doubt fuel many a relationship breakdown or fresh new kisses.

8 Cassette Tapes Out Of 10