HEAVY AND WEIRD – END OF YEAR LIST – VOLUME ONE – TOP ELEVEN AUSTRALIAN ALBUMS OF 2013

 

It is my favourite part of the year, the time where I get to sit down and work out all of my favourite releases of 2013 and today I want to share with you the top eleven albums released by Australian artists in 2013. There has been an amazing amount of music released from Australia in 2013 and I got to review a lot of it. Here are my picks in terms of the best – please read and enjoy


Top Eleven Australian Albums of 2013

1. “In Blood Memory” by Jen Cloher

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When I reflect on what makes a great album I think about the way an artist attacks all my senses. There has to be an initial explosion from the moment you turn the album on that pulls you in and just takes over your world. A great album will infect you deeply with every inch of it swirling in your head. It will be all you think about, it will consume you to the point of needing to clear schedules just so you can hear it. You’ll arrive to work 15 minutes late just so you can hear that bit more of it in your car stereo. A great album will block out all of the cruelty of the world and in its place create a world of beauty designed by your own imagination. Some albums simply sound great and you can acknowledge the craftsmanship that went into its creation. Other albums, the ones that matter and the ones that are timeless will never need to be explained beyond the way it leaves you changed. An album is merely a piece of dialogue between you and the artists involved, sometimes it can be simple small talk but other times it will erupt years of meaningful conversations and answers to your questions. It will serve as the ultimate imaginary friend and will help you celebrate life no matter the occasion or emotion. A great album will be a timeless artefact that helps give meaning to your life and act as the best voice for that internal yearning that you feel.

That is what happens when I listen to “In Blood Memory” and it is only in its infancy in terms of its release and the time I’ve spent with it. It is the right album for the space I find myself in at this current moment and regardless of what people believe or interpret as “being successful” I know within my own heart and from listening with my own ears that Jen Cloher has made a new modern classic that should be worshiped and ripped off by anyone and everyone looking to make a timeless piece of art.

2. “I See Seaweed” by The Drones

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I don’t think I could ever give a bad review to The Drones. I believe that it is impossible for me to ever find a fault with the music that this band makes. It is everything I love about rock n roll and they always explode all kinds of revolution when I listen to them. I don’t mean to sound crude or competitive or “well you just have no taste” but regardless of my “don’t get offended you fevered ego” plea you’re probably still going to take it wrong. Blah, fuck it, I’ll say it – I think The Drones make the entire modern legion of Straylian band’s sound redundant. If that modern legion was a food group they’d be the empty (and very dangerous) calories contained in fast food and The Drones would be a well prepared (possibly fully organic / potentially vegan) feast. You leave satisfied and content, not bloated and full.

Blah blah blah blah blah though, I don’t want to tangle this review up with paragraphs of why “sample a” is better than “sample b” because honestly it is none of my business what music people choose to like. My job is to review the new album from The Drones called “I See Seaweed” – so let me go from the a to the z of why this album is a brilliant piece of art.

Again, like all of the bands previous albums this record is an exercise in making sure that you listen without distraction. Clear your schedule, take the day off work and avoid a Friday / Saturday night of partying to stay inside glued to your headphones and this album. This is a journey album, you hang on every note and you go on the ride. There are some new cosmic touches that are added to the usual dust and crazy horse slacked out guitar noise. The music on “I See Seaweed” surrounds you, it engulfs your environment until you are in a cocoon of nightmarish divinity and stark late night highway swirls. There is a loneliness and spooky feel to it all and somewhere buried deep inside the stories being spun there is a real sense that loss has somehow themed these songs. I always get deeply moved at the way songs flirt with a sense of beauty but then before they get too refined and layered they rip themselves apart and become excursions into pure self-destruction and chaotic bliss. Over the course of eight tracks the band unfolds deep noise meditations that appeal to everything that aches within you. More aftermath than initial detonation, each track creeps then floats then elevates to a preacher screech and within seconds resurrects a haze of space that heightens the suspense and thrill of the chill. It rarely gives you a chance to remain grounded and you’ll unlock new levels of emotion and also wonder what the fuck just happened. Like a foreign injury, your heart and soul will never truly be the same again and when the noise settles and resolves the smile will return to your face. This becomes the moment that you understand the power of sound, more than before and you’ll mourn the fact that there isn’t enough time in your day to listen to this album on repeat. You’ll walk around your house searching for ways not to return to the album and try and throw yourself into something else but while you attempt to be still your mind will be humming every note inspiring you to boycott routine and return to the album, like a hit and run lover. You won’t get answers, only questions and that is what good rock n roll should do.

3. “She Beats” by Beaches

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As an album “She Beats” is an extreme exercise in divinity and as the album stretches out you find yourself hypnotised by the messy swoony ached dynamics of each song and you just bliss the fuck out waiting for that late night breeze to save you from all of this despair. This is some truly stunning guitar noise and unlike the science of other current psyche rock humans this music is totally free with the improvised moment being the pivotal instrument in orchestrating such soul power.

Fuck, this is the band that should be worshiped instead of all of that indie hype machine psyche rock trash agenda being pushed by more popular outlets of radio and media. All of that hype machine psyche rock trash misses the soul power and BEACHES are way more fucking divine in the way they communicate musically that I find it difficult to put words to how beautiful it is.

Don’t waste time on the popular vote, invest now in BEACHES and do everything you can to source a copy of “She Beats” and make sure you fucking pay top dollar because BEACHES deserve all of your love and your money.

I may be late to the party but I’m sure as fuck not going to be leaving any time soon because BEACHES make the kind of noise that I love to get lost in.

4. “All Our Wires” by Seja

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I could listen to “All Our Wires” for days and believe me when I say that I have. There is a considerable amount of intensity swirling in and out of the sunshine pop. All of the songs carry those hits of late afternoon sun and surround you with their warmth. There is however a degree of emotional chaos inside the warmth and the album itself never lets you rest easy. This is clearly pop music made by a broken hearted human for other broken heart humans who at the best of times feel misunderstood by the world around them.  The sadness all throughout this record is overwhelming and the deep heavy ache that I hear in every song is a thing of beauty. There is no agenda to this music other than honestly expressing the rawness of being open to other humans in the hope of being loved back.

On “All Our Wires” SEJA opens herself up, as she always does, and shows a degree of vulnerability lyrically that allows you the listener to connect to these songs. Each song illustrates what a master communicator SEJA is as a creative human being and as I continually point out again and again, if you want to be an artist that connects with other humans you got to be a great communicator. Dynamically and Stylistically SEJA crafts a wonderful wall of mechanically aided landscapes through various keyboards and synths but although a large portion of her arsenal is of this nature musically there is a very human element to it and its warmth and sincerity is what allows for the mood of the album to build and rush in and out you, it’s a fucking thrilling experience.

The real highlight of this album though is the wonderful fifth track “Imaginations In Hyperspace” which is just such a right on piece of pop music. I’m fairly certain all of the other humans reading this will understand what I’m talking about when I say that I want to marry this song and live with it forever. There is nothing more amazing then when you have a song just hit you and it flows through every inch of you and heightens your emotions to a point where you feel this kind of yearning that almost makes you want to burst it hurts so much. That is the kind of song that “Imaginations In Hyperspace” is and it just takes me away man, far far far far away from the absolute chaos of this fucked up world and I love that, more than I love anything else in the world. To have a beautiful piece of music just transport me away like a fucking spaceship to some other dimension where I can breathe in something more beautiful than the mediocrity of this place called earth that I have to share with these animals known as humans is a healing experience indeed and “Imaginations In Hyperspace” provides this kind of escape. This is by far one of the most beautiful songs of 2013 and you’d be a fucking fool to ignore it.

At the end of the day that is what the whole album does to me, it just acts like fucking rocket ship that takes me so far away from myself and you have no idea how beautiful that feels as a human being who struggles to feel like they belong in this ocean of chaos known as life. That is the power of a great song and a great album and “All Our Wires” does that to me and then some.

Believe me when I say that your decade will be improved once you listen to the wonderful sound that is “All Our Wires” by SEJA who remains to be one hell of an amazing artist that deserves all of your time, money and love because we need her music in this world.

There is nothing more refreshing then hearing and feeling something this real, thank you SEJA for making a fantastic album with “All Our Wires,” you are a star.

5. “Winter Haunts” by The Rational Academy

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So what makes “Winter Haunts” so wonderful and important?

Well the easy answer is the great care that has gone into its creation but I reckon I need to go a bit deeper to sell you the spook. The music has a loose feel but there is also a strict pop discipline pulsating through every track. All of the musical experimentation and noise helps give context to the pop songs lurking underneath. It isn’t about showing off either skill, each song is a meeting place of extreme ideas condensed into smooth pop communications. You can tell that each band member is well versed in the history of music and the way it can influence your sonic dialogue. This is the album the band has been building too for their whole career and even though they have always been unique, the sounds that seduce you on “Winter Haunts” are their strongest yet. The album is a masterpiece of aches and shakes full of hypnotic swirls that take you away to landscapes of beauty and inter-dimensional time travel. This is inside music, to be consumed on your headphones alone, with the lights out as you contemplate every corner of your existence. As the title suggests it haunts and it is clearly coming from four haunted individuals who are collecting all of their internal worlds and through the power of music painting us a picture of their spooky shivers. This is indeed music for people who feel and who need to go deep when they invest in sound. There is not one bad moment contained throughout this album. To reduce it to even simpler terms, “Winter Haunts” gives me the same feeling that I get when I fall in love with a beautiful human being, that feverish feeling of being consumed with that famous Pisces prayer of “I love you so much, it makes me sick,” oh yes indeed you’ll crush hardcore on the sounds of this album.

So what the fuck are you waiting for, move, move, move and fucking buy this amazing piece of art and tell every single person you encounter about it.

6. “All Day Venus” by Adalita

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I cannot express enough just how majestic this record is.  Adalita Srsen is an achingly talented, beautiful musician.  From the opening strains of ‘Annihilate Baby’ through to the closing notes of ‘Rolled In Gold’, All Day Venus hit me in the gut and clawed at my heart.  The melodies, musicianship and songwriting take me back to a time before I started writing music myself; a time before I analysed songs and pulled them apart to figure out how they worked.  This is an album I just want to absorb in its entirety.

7. “Sounds From The Other Side” by Tumbleweed

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Look, I’m not going to dissect this album scientifically for you because it doesn’t deserve that. What this album deserves is for you to buy it, put it on your stereo and to turn it up very loud and let the worries of the world pass you buy. I know that in 2013 every one is busy talking about how great bands like Violent Soho, Dune Rats, Bleeding Knees Club, DZ Deathrays, John Steel Singers, Cloud Control and Tame Impala are at making alternative rock n roll that is linked to all things stoner, psyche, pop and rock. I just don’t have time for those bands because they just don’t have it, all of those bands are like a collective weak handshake compared to Tumbleweed.

Believe me when I say that Tumbleweed still have it and then some. On “Sounds From The Other Side” Tumbleweed prove that their return is not an exercise in Nostalgia, this is about the evolution of the riff and the evolution of all things great about psyche drenched rock n roll. From start to finish this album is a journey that showcases a band whose maturity has lead them to make a sound that is familiar yet still about pushing the boundaries of their original dynamics. This album is about the amazing chemistry that the original line-up of Tumbleweed had and still has; this is unfinished business and a totally mature take on the already flawless sound created by the band between 1990 and 1995.

There is a new progressive spirit rolling in and out of the mountainous riffage with more focus on the psychedelic side of things with Richie’s brilliant melodies giving so much beautiful emotional direction to the behemoth guitar riff orchestras on display. On top of the riffage there is an amazing swagger from the rhythm section with that beautiful Jay Curley Bottom End giving an ugly yet soulful intensity to the sludge of the guitars.

For a very long time I thought that “Mumbo Jumbo” represented the natural evolution of where Tumbleweed had to go as a band. After sitting through “Sounds From The Other Side” it has become quite clear that this is not the case because the music made by Tumbleweed circa 2013 is more intense, heavier, and weirder and covered in a hell of a lot more psyche and prog dynamics than Tumbleweed circa 2000. What “Sounds From The Other Side” represents is the natural evolution of the Tumbleweed sound circa 1995. Much like the re-united Dinosaur Jr whilst the band leans on the spirit of their formative years (1990 to 1995) the creative growth the band illustrated post Galactaphonic (Return To Earth and Mumbo Jumbo) is still on full display even though only three of the five members were present during this era.

Career Logistics aside, the main point to focus on is that this is not about Nostalgia and it is the first new steps of a new path for Tumbleweed. There were always going to be similarities stylistically to the bands older material but like Soundgarden did with King Animal, there is also a new mood for a new decade of progression. The importance of “Sounds From The Other Side” is in the fact that it re-establishes the band right back where it belongs, making incredibly vital alternative rock n roll.

As a fan of Tumbleweed I get chills every time I press play on this record. I am literally flawed with how brilliant the album is and I feel blessed to have Lenny, Jay, Steve, Paul and Richie back together making noise once again. When I first heard Tumbleweed, the term Stoner Rock was not something that existed in my vocabulary, but as the years progressed I started to understand that the love I started to have for “that sound” all started 18 years ago with Galactaphonic. In 2013 I feel like I’m a bit of a Stoner Rock fiend even though I hate the genre term myself but I guess I just love “that sound” which it’s attached to. To hear one of the pioneering bands of that sound making something so vital and so progressive in this current climate of mediocrity is so fucking refreshing.

I am in love with this album and I’m still discovering it which thrills me even more. There is longevity to this album and I feel like it will take me months to fully find all of the wonderful little nuances of each and every track. I may be a fan of lot of different genres of music but nothing gets me off like a really great rock record and “Sounds From The Other Side” is a fantastic and totally exquisite piece of rock n roll.

I can’t wait for the next ten years of Tumbleweed history, thank fuck they are back.

8. “Self-Titled” by Spiderbait

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I’ve found it hard to turn this album off because Spiderbait are incredibly smart with the way they weave pop skills in and out of their music. What really hit me about this album are some of the darker lyrical tones and themes of the record. I felt like I’ve possibly made this point about a lot of bands I’ve reviewed recently but there are some heavy themes of loss and musings on mortality on the brand new Spiderbait record. There are an incredible amount of references to escape and whether it is a heavy dose of fiction or a truthful tale of desire and need for disconnection remains to be seen. There are some truly beautiful moments that erupt as a result of this darkness and although it’s not a new dynamic within the sound of Spiderbait it certainly carries with it the wisdom of age and a maturity of humans who have collectively seen and felt a lot of varying emotions since we last heard from them.

Three songs in particular that demonstrate this darkness are the beautiful intergalactic space jam balladry of “Supersonic” the mournful funeral march sunshine of “Mars” and the kaleidoscopic simplicity of “Goodbye” all of which carry an angsty dirge and reflective pace. Whilst these songs are carefully placed within the brighter rock / pop tones of the rest of the album these are the songs that jumped out at me when I listened to the record as they carried with them a new kind of ache that I hadn’t heard inside the Spiderbait sound before. A terrible sense of loss radiates from these three songs with a heavy sense of sadness.

This mood infects the rest of the album in more subtle ways with lead single “Straight Through The Sun” carrying the same kind of angst but trades sadness for a middle finger and the freedom of saying “Fuck You” to the world around you and just going full speed ahead into the unknown. This punk rock gallop via Motorhead snarl is continued on album highlight “Miss The Boat” which is one of the best Spiderbait songs you’ll ever hear, just balls to the wall rock n roll goodness. To harp on an earlier point, I really must refer back to the brilliance of “Supersonic” which quite frankly is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It’s no secret how much I love the sound of Janet’s voice and the way she can spin all kinds of beauty with it. On “Supersonic” Janet is in fine form and showcases her flawless talent for being a pop singer with the vintage synth sound and Carole King AM frame of the song separating it as the best thing on this record and no doubt a future hit single.

There is so much I could say about the new “Self-Titled” Spiderbait album but I think the beauty of this record is that it opens up a new decade for the band. There is an incredible amount of evolution present on this album that will allow for another 20 years of music to be made. I love Spiderbait and once again they have proved that the importance to making timeless music is to dig deep into your soul and communicate honestly. The darkness of this record is what thrills me and whether or not the band are musing on loss related to death or just the turmoil of human relationships it suits the band and I look forward to this darkness being explored deeper on the next couple of records.

This is a flawless collection of pop music that bows down to the bliss of rock n roll fury and like all good music, takes you to some pretty intergalactic places when it’s just you  alone in your bedroom with your headphones and your thoughts.

9. “Hidden Horizons” by Ghost Notes

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All of the joy and disappointments pour out of these songs and the lack of vocals add to the intensity because you as the listener have full artistic license to dream up your own meanings and landscapes purely by digesting the emotional performances of each song.

The intense Australian sense of melancholy on display is in line with the stark yet beautiful ache illustrated by artists like Dirty Three and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. I also hear the yearning and swoony late night doom-jazz sounds of a band like Bohren & Der Club of Gore but I also wonder if a band like Boards of Canada didn’t also influence the direction of Ghost Notes sound. All of these comparisons aside, it is safe to say that even though I use the above mentioned bands as a way to compare it needs to be said that Ghost Notes truly have their own sound and “Hidden Horizons” is the perfect example of how unique this band is.

Look, you can be the kind of human who looks to impress other humans by remaining plugged into what hip modern culture sells you as art soaked independent music or you could actually really colour outside the lines and stand behind a band like Ghost Notes. You may not impress the hip modern vultures but you’ll at least have a pure heart and clean soul for rejecting the beige regime of people just playing “songs” and finally engage something truly unique, envelope pushing and genuinely emotional.  When I muse on the power and importance of Brisbane music bands like Ghost Notes are the ones I’m willing to stand behind and be proud to say are from the same music community that I participate in.

Ghost Notes are an absolutely fantastic bunch of humans making future music for those of us who desire something unique. Their brand new album “Hidden Horizons” is a flawless illustration of when art triumphs over commerce and that the most relevant, dangerous, experimental and emotional independent music is being made by the humans completely disconnected from the cocksucking thundercunts of that big indie dollar machine.

10. “This Is Not The End” by Baby Animals

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Suze DeMarchi has possibly the greatest female rock & roll voice of all time.

It’s an absolute pleasure to hear her in front of a virile, muscly rock & roll band again.  Sonically, not much has changed since 1991, DeMarchi is in phenomenal voice throughout the entire record, and the band sounds like the late 90′s and 00′s never even happened.  This is an unashamedly big, stadium rock record, full of Dave Leslie’s guitar solos, a rock-solid rhythm section, and that voice.

That voice also has a lot to say.  The album kicks off with lead single ‘Email’, a volatile stab of anger that sounds like it’s aimed squarely at DeMarchi’s ex-husband Nuno Bettencourt.  Real heartbreak and anger seem to be at the heart of the record, and this means that nothing comes across as manufactured or forced.  The end result is that in this day in age it sounds completely refreshing and new, even if the band is stuck in 1991.

11. “I’m A Bird” by Sam Buckingham

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I have loved listening to this album for the past week, fuck; it is so amazing that I find it hard to find the words to describe it. There is just an amazing quality to the songs and the tales being spun by Sam and the album has been birthed from an intense amount of heartbreak experience.

The other wonderful thing about “I’m A Bird” is the humour sprinkled across these heartbreak tunes. I love the beautiful cynicism of the lyrics, direct and cryptic but full of stories that you can tell were lived quite deeply by its author. I hope she fell in love with her muse after all the drama, I hope it was worth the fight because this album made me want to fall in love, with something, with someone. I found myself yearning for that youthful exchange of asking a human out for a coffee and that “whatever happens” adventure that can occur after that moment, you know where you summon the courage to steal a kiss or two. That is what this album inspires in me when I listen to it, the romantic and the need for a romantic connection with another human being.

I’m sure glad I discovered this album, because it has been the perfect late night soundtrack for standing on my back deck as I sip chai tea, smoke a cigarette and just indulge the silence of late night bliss.

Stay tuned for our Top Eleven Australian Singles / Ep’s of 2013

By: Dan Newton

All Reviews written by Dan Newton except “All Day Venus” by Adalita and “This Is Not The End” by Baby Animals which were written by Clint Morrow

 

 

REVIEW: “Self-Titled” by Spiderbait

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It’s been a long time coming but the new Spiderbait album is finally here. On the bands seventh record we see them enter into their 24th year as a band with a brand new focus and a whole bunch of the charm and dynamics that have made them such an important rock n roll band. In a lot of ways this album has the excitement and re-invention of their breakthrough album “Ivy and The Big Apples” which was released in 1996, 17 years ago. That’s at least how it hits me when I listen to it, there is that excitement and that joy of new discovery that drips from every inch of this new “Self-Titled” record. Dynamically it still has a lot of the hallmarks of a Spiderbait record in the sense that when it rocks out it is balls to the fucking wall and when it takes an experimental turn it does so with grace and maturity. Depending on your place within the Spiderbait universe this album will serve as either the perfect reminder of why you love them or the perfect introduction to a new generation.

I’ve found it hard to turn this album off because Spiderbait are incredibly smart with the way they weave pop skills in and out of their music. What really hit me about this album are some of the darker lyrical tones and themes of the record. I felt like I’ve possibly made this point about a lot of bands I’ve reviewed recently but there are some heavy themes of loss and musings on mortality on the brand new Spiderbait record. There are an incredible amount of references to escape and whether it is a heavy dose of fiction or a truthful tale of desire and need for disconnection remains to be seen. There are some truly beautiful moments that erupt as a result of this darkness and although it’s not a new dynamic within the sound of Spiderbait it certainly carries with it the wisdom of age and a maturity of humans who have collectively seen and felt a lot of varying emotions since we last heard from them.

Three songs in particular that demonstrate this darkness are the beautiful intergalactic space jam balladry of “Supersonic” the mournful funeral march sunshine of “Mars” and the kaleidoscopic simplicity of “Goodbye” all of which carry an angsty dirge and reflective pace. Whilst these songs are carefully placed within the brighter rock / pop tones of the rest of the album these are the songs that jumped out at me when I listened to the record as they carried with them a new kind of ache that I hadn’t heard inside the Spiderbait sound before. A terrible sense of loss radiates from these three songs with a heavy sense of sadness.

This mood infects the rest of the album in more subtle ways with lead single “Straight Through The Sun” carrying the same kind of angst but trades sadness for a middle finger and the freedom of saying “Fuck You” to the world around you and just going full speed ahead into the unknown. This punk rock gallop via Motorhead snarl is continued on album highlight “Miss The Boat” which is one of the best Spiderbait songs you’ll ever hear, just balls to the wall rock n roll goodness. To harp on an earlier point, I really must refer back to the brilliance of “Supersonic” which quite frankly is one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It’s no secret how much I love the sound of Janet’s voice and the way she can spin all kinds of beauty with it. On “Supersonic” Janet is in fine form and showcases her flawless talent for being a pop singer with the vintage synth sound and Carole King AM frame of the song separating it as the best thing on this record and no doubt a future hit single.

There is so much I could say about the new “Self-Titled” Spiderbait album but I think the beauty of this record is that it opens up a new decade for the band. There is an incredible amount of evolution present on this album that will allow for another 20 years of music to be made. I love Spiderbait and once again they have proved that the importance to making timeless music is to dig deep into your soul and communicate honestly. The darkness of this record is what thrills me and whether or not the band are musing on loss related to death or just the turmoil of human relationships it suits the band and I look forward to this darkness being explored deeper on the next couple of records.

This is a flawless collection of pop music that bows down to the bliss of rock n roll fury and like all good music, takes you to some pretty intergalactic places when it’s just you  alone in your bedroom with your headphones and your thoughts.

10 Cassette Tapes out of 10

By: Dan Newton

 

REVIEW: “Last Night On Earth” by Lee Ranaldo and The Dust

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The brand new album from Lee Ranaldo and The Dust is called “Last Night On Earth” and it is an amazing rock n roll album. Although I’ve mourned the loss of Sonic Youth the strength of each members work since the hiatus has been total fucking godhead and Lee Ranaldo has proved what a vital songwriter he is.

I find it difficult to choose a favourite Sonic Youth member because each of them possesses a creative dialogue that is supremely better than anyone and everything. In 2012 Lee released the amazing “Between The Times and The Tides” and proved (and fuck I hate saying this) that he really was the George Harrison of the Sonic Youth creative unity. Yes, it is easy to compare what Lee does to artists like Harrison and of course Neil Young but those invested in the Sonic Youth universe know that his songwriting is a language all of its own.

On his second proper solo album he’s now joined by backing band The Dust which includes Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, Guitarist Alan Licht and Bass Player Tim Luntzel who back Lee with the spook, ache and dusty precision of Crazy Horse. There are echoes of the Sonic Youth sound but it is mixed with the Americana folk and more experimental eras of Wilco. There is a bit more of a traditional rock n roll / jam band swagger to “Last Night On Earth” and the journey provides so many righteous moments.

This is music that has purpose and drive and real arthouse shivers. There is something very real about the sound of this record; it carries a very dusty lo-fi production that makes you feel like you’re in the room with the band as they play. These songs have the capacity to gently lift off with a hippy dream style folk communication but they soon find their way to chaotic noise jams that play out with a ferocity and intensity that only someone like Lee Ranaldo is capable of. As the title suggests there is a beautiful apocalyptic feel to the music with sunshine weaving in and out of the dark storm clouds providing a nervous level of divinity to proceedings as you relax into the knowledge of death and the healing power of your final thoughts being framed with a history of different milestones from your life. This is music that requires you to be lying flat on your back, alone and willing to muse on all of your angst and all of your feelings of love. This is music that soundtracks the chaos of a satisfied mind and a wounded heart.

The real star of this album (and of Sonic Youth) is the drumming of Steve Shelley who once again proves how important he is to the sound Lee Ranaldo makes. He’s probably never the first choice for people when they are making the list of “greatest drummers ever” but he is at the top of my list because his playing is what helps give purpose to ever y inch of this music. He did it so fantastically with Sonic Youth and now he slots in perfectly with Lee’s new jams and gives a solid backbone to every moment. All good excursions in noise / art rock require a good drummer and for the past 27 plus years Steve Shelley has been at the top of his game. His discipline and ability to drive the music through the quiet tender moments to the out of control chaos is a joyful thing to witness and experience. Combined with the skills of Licht and Luntzel The Dust prove to be the best foot forward for Lee Ranaldo and having witnessed the band live I can safely say these are four musicians who belong together.

All in all this is the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from an artist like Lee Ranaldo, a focus on making totally forward thinking music that pays homage to an array of different art forms but still carries the rock n roll spirit. When you listen to “Last Night On Earth” you aren’t concerned with who or what you are, you are transported away from your species and taken deep into the soul and beating heart of the universe where for at least an hour or so you are at one and at peace with the collective consciousness. The modern world can’t hurt you when you’re headphones are on and Lee Ranaldo and The Dust are creating music this heavenly and in an ugly world of hype machine and meaningless million dollar music it’s great to have something this pure still being released by artists who are getting more radical and experimental with age.

10 Cassette Tapes Out Of 10

By: Dan Newton

REVIEW: “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” by Sepultura

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For the last 16 years of my life I have worshiped at the altar of Sepultura. They have been a band that has more than saved me and they continue to inspire me as both a creative individual and just as a human being overall. The release of a new Sepultura album is quite a big event in my life and ever since “Against” was released back in October 1998 I have been dedicated to making sure that I am at the record store on the day of release to get my copy. The last 16 years of the bands existence has been a very challenging one as a fan with every human stupidly attached to sentimentality always attacking the bands decision to move on after Max Cavalera left the band.

I’ve defended the Derrick Green era of Sepultura every chance I got and have believed in the band and found that in the last 16 years Sepultura have released some of their best material. I’ve felt it inspiring to watch the way that even in the face of such adversity like fan backlash, record labels not believing in them and the music press tearing them to shreds that Sepultura have continued to forge ahead and make such vital movements of heavy metal. I have always made a conscious choice to pledge my allegiance to what Sepultura post-Max has offered and I’ve never been let down and as I’ve aged I have found myself favouring the Derrick Green era of the band over the Max Cavalera era.

In a perfect world however there wouldn’t be such a divide but unfortunately we don’t live in that perfect world but after being in the band for 16 years and releasing seven albums and one EP with the band Derrick Green has now outlasted Max Cavalera as the frontman of Sepultura and in my mind has achieved greater creative success with the band. The voice of Sepultura for me will always be Derrick Green and I think it’s about time the rest of the fucking metal world showed Derrick Green the respect he deserves for being such an important part to the evolution and history of Sepultura.

This brings me to my review of the bands 13th album release “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart.” This is Derrick Green’s seventh album as the lead singer of Sepultura and could be one of the greatest records made by Sepultura. Those who have been following the band since “Against” will attest to how “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” feels like the album Sepultura have been building to since Derrick’s introduction to the band. This album is a serious dose of everything that makes Sepultura so influential but it also puts a big focus on the future and considering the band is on the eve of celebrating its 30th Anniversary it is incredibly exciting to hear that after all the years of adversity Sepultura still strive for creative divinity and as a fan it is a very spiritual experience to indulge in.

What makes “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” such an amazing listening experience is the way it has been constructed and the varied meanings motivating the overall communication of each song. Each song on “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” provides an accurate documentation of just how much chaos there is in the world at the moment and how through all the advancements in science and spirituality we as a species are still no closer to achieving peace, harmony and equality for all. There is a deep sigh at the centre of all of these songs that is rooted in anger and confusion but also a desire to rise up from the chaos and to find our way back to a more human vision of humanity.

Musically the band has delved into some incredibly dark places to birth a wonderful mix of thrash, death and groove metal with flourishes of hardcore punk weaving in and out in some of the more direct passages. The flavour is still Sepultura but the band hasn’t sounded this dark or sinister for quite a while, it is a very moody affair which gives the album an intense emotional dialogue. Vocally, Derrick Green has never sounded this intense and whether it is through natural evolution or Ross Robinsons guidance, Green has taken his vocals to the next level. It is once again the moodiness of the overall album that drips into every dynamic and I wonder if once again it wasn’t the energy of Ross Robinson and his production methods that pushed the band into this territory.  This point bears repeating because I found “Roots” had a similar darkness and the common denominator here is the production of Ross Robinson.

The real star of Sepultura however and  the creative driving force since 1987 has been guitarist Andreas Kisser and once again he proves to be one of the most forward thinking artists in the metal world. When I listen to “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” two songs that really jump out are “The Vatican” and “Tsunami” because they illustrate Kisser’s talent for crafting such unique movements of heavy metal.

These two songs also highlight the new creative relationship Kisser has formed with the band’s new drummer Eloy Casagrande who has been with Sepultura since 2011 with “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” being his recording debut with Sepultura. The new youthful hit of energy he brings has given the overall direction of this record a brilliant and satisfying sense of brutality and he locks in perfectly with the reliable grooves of bass player Paulo Jr. who demonstrates once again how important his tone and performance is to the communication of new Sepultura music. The unity that jumps out at you from the overall performance is what really satisfies me and it becomes quite clear by the end of the album that Sepultura have managed to once again re-invent themselves whilst reminding you why you fell in love with them in the first place.

Somehow Ross Robinson’s production skills elevate the band to a level where they can focus not just on the science of the song but the emotional delivery and with “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” each instrument is jumping out at you with a new kind of urgency. This is not to say that Sepultura haven’t been capable of producing these kinds of emotional performances outside of Robinson’s influence, the band is the epitome of emotional heavy metal but Robinson does inject something into the sound and clearly understands what is so important about the communication of the Sepultura sound.

If Ross Robinson was out to “smoke” what was achieved on “Roots” then I firmly believe that he and the band has done that on this new album. A lot of humans may not instantly hear it but if you spend time with “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” you’ll hear it and you must remember that to “smoke” “Roots” as Robinson claimed was the aim, it doesn’t mean repeating or updating it – it simply means evolving it and it’s clear that Sepultura have achieved that on each of the tracks present on the new album.

At the end of the day the main thing I’m looking for with a new Sepultura album is a bit of evolution and its ability to heal me and hit me emotionally. The evolution part is always an easy thing for Sepultura to achieve because they are always on a quest to better themselves and on “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” the band has taken brave new steps into the future of their fourth decade as a band. When it comes to the emotional resonance “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” delivers and heals in the way I always hope for when I buy a new Sepultura album. This album has indeed saved me and delivered me from a bit of darkness that I found myself swirling in and after 16 years of this band saving my life it feels amazing to know that they are still doing it and as a fan I’m incredibly in debt to Sepultura for the years of sonic therapy they have provided.

That is what is important about Sepultura to me, beyond all the historical legacy and which era you prefer – it is the way the band have provided such emotional healing for me over the years. When I’ve felt the most misunderstood I could have ever felt, Sepultura acted as a saviour and gave me the strength to live on through the pain. On “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” I find it interesting to see the band musing on the current state of the world as I see it and how it makes them feel angry at how inhumane we’ve become. This is my anger as a 30 year old man as and it is an anger that drives me in order to restore some peace in this world.  When your creative heroes also mirror these feelings there is nothing more satisfying.

When all is said and done I think this album proves just how vital and forward thinking the Derrick Green era of Sepultura have been and to see so many humans in the media claim it as some kind of “return to form” really is a back handed compliment. Sepultura were never out of form, they forged ahead at a time when people were ready to discard them for good. As an album “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” is a tribute to the bands strength and commitment to the legacy and I believe that anyone who still finds the time to compare the band to achievements made between 1984 and 1997 and judge them solely on that are foolish imposters who are a big reason why our world will never achieve peace and equality.

At the end of the day, fuck the haters “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart” is a flawless piece of metal and I’m fucking very glad that in 2013 I still get to have the thrill of Sepultura releasing fresh new music.

10 Billion Cassette Tapes out of 10

By: Dan Newton

PEARL JAM – Dan Newton’s review of “Lightning Bolt”

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When I sat down to listen to “Lightning Bolt” by Pearl Jam on the weekend it hit me just how important this band is to me. That’s right, Pearl Jam are my number one band of all time. Pearl Jam was the first real band that I got into and and is the reason why I started investing in the idea of becoming an artist and a musician. I’ve been listening to them since December 1994 and in the last 19 years of my life my love for them has only increased. No matter what new music I’ve discovered, Pearl Jam has remained as a constant in my life. I’ve been a fan of this band when they were the most popular band in the world right through the middle years where people stopped caring right through to the most recent years and I was proud to help celebrate their 20th year in September 2011. The main reason why I’m still a massive fan of Pearl Jam is because the music they’ve made over the years is still so vital and forward thinking. Regardless of whether they have remained relevant in the eyes of the public or the hipsters are of no concern to me, they’ve made some of the best rock n roll records of the past two decades.

This leads me to the Pearl Jam cynics who for a long time, especially in my twenties, made me doubt my allegiance to Pearl Jam. These cynics still do spook me from time to time and even though I pride myself on being a fairly well-adjusted human being, hearing someone rip apart Pearl Jam or limit them to just their first three albums always frustrates me deeply. A minor first world problem I know but something that still irritates me. I always thought of Pearl Jam as edgy innovators and as hip and forward thinking as they come. Hipster culture in the 2000’s challenged my thoughts on this. A lot of people I met judged me harshly because I listed Pearl Jam as my favourite band. When you have your favourite band attacked you start to get incredibly defensive, especially when you’re trying to combat hipster culture.

My whole issue with it was that they based their opinions on purely being judgemental without even taking the time to investigate the facts. No matter how I feel about hipsters and hipster bands or just music I don’t like regardless of its hipster value, I still take the time to listen to it. I like to know my enemy before I make a judgement. It’s the best possible way to make a valid argument that isn’t based on assumption, because let me tell you, assumption is the lowest form of knowledge to ever exist.

The Pearl Jam that these people were describing was not the Pearl Jam I grew up listening to and loving. There were a lot of misunderstandings in their arguments for them being an irrelevant band. I never wanted these people to like the band or even be fans; I just wanted them to respect Pearl Jam. I think no matter how you feel about a band, the best thing you can do is respect them for what they are trying to do, even if the sound doesn’t resonate with you. I see being judgemental and to assume as being counterproductive to anyone’s evolution and the enemy of equality.

If you want to know why Pearl Jam are the greatest band ever all you need to do is watch the Pearl Jam Twenty Documentary. That’s the best sales pitch for why they are more than the assumptions made by the hipsters. One point I’d like to make before leaving the issue I have with the Pearl Jam cynics comes so beautifully through a quote from Julian Casablancas from the Strokes who is quoted in the Pearl Jam Twenty book as saying the following:

“When I first met Eddie, I feel like I sensed genuine surprise when he learned how much we were influenced by Pearl Jam. People have never understood that about us. They’d always say the Ramones or the Stooges. But my favourite band was always Pearl Jam. People would be like “Huh? I don’t get it.” When we met him and knew every detail about the songs, I think he was a little taken aback. He might have had a bad taste from the wave of Pearl Jam copies that got more diluted.”

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That says it all to me really, and I guess the reason why I’ve departed into this tangent is because I wanted to address the Pearl Jam cynics who’ll no doubt read this and attack my praise for “Lightning Bolt” with a limited amount of ammunition that is either one of the following:

  1. Their only good albums are “Ten,” “VS” and “Vitalogy”
  2. They are boring and middle of the road
  3. They lack any kind of creative evolution
  4. They are only doing it for the money
  5. Why do they still make music, they should break up
  6. Nirvana is better than Pearl Jam
  7. They are a corporate rock machine with no artistic value
  8. Their music is purely for meathead bogans

I may have possibly left a few out but predominately that is the criticism levelled at the band no matter what album cycle they find themselves in and I think it is all such false information but then again as my brother reminded me just the other day as I ranted for the millionth time about how the lack of respect for Pearl Jam made me angry, you’re either in the Pearl Jam world or you not. For those of us deep inside the Pearl Jam universe, we know just how important this band is and for the rest, well it’s just music and a matter of taste.

This rather lengthy tangent leads me to my review of “Lightning Bolt” the bands tenth album. I’ve purposely left it a while to review this album because I didn’t want the initial jolt of excitement to affect how I reviewed the music contained within. I never have any real expectation of a Pearl Jam album beyond it just helping move the sound forward. Since the year 2000 the band has released some of their best work with the amazing trilogy of “Binaural,” “Riot Act” and “Self-Titled” showcasing a band still interested in creative evolution. The bands ninth album 2009’s “Backspacer” was a wonderful full stop to a decade of relentless touring and interesting creative pursuits musically. On “Backspacer” the band stripped back their sound to its rawest components and delivered a quick dose of rock n roll that also saw a couple of Vedder penned ballads thrown in to balance it all out. As a fan it was an incredibly satisfying experience but really did signal the end of an era.

I can’t speak for other Pearl Jam fans but I know for myself that after “Backspacer” I felt like the band would chase a new kind of re-invention to firmly open up their third decade as a band. The history of Pearl Jam is full of re-invention albums that allow for a new kind of consistency and intensity to birth. From 1991 it was the classic and world conquering trilogy of “Ten,” “VS” and “Vitalogy” and then from 1996 to 1999 the band settled into a different gear with “No Code” and “Yield” with the 2000’s era of “Binaural,” “Riot Act,” “Self-Titled” and “Backspacer” pushing forward all that was special about the bands early days with a new desire for pushing that sound further into the future. Each of these eras contains a “turning point” album which is as follows:

  • Vitalogy
  • No Code
  • Binaural

What these three albums represent was the band demonstrating a new sound that would imbed itself in the dynamics of subsequent releases and give a template for how the band would evolve creatively. I can’t really say whether it was planned that way but as a fan that is certainly how it felt and that is how Pearl Jam’s new album “Lightning Bolt” feels. This album is a new turning point that is helping establish the way forward for a band 22 years deep into their career. It has the same potent creative drive that “Vitalogy,” “No Code” and “Binaural” had but hidden inside it is a new kind of maturity and intensity that has once again pushed the dynamics of the Pearl Jam sound to new levels.

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Unlike most artists who last as long as Pearl Jam, “Lightning Bolt” is not an exercise in nostalgia and any link to past albums is purely because their sound is so distinct and sits in a genre all of its own. That’s the thrill of Pearl Jam, through the familiar warm tones of the sound they make you always are met with a level of emotional comfort. You initially know and find your place within it but the journey to being comfortable within a new album made by the band is not an instant experience. The familiarity hooks you but all the new twists and turns throw you and challenge you. That is why it can take weeks for a new Pearl Jam album to sink in and after spending a long time with “Lightning Bolt” it was a very joyous and fucking beautiful moment when it finally hit me how amazing this record is.

There is no one particular song that makes this album better than the others; it is how it all sits as one consistent piece. The overall mood of “Lightning Bolt” is quite a reflective one and weirdly updates the confusion and subtle rage of “No Code” with the focus being heavily on mortality. Reading a lot the lyrics it is clear that Ed Vedder has been musing on Death quite a bit. These aren’t all death anthems but now that he is a family man Vedder has new kinds of angst and fear and it’s nice to see his lyrics evolve to the point where they also reflect your modern fears as well. There is nothing more thrilling than an artist who grows with you.

The album plays out in three very dramatic acts. The first act consists of “Getaway,” “Mind Your Manners” and “My Father’s Son” all of which illustrate that Pearl Jam intensity and knack for combining powerful rock music with anti-establishment punk rock in order to drag you into the album quite quickly. It is an amazing rush that beautifully segues into the second act of “Sirens,” “Lightning Bolt,” “Infallible,” “Pendulum” and “Swallowed Whole” which balance out the intensity with some more experimental twists and turns. The mechanical swagger of “Infallible” (as my cousin Kieran pointed out) has a similar thread to a song like “Tremor Christ” (from Vitalogy) whilst “Sirens” and “Pendulum” are two of the essential “must listen to” tracks as they unfold with an emotional glory and level of reflection that Pearl Jam specialise in. These two tracks are truly life affirming stuff and “Sirens” in particular has the capacity (and has on many an occasion since its release) to move me to tears.

The title track “Lightning Bolt” is the best argument for why Pearl Jam is such a great band. It is an angsty modern fuck you song that just sounds good in a speeding automobile when you’re trying to escape every inch of your life.  One of my favourite moments happens at the end of act two and comes in the form of “Swallowed Whole” which is one of the best songs R.E.M. never wrote. A Vedder penned track, it’s as if he managed to sum up what was so important about R.E.M. in one song and it’s the glorious movement of chords that echo Peter Buck that make it such a satisfying experience in audio. The third and final act of the album sees the band erupt with a blues rock anthem in “Let The Records Play” and settle into more reflective spiritual terrain with the balladry of “Sleeping By Myself,” “Yellow Moon” and “Future Days.” These final three songs transport me back to the healing power of 1998’s “Yield” and plunge you deeper into those reflections on your own mortality. It is the perfect end to a flawless modern rock record.

When the record finishes you want to press play again and again and again. There is some truly powerful magic inside “Lightning Bolt” and considering I’ve spent so long listening to Pearl Jam it excites me that they still turn me on so much when I listen to them, that they have never not delivered and considering I’m a soon to be a 30 year old man there seems to be less and less I can rely on as my human experience begins to be tortured by disappointment and the disgusting behaviour of the society I have to exist within. It’s moments like these that I need something to both calm me and inspire me and to remind me that there is still good air to breathe. I find it to be an achievement that Pearl Jam are still that band for me and that they still triumph over any other artist I adore and love and as I write this I once again marvel at the 19 year relationship I’ve had with the band and I can’t wait for the next 19 years of music from Pearl Jam.

There is one thing I want most in life and one thing that I fear above all else. The main thing I want is love and for someone to love me in that unconditional way that leads to the whole “husband, wife, children, family” experience. The main thing I fear above all else is death. My thoughts are constantly plagued with fascination over the troubling knowledge that one day I will cease to exist. It is this fear of death that drives me to find the meaning in everything because my mind just can’t rationalise a pointless existence and although I am well-adjusted enough to see the beauty and failure of spirituality and scientific thought one thing I always deduct from these areas of knowledge is that it all essentially highlights a god shaped hole we are all trying to fill and that we all have our death coping mechanisms. It’s no secret that music means more to me than anything and through music I’ve managed to find some kind of portal to higher dimensions. Regardless of where I find myself in this life, Pearl Jam will always be my spiritual leaders and although they are just human beings like me they have a special kind of magic inside of them that heals and their new album “Lightning Bolt” is merely an evolution of the spiritual teachings of Ed Vedder, Stone Gossard, Mike McCready, Jeff Ament and Matt Cameron.

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The best way for me to sum up why Pearl Jam and their new album “Lighting Bolt” are so important to not only to me but to millions of other people, is to list this quote from Ed Vedder which comes from the Pearl Jam 20 book:

“We set out to make music to satisfy ourselves. Something we would have not imagined is that people have made friendships, shared ideas, and shared their humanity with each other through the music. They’ve become husbands and wives and best friends. That’s all outside of us. All we did was play music. The fact that it has all happened is semi-overwhelming and humbling.”

This always makes me emotional when I read that quote.

Thank you Pearl Jam for saving my life for the past 19 years and thank you for making “Lightning Bolt” another truly fantastic record.

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10 Cassette tapes out of 10

By: Dan Newton