The Weekend Australian album reviews: Last Dinosaurs, Hilltop Hoods, March 2012

Two album reviews published in The Weekend Australian in March 2012.

Last Dinosaurs – In A Million Years

Does the world really need another guitar-pop band? Brisbane has proved fertile ground for the genre of late: the Grates, the John Steel Singers and Yves Klein Blue all achieved national notoriety in recent years mining this rich vein.

Funnily enough, all three are labelmates with newcomers Last Dinosaurs, suggesting that Dew Process has something of a local monopoly.

The young quartet’s debut LP practically radiates with neon intensity, so smooth, shiny and punchy is the production on these 11 tracks. Every frantic guitar strum and finicky hi-hat hit rings clean, and Sean Caskey’s vocal melodies are strong without becoming overbearing – though he does fall into the pop musician’s trap of writing instantly forgettable lyrics.

It’s either confidence or arrogance that convinces a band to open an album with its best track. I’m leaning toward the former, though Zoom is such a perfect example of guitar-pop done right that the rest of the album pales a little in comparison.

Earlier single Honolulu almost scales the same heights. The steel drums in Andy suit the track, but come off a little outdated in the wake of Sydney band the Holidays nailing the use of that instrument on its 2010 debut, Post Paradise. Spacey mid-album instrumental Satellites is the only unnecessary track here; its presence makes no sense amid an otherwise impressive, tight collection.

LABEL: Dew Process
RATING: 3 stars

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Hilltop Hoods – Drinking From The Sun

The best track on Hilltop Hoods’ sixth album, ‘Rattling the Keys to the Kingdom’, is built on the familiar lyrical trope of rap group pitting itself against its many competitors.

Yet here the narrative rings true: this Adelaide trio genuinely owns the Australian hip-hop throne, so when they rap “We came and we conquered” while a chant of “Hill-top! Hill-top!” repeats in the background, they’re being both arrogant and honest.

Their last release, 2009′s State of the Art, was the genre’s bestselling album yet. Fans and rivals alike look to these three to see where they’ll take the art form next; likely, more than a few hope they’ll falter and cede control to another crew.

To their disappointment, this offering is another jewel in the crown. The meaning of its title is made clear in the second of three interludes entitled ‘The Thirst’, when a voice explains “It’s a metaphor that we’re from an underground culture that’s risen up into the limelight; we’re down below, drinking from what’s coming above.”

Since the overwhelming success of the Hoods’ breakthrough 2003 release The Calling, Australian hip-hop has joined the mainstream. Where cultural cringe once confined the genre to the margins, the nation’s biggest music festivals are now just as likely to book hip-hop acts as they are pop and rock artists.

Drinking from the Sun represents the trio’s first real attempt at penetrating the North American market. It’s impossible to view this album through any other lens: all signs point to a concerted effort to impress newcomers.

At a touch over 41 minutes, it’s also their shortest album to date. While MCs Pressure and Suffa certainly can’t hide their distinctive accents, DJ Debris turns in perhaps his most impressive effort to date. The beats and instrumentation are uniformly world-class, and will give the trio its best shot yet at turning foreign ears.

They’ve also enlisted a pair of instantly recognisable American voices – Black Thought (of The Roots) and Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) – to lay down tidy, if unspectacular verses; another guest is Australian singer Sia Furler, who has written and sung for mega-sellers David Guetta and Flo Rida.

Lyrically, the two MCs discuss death (‘Lights Out’), break-ups (‘Now You’re Gone’), self-doubt (‘Good for Nothing’) and Suffa’s new-found sobriety (‘Shredding the Balloon’), while brass, strings, guitar and Debris’ beats fill out their now-signature sound.

LABEL: Golden Era
RATING: 4 stars

 

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