The Weekend Australian album reviews, September 2014: Richard In Your Mind, Royal Blood, Die! Die! Die!, Velociraptor

Four reviews published in The Weekend Australian in September 2014.

Richard In Your Mind – Ponderosa

Richard In Your Mind – 'Ponderosa' album cover reviewed in The Australian, September 2014“A carnival of electric palominos / Have you seen those?” Contained in that bizarre, whispered rhyming couplet from the mid-album track ‘This Is House Music’ is almost everything you need to know about this Sydney psychedelic pop band. With one foot planted in the surreal, Richard in Your Mind has never attempted mainstream accessibility. Ponderosa — its fourth full-length release — doesn’t break that cycle. It’s a good album if you fancy a hefty dose of weird imagery and unconventional instrumentation amid the usual components of indie pop music.

When the band plays it relatively straight, as on shimmering standout ‘Look You Gave’, the effects are stunning: four minutes of beautiful, propulsive storytelling. These moments of clarity are rare. Besides the album’s catchy ode to binge drinking in ‘Hammered’ (“Me and my baby get hammered in the daytime / Me and mine, all the time”), Ponderosa is defined by its flow of expansive, exploratory soundscapes.

These ideas work more often than not, as on the elliptical title track, which starts in one musical postcode and ends up on an entirely different planet. Bandleader Richard Cartwright and his offsiders know exactly what they’re doing, and Ponderosa excels as an immersive listen because it’s simultaneously wacky and controlled. While I could have done without the short instrumental tracks, this is an interesting and worthwhile listen. In the remaining 12 songs, there’s rarely a dull moment.

LABEL: Rice Is Nice
RATING: 3.5 stars


Royal Blood – Royal Blood

Royal Blood – 'Royal Blood' album cover reviewed in The Australian, September 2014The first thing you should know about British two-piece Royal Blood is its unusual composition: drums and bass guitar. That takes balls to attempt, let alone pull off. For that reason every red-blooded rock ‘n’ roll fan should spin Royal Blood at least once.

It’s rare for bands adhering to this genre to successfully experiment with anything other than percussion, bottom end, vocals and electric guitar, and it’s to the credit of Mike Kerr (bass and vocals) and Ben Thatcher (drums) that their debut album is a compelling listen despite the absence of an electric guitar. Comparisons to another innovative rock two-piece are inevitable, especially when Kerr’s vocals come dangerously close to Jack White-aping on ‘Loose Change’. Kerr is secretive about how he achieves his tone, which ranges from low groove to high-end treble.

This sonic seesawing is best heard on penultimate track and album standout ‘Ten Tonne Skeleton’; punishing opener ‘Out of the Black’ is one of the year’s better rock songs. The problem is that the songs don’t stand up to repeated listens and close scrutiny.

LABEL: Warner
RATING: 3 stars


Die! Die! Die! – S W I M

Die! Die! Die! – 'S W I M' album cover reviewed in The Australian, September 2014This would make for a great debut album: raw, frenetic and propulsive. Unfortunately for this Dunedin, New Zealand, indie rock trio, S W I M is its fifth full-length release and it breaks a streak of essential listening that began in 2008 with Promises, Promises, a rough gem that preceded two superlative sets in 2010’s Form and 2012’s Harmony.

This album, whose title is derived from online shorthand for “someone who isn’t me”, most often used on message boards where illegal activities are being discussed, simply lacks the songwriting punch and artistic evolution that has characterised the band’s three earlier collections. Andrew Wilson (guitar/vocals), Michael Logie (bass) and Michael Prain (drums) are innovative masters of their instruments and sparks fly, as anyone who has ever seen this band play live will attest. Throughout its decade-long career, Die! Die! Die! has tended to operate in either of two modes: its favoured flavour of abrasive, frenzied punk rock, and a contrasting delicate and melancholic style with fewer beats per minute and singing rather than shouting.

S W I M features just two tracks in the latter mode, and they’re both highlights: ‘Crystal’ and the album closer, ‘Mirror’, wherein Wilson reflects on youthful fantasies of escaping home towns: “When we were young / There was any excuse / To get away / From where we’re from”. The remaining 10 tracks offer interesting ideas, though only a handful stack up to the best moments heard on previous albums.

LABEL: Black Night Crash
RATING: 3 stars


Velociraptor – Velociraptor

Velociraptor – 'Velociraptor' album cover reviewed in The Australian, September 2014From the beginning this band has relied on its sheer strength in numbers as a gimmick: as many as 15 musicians have appeared on stage during Velociraptor’s spirited live performances and its gang-pop style was a cute party trick that worked for several years leading up to the release of its debut album.

On Velociraptor, the quality of songwriting outshines the quantity of players. This is an absolute classic of the pop genre: an album stacked top to tail with bright, clever musicianship and flawless song structures. Its 11 tracks are crisp, immediate, and deceptively simple. It is clear that plenty of work has gone into creating music so pure and accessible. At a touch more than a half-hour in length, Velociraptor is short and sweet, yet the melodies and instrumental hooks reverberate throughout the skull for days.

The inclusion of Sweetie Zamora’s vocals on ‘One Last Serenade’ is a fine choice, breaking up the tales of inner-city heartbreak favoured by vocalist Jeremy Neale — a common thread best exemplified on ‘Ramona’, whose opening lines paint a vivid picture in so few words: “Ramona, I told you, I can’t sit next to you / In the cinema, when you’re texting other guys.”

The album’s one shadowy moment, ‘Leeches’, is centred on a menacing lead riff that would make the Saints guitarist and Australian punk-rock forefather Ed Kuepper nod in appreciation. Velociraptor is a stunning debut album that comes highly recommended.

LABEL: Dot Dash/Remote Control
RATING: 4.5 stars

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