Three album reviews for The Weekend Australian, published in October.
What we have here is an original and compelling take on pop music viewed through the lenses of electronica, R&B and hip-hop.
Duo Collarbones – Adelaide-based Travis Cook, and Sydney local Marcus Whale – don’t care much for genre constraints. It’s the best thing they’ve got going for them. Musical innovation is truly rare; there’s no one in Australia writing material like this. Their point of difference is technology-enabled: each track is built on intricate collages of instrumental samples cut, copied and pasted on laptops. Whale’s voice, by turns soulful and ethereal, narrates these stark soundscapes.
It’s a concept album, of sorts: the lyrics focus on adolescent love and fallen pop idols. The title track is a fine example of the unconventional Collarbones songwriting style: over a lazy backbeat, what sounds like stringed instruments are sped up, slowed down and mashed together to beguiling effect. A verbose verse by Melburnian rapper HTML Flowers contrasts well against Whale’s clear voice.
The following track, ‘Too Much’, is backed by Cook’s booming, bass-heavy beat; Whale unironically embraces a big, melodic, 1990s-era boy band-style chorus. It could easily be a radio hit. The approach would be a gimmick if the songs weren’t so good.
The duo’s debut album, last year’s Iconography, was an intriguing introduction but an unsatisfying collection in whole: too many half-sketched ideas, too few proper songs. Die Young is a fully realised follow-up, one that sees the pair living up to their potential. It may be one of the stranger pop albums you’ll hear this year, but you won’t regret your time spent with these 10 fine tracks.
Label: Two Bright Lakes
Rating: 4 stars
The trouble with releasing a killer debut album is that it’s much harder to impress with the follow-up.
This is the situation in which Perth-based quartet Tame Impala finds itself, two years after Innerspeaker, a standout collection of retro-tinged rock songs written and produced almost entirely by singer Kevin Parker.
That formula hasn’t changed on Lonerism: the young maestro again handles vocals and all instrumentation (in concert, he’s assisted by three bandmates). The main point of difference is that these 12 tracks were recorded in several locations while the band toured the world. And it shows: compared with Innerspeaker‘s lush, enveloping production, there’s much less cohesion between ideas here.
Stylistically, Parker has added swaths of synthesisers to Tame Impala’s celebrated psychedelic rock tones. These sounds fill out the space between intricate basslines, clattering percussion, psychedelic guitars and Parker’s spaced-out, aloof voice. Heavy piano chords form the basis of first single ‘Apocalypse Dreams’, while follow-up ‘Elephant’ is built on a pulsating rhythm that leads into a glorious, snaking guitar solo.
Although Innerspeaker was stacked with stand-out tracks, the same can’t be said for Lonerism, which contains just a handful; ‘Mind Mischief’ and ‘Keep on Trying’ are among the best here.
There’s the aforementioned trouble again: once a reputation for strong songwriting has been established, anything less than great is disappointing. Lonerism doesn’t elicit that particular emotion — it’s a good record, after all — but it does hint at better things to come. With Parker’s brilliant imagination, musical abilities and resourcefulness, it seems that anything’s possible.
Rating: 3.5 stars
Some might say rock musicians are more readily associated with egotism than altruism, yet this collection is the second in a series that seeks to buck that stereotype.
By pairing well-known Australian artists with refugee musicians, the project’s organisers, civil rights advocate Hugh Crosthwaite and Nick O’Byrne from the Australian Independent Record Labels Association, hit on a winning idea with the release of Key of Sea Volume 1 in 2010.
Like its predecessor, Volume 2 is a fine snapshot of contemporary Australian music. Pop, rock, hip-hop, jazz and folk musicians rub up against one another; disparate musical ideals working in tandem towards a common goal of sharing untold stories.
The Australian collaborators are names Triple J listeners will recognise, with a handful of elder statesmen (Paul Kelly, Kim Salmon, David Bridie) thrown in. The refugee collaborators add their cultural influences to each composition: traditional Kurdish stringed instruments, bouzouki and Filipino choir masters all make delightful appearances.
Darwin-based electronic soul duo Sietta teams with Pacific Island group Sunameke on ‘Open Hands’, which explores the concept of mixed races and cultural diversity; at the other end of the musical and thematic spectrum, Salmon pairs with radio presenter Waleed Aly to write ‘No One Cares’, a noisy rock tune with sardonic lyrics featuring the bureaucratic doubletalk associated with seeking asylum in this country.
All 11 songs work well: there are a couple of bona fide pop hits in ‘Silence of the Guns’ (led by Jinja Safari) and Clubfeet’s ‘Islands’. The diversity of sounds and stories is reason enough to lend your ears to The Key of Sea. That the songs are compelling and polished is a bonus.
Rating: 3.5 stars