All posts tagged shihad

  • The Weekend Australian album reviews, August 2014: Hilltop Hoods, Shihad, Firekites

    Three reviews published in The Weekend Australian in August 2014.

    Hilltop Hoods – Walking Under Stars

    Hilltop Hoods – 'Walking Under Stars' album cover, reviewed in The Weekend Australian by Andrew McMillen, August 2014The same spoken-word sample that closed 2012’s Drinking From The Sun opens its successor: “They were recording enough music for two albums, that was premeditated …”

    The unidentified voice tells us that for this platinum-selling, ARIA award-winning hip-hop trio, it wasn’t simply a matter of picking their best 12 tracks; instead, the two releases were seemingly intended as a double album, of sorts — though one that conveniently required its fans to make two purchases.

    Opening track ‘The Thirst Part 4’, which picks up a timeline that began on Drinking From The Sun, establishes that life got in the way, delaying the release of their seventh album. After revealing the death of his grandmother and his son’s illness, Pressure raps: “Two years, one album, nothing left, just writing these songs / No apologies — my whole discography been righting my wrongs”.

    To be blunt: this is surprisingly heavy shit. Emotional honesty is not a quality we’ve come to associate with Hilltop Hoods, an Adelaide-based act that was the first of the genre to break through from the underground to the mainstream with 2003’s The Calling. Yet a lot has changed since those heady days and Walking Under Stars finds MCs Pressure and Suffa — both now in their late 30s — revealing more of themselves. No better is this honesty exemplified than on ‘Through The Dark’, a moving track written by Pressure while his 8-year-old son was in hospital undergoing leukaemia treatment.

    Penultimate track ‘I’m A Ghost’ is the standout here; backed by sparse piano chords, fingerpicked acoustic guitar and strings, the two MCs rap a cappella for two minutes before the beat kicks in. “It’s been a ride but there’s been few times / That I thought I’d lose sight when the effort wasn’t painful,” admits Pressure.

    Production has never been a weakness for the trio, and Walking Under Stars is no exception: the beats, instruments and samples selected by DJ Debris are typically commendable. It’s the men with the microphones who occasionally fail to impress on throwaway tracks such as ‘The Art of the Handshake’, a half-baked idea that stalls in its execution. Conversely, ‘Rumble Young Man, Rumble’ — featuring rock singer Dan Sultan in fine form — is an excellent example of a dark mood concocted and sustained across four minutes.

    The irony of the album’s spoken word introduction is that if Hilltop Hoods had cut the fat and packaged the best tracks into a single release, it would be a classic of the genre. Instead, with Walking Under Stars they’ve tripped up for the first time, as it were, by turning in a merely competent follow-up to Drinking From The Sun. Given hip-hop’s ever-rising popularity and the talent of some of their domestic peers, one wonders if the trio still has it in them to match the competition.

    LABEL: Golden Era/UMA
    RATING: 3 stars


    Firekites – Closing Forever Sky


    Firekites – 'Closing Forever Sky' album cover, reviewed in The Weekend Australian by Andrew McMillen, August 2014Rarely are debut albums as fully formed and beguiling as The Bowery, a 2008 release by Newcastle indie-pop act Firekites. Featuring strong songwriting, shared male-female vocals, pretty acoustic guitar tones, innovative percussion and stunning violin interjections, The Bowery remains a compelling listen. While Closing Forever Sky can’t quite match it for sheer verve, it’s not far from achieving those lofty heights. The set list is shorter, but its seven songs total 45 minutes, which allows the quartet ample time to explore many ideas.

    This is best exemplified in standout track ‘The Counting’, which runs to almost nine minutes and evolves beautifully from the sparse, clean guitar notes of its opening bars to its evocative peak, led by vocalist-keyboardist Pegs Adams, amid swooning electric guitars.

    Adams and guitarist Tim McPhee share vocal duties equally on Closing Forever Sky, and this tonal trading works well, though sometimes their voices are obscured beneath instrumental layers. In this sense, Firekites borrow a trick from lauded shoegaze rock act My Bloody Valentine, for whom intelligible lyrics weren’t as important as the sound of the vocals within the overall mix.

    There’s no doubting that Firekites comprises four talented musicians and songwriters, though one wonders whether their quest for perfection contributed to that six-year gap between releases.

    LABEL: Spunk
    RATING: 4 stars


    Shihad – FVEY

    Shihad – 'FVEY' album cover, reviewed in The Weekend Australian by Andrew McMillen, August 2014There’s a pleasing sense of circularity to FVEY, the ninth album by New Zealand-born, Melbourne-based rock act Shihad. The quartet has again enlisted Jaz Coleman to produce, just as it did with its 1993 debut, Churn. Coleman was co-founder of lauded British post-punk pioneers Killing Joke, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Churn remains the heaviest album of Shihad’s career — until now. FVEY is raw and calculated, full of searing, down-tuned guitar riffs and bludgeoning rhythms, though a melodic hook is never far away.

    The quality of the band’s discography has been inconsistent and defined by an artistic seesawing between those thrash-metal roots and a fondness for pop songwriting. On FVEY, the band leans towards the former. Happily, the writing is strong throughout. The title is pronounced “five eyes”, and refers to the intelligence-sharing alliance between Australia, New Zealand, the US, Britain and Canada. Hot topics in singer-guitarist Jon Toogood’s notebook include the society-wide surveillance that was uncovered with last year’s National Security Agency whistleblower leaks, as well as personal freedom and inequality.

    These are lofty ideas for a rock band to consider in three to seven-minute slices, yet the songs bristle with positive energy and righteous indignation. Toogood is clearly pissed off with certain states of affairs, and he’s not afraid to say so; fittingly, his bandmates have outdone themselves to match his fury.

    LABEL: Warner
    RATING: 4 stars

  • Announcing my first book, ‘Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs’, July 2014

    I’m proud to share the news that my first book will be published on 23 July 2014, via University of Queensland Press. Back cover blurb below.

    Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs by Andrew McMillen

    'Talking Smack: Honest Conversations About Drugs' by Andrew McMillen – book coverOf all the creative industries, the most distinct link between drug use and creativity lies within music. The two elements seem to be intertwined, inseparable; that mythical phrase “sex, drugs and rock and roll” has been bandied about with a wink and a grin for decades. But is it all smoke and mirrors, or does that cliché ring true for some of our best-known performers?

    In this fascinating book, journalist Andrew McMillen talks with Australian musicians about their thoughts on – and experiences with – illicit, prescription and legal drugs. Through a series of in-depth and intimate interviews, he tells the stories of those who have bitten into the forbidden fruit and avoided choking.

    This isn’t to say that stories of ruin and redemption are avoided – they’re not. These celebrated performers have walked the straight-and-narrow path of alcohol, caffeine, nicotine and prescription medication, as well as the supposedly dark-and-crooked road of cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and methamphetamine.

    By having conversations about something that’s rarely discussed in public, and much less often dealt with honestly, McMillen explores the truths and realities of a contentious topic that isn’t going away.

    Talking Smack is a timely, thought-provoking must-read that takes you inside the highs and lows of some of our most successful and creative musicians, including Paul Kelly, Tina Arena, Gotye, Steve Kilbey (The Church), Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon) and Holly Throsby.

    For more about Talking Smack, view the below book trailer (designed by Brisbane studio IV Motion) and visit the standalone website at

    The trailer premiered at Australian music website FasterLouder yesterday with a feature interview entitled ‘6 myths about drug taking in the Australian music community‘ published by the site’s editor-in-chief Darren Levin, who first began editing my work at Mess+Noise five years ago. This interview will tell you a little about the book’s origins and my personal interest in the topic of drug use.

    Talking Smack will be available in print and e-book format from 23 July 2014 via all good bookstores and UQP’s website. In the meantime, I encourage you to make an enquiry via Brisbane bookstore Avid Reader, who will be hosting my book launch on Thursday 21 August.

  • Mess+Noise Storytellers interview: Shihad – ‘Deb’s Night Out’ and ‘Home Again’, May 2012

    An interview for the Mess+Noise ‘Storytellers’ series. Excerpt below.

    Storytellers: Shihad’s Jon Toogood

    As part of our occasional Storytellers series and to coincide with the release of a new career-spanning documentary, ANDREW MCMILLEN talks to Shihad’s Jon Toogood about two tracks from their back catalogue: an unheralded gem from the mid-1990s and the most popular song they’ve written to date.

    Shihad, one of New Zealand’s longest-running bands, have enjoyed a healthy career marked by experimentation. Now based in Melbourne, they’ve moved from industrial metal (1993 debut Churn) to include elements of pop and electronica (1996’s Shihad, 2008’s Beautiful Machine) while maintaining a central obsession with guitar-heavy rock music, as best exemplified on 1999’s The General Electric.

    I met with singer Jon Toogood [pictured above, far right] upstairs at Brisbane venue Black Bear Lodge – he was in town playing shows with new outfit The Adults – to discuss two Shihad songs in-depth: ‘Deb’s Night Out’ from 1995’s nine-song Killjoy; and ‘Home Again’, the first track from the self-titled album that followed a year later. Much has been written about how much energy Toogood exhibits when fronting Shihad on stage, and the same remains true when he’s engaged in conversation.

    ‘Deb’s Night Out’

    Andrew: I want to start with ‘Deb’s Night Out’. This song sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb, not only on that record but across your whole catalogue.

    Jon: Musically, it was very, very heavily influenced by Skeptics, who we were listening to a lot at the time. They’re a New Zealand Flying Nun band, who were quite different again from the Flying Nun crew in the fact that they weren’t using guitars. It was a lot of sample-based shit, a lot of keyboards. They used Euphonics, or E-Sonics … Some fucking early sampler. They just sounded fucking unusual but they also had this edge … [that was] quite majestic, melodically. Hard to explain. Really beautiful, but really weird.

    Anyway, we were listening to them a lot at that point. Phil [Knight, guitarist] wrote the loop the whole song’s based around, that thing that starts the whole song. That’s Phil on a sampler doing that. When he played it to me I was like, “Whoa, it’s really beautiful.” Then we wrote a bass line and then it was like, “Wow, that’s cool,” and then I just wrote a little poem over the top which was about a friend of my ex-wife’s who was a heroin addict. She came around to our house one night, in Wellington. At that point our daughter was one-year-old. She was asleep in the bedroom and her friend came around and was asking for money. We sort of chilled her out and then we ended up playing games, like Monopoly, but she was cheating. She also tried to steal some money so I actually said, “You – get the fuck out!” And it was pissing down with rain. So that’s where that song began.

    It’s a pretty relaxed instrumental, paired with lyrics that describe a dark tale of a relationship dissolving.

    It’s a song about disappointment, and a friend, really. She was more a friend of my ex-wife’s rather than mine. Oh, it was just the classic junkie thing. She was high; just never trust a junkie, really. She didn’t do anything to dispel that myth, or that cliche. She lived up to it. It was like, “Oh, that’s really disappointing”. I was a bit younger, so I learned, “Right, that’s actually how that drug works.” It was one of my earlier experiences with it. It was before Gerald [Dwyer], our manager, ended up dying of a morphine overdose.

    I didn’t know that.

    That happened after Killjoy [1995] and before the fish album [Shihad, 1996], which is probably a reason why the fish album is all over the place. Our heads were all over the place because we’d lost our manager.

    Was that in New Zealand?

    It was at the Big Day Out in Auckland. He managed us and another band called Head Like A Hole and we both had really blinding sets. We had seen him in the day; he was backstage and he’d rubbed his nose raw … because when he was on heroin, he’d scratch … The last thing I remember, it was really tragic, us all going [at the BDO], “You look a fucking mess, man. Get the fuck out of here! What the fuck are you doing?” He’s like, “There’s nothing wrong with me.” He went back to the hotel between our sets: we were on the main stage earlier, and Head Like A Hole were on the third stage later. He went back and had a hit, and it was really strong and he died. There was no one there at the hotel to help wake him up. By the time we’d got back to the hotel, someone knocked on his door, and then got it open, and he was dead on the floor. We thought it might have just happened, or something like that. But, yeah, he’d been dead for hours.

    Did you know that he had a problem like that?

    We knew that he used recreationally. But he had cleaned himself up for a while, and I think that’s what fucking killed him. Because he’d cleaned himself up for a while and then got some really pure morphine and basically decided to hit up what he used to do when he was using it more regularly – which kills a lot of people, anyway. There was no one there go to, “Hey, wake up.”

    So, ‘Deb’s Night Out’; how soon after that night did you write that song?

    Pretty much straight away, the day after. It was like – bam. [Guitarist] Phil [Knight] had given me that bit of music … It sounded like the feeling that I had, sort of bittersweet. Just sad, you know? And it was good timing. “Here you go Jon, I’ve got this music.” Great … We recorded it at York Street [Studios, Auckland], and we’d wanted it to be a loop rather than a live drum track. At that stage, as well, the studio was still new to us so everything was recorded to a two-inch tape. Before we were using ProTools properly, we went, “Oh fuck it, we’ll just cut a loop of Tom [Larkin] drumming.” So we actually cut it, had the splice going and we had to hold a drum stick in place [so that it could loop continuously] because there was only a small bit of tape. That’s why it’s got this weird skip in it, because it’s not quite perfect.

    That’s another cute thing I remember about that track. I remember laying down those keyboards right at the end, because it was always just one loop. I thought after that last line, “Pray for the rain/To wash you far away”, it needed to “rain”, musically. That’s the most Skeptics-y part, that whole [sings descending chord progression aloud]. It’s that sort of anthemic thing that the Skeptics did, but with keyboards.

    Did you ever see Deb again?

    Actually, I probably did see her once or twice, but nothing too deep. She probably was a little bit scared of me once we kicked her out.

    Does she know you wrote a song about her?

    I don’t care! [Laughs] I don’t even know if she’s still alive.

    At what point did you show your partner the song?

    At what point did I show my ex-wife? I remember her being around while we were recording it in Auckland. She would have known what it was about. [Pause] I’m always a bit cagey with lyrics, even with the people who are close to me – even with guys in the band. They’re real personal and I was always real … I don’t want people to not like them, so I keep them to myself until the very moment where I can’t hide them anymore, because we’re releasing the fucking record. Which is probably why I’m so fucking overly sensitive to bad reviews! [Laughs] Because I live in denial all the time! [Laughs] I am getting better at it. I am getting better at going, “Oh, fuck it. I’ve been doing it 22 years, this is the idea I’ve got, boom.” But around that, I was, what, 26 when I wrote that? Still very, very uptight.

    For the full interview, including questions about the classic Shihad track ‘Home Again’, visit Mess+Noise.

    Speaking with Jon about these tracks in September 2011 was a huge thrill for me, as I’ve long loved Shihad; my overall Last.FM charts show that I’ve listened to that band more than any other since I joined Last.FM in October 2004.

    The music video for ‘Deb’s Night Out‘ is embedded below.

  • Rolling Stone album reviews, November 2010: My Disco, Shihad, Passenger

    Three album reviews for the December 2010 issue of Rolling Stone.


    My Disco
    Little Joy (Shock)

    Melbourne noise trio ease off on the throttle, but retain their edge

    “There are others / Others just like me” deadpans My Disco’s bassist, Liam Andrews, in “Rivers”, over and over. He’s taking the piss. Since forming in 2003 this Melbourne trio have prided themselves on sounding unlike anyone else in Australia. Again they’ve opted to record with Steve Albini (Shellac, Big Black), and again their minimalist sound reaches a creative apex. Like on previous albums Cancer and Paradise, Andrews, his brother Benjamin (guitar) and Rohan Rebeiro (drums) describe a sonic wasteland that’s bleak, confronting, yet wholly compelling. Their largely instrumental approach has always relied upon repetition, endurance and sheer force. By those measures, Little Joy is no different; only better. Taken as a whole, these nine tracks convey a sense of propulsive moment; of evolution. Album closer “A Turreted Berg” – characterised by a subterranean bass hum, a simple backbeat and screaming guitar squalls – is the single best song they’ve released. Studious without being stuffy, Little Joy is My Disco’s finest yet.

    Key tracks: “A Turreted Berg”, “Young”, “Turn”

    Elsewhere: an interview with My Disco’s Ben Andrews for The Vine


    Ignite (Roadrunner)

    Wellington’s finest deliver an underwhelming eighth album

    Eight albums in, Melbourne-via-Wellington rock quartet Shihad are still struggling to reclaim their mojo with a consistent full-length effort. It was back in 1999 that they released their last all-class LP, The General Electric; 2008’s Beautiful Machine, Shihad’s last effort, was bogged down by melancholy pop. Balancing heavy and soft songwriting modes has always been a concern for the band, and Ignite doesn’t buck the trend. Its best tracks are led by either sledgehammer riffs (“Sleepeater”, “Lead Or Follow”) or anthemic vocal melodies (“Ignite”); although such peaks are underwritten by the unremarkable (“I’m A Void”, “Engage”) and the plain forgettable (“In The Future”). The most disappointing part of this LP is that there’s nothing here we haven’t heard before from Shihad. A stylistic reinvention we need not; instead, it’d be nice to hear some songs that can outlast the album cycle. Admirable though it is that they’ve maintained a 22 year-old career – and that they’re still attempting to better their distinguished past – in whole, Ignite just doesn’t measure up.

    Key tracks: “Sleepeater”, “Lead Or Follow”, “Ignite”

    Elsewhere: an interview with Shihad’s Tom Larkin for The Vine


    Flight Of The Crow (Inertia)

    Local luminaries lend a hand to much-loved U.K. songwriter

    Plucky Brit Mike Rosenberg brought his Passenger project to Australia in 2009 and hung around long enough to busk our streets, earn some cash and endear himself to an all-star cast. Funded entirely through his busking sojourn – if we’re to believe the marketing – Flight Of The Crow features the likes of Josh Pyke, Boy & Bear, Lior and Kate Miller-Heidke lending voices and instruments to Rosenberg’s 11 songs of loneliness and longing. His guests are consistently impressive without stealing the show; instead, the spotlight remains firmly upon Rosenberg, whose distinctive voice shimmers with just the right amount of pathos to induce repeat listens. In the title track, he sings of waking up alone and unhappy, questioning the worth of “living widescreen”, and missing birthdays and New Years in a convincing manner, which crystallises the self-doubt of solo travellers the world over. Rosenberg’s hustle alone is worthy of respect; that the man can write credible acoustic pop tunes is a bonus.

    Key tracks: “Golden Thread”, “Flight Of The Crow”, “Shape Of Love”

  • The Vine interview: Tom Larkin of Shihad, October 2010

    An interview for The Vine. Excerpt below.

    New Zealand/Melbourne rock act ShihadInterview – Shihad

    After 22 years together, the Melbourne-based, New Zealand-raised rock act Shihad are still kicking. September 24th 2010 marks the release of their eighth studio album, Ignite, which – like its predecessor, 2008’s Beautiful Machine – was self-recorded in drummer Tom Larkin’s studio. Unlike that largely pop-favouring release, though, Ignite marks somewhat of a return to what the band have always done best: huge, riff-heavy guitar rock suitable to be blasted at both clubs and stadiums.

    Shihad have played both kinds of shows, many times. They supported AC/DC on the New Zealand leg of the Black Ice tour earlier this year, and soon after touringIgnite across Australia’s capital cities in November, they’ll play national tours with Guns N’ Roses and now-labelmates Korn (Ignite is the band’s first release with Roadrunner Records). In July and August, Shihad played a handful of exclusive shows in Sydney, Melbourne, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland wherein they performed their classic albums Killjoy (1995) and The General Electric (1999) in full. And so TheVine’s conversation with Tom Larkin begins…

    Before we discuss Ignite, I want to touch on the shows you did last month for Killjoy and The General Electric. Did you enjoy yourself?

    Of course. A lot. It was one of those things we had planned for a long time. We’d left it on the sidelines, and we’d get busy and then go back to the idea and keep coming at it, but it was really, really enjoyable for us to do. And great for us to revisit that stuff and revisit the material we hadn’t played for a long time. It was great.

    Read the full interview on The Vine.

    This interview was a little strange for me, as Shihad are a band I’ve respected for a long time – for a few years, around 2005-2006, I readily named them as my favourite band. My interest their music (especially the lacklustre newer stuff) has since plateaued, but still, they’ve played a large part in my life. It was a pleasure to speak with Tom.

    More Shihad on MySpace; the music video for their Ignite single ‘Lead Or Follow‘ is embedded below.