Saturday, February 27, 2010

Soundwave Festival 2010, Melbourne Showgrounds, 26/02/10

The lineups for this rock/metal/punk festival have always impressed me. There's never really been much that floats my boat enough for me attend in the past, but I always though that Soundwave always managed to get a lot of great acts for the sort of festival that it was. Anyway, this year a lot of the acts really impressed, so I bought a ticket and was not disappointed by a great day of music.

The first band I heard on the day was Canada's The Creepshow, who opened proceedings on Stage 1 (there was a band before them on Stage 2, a last minute replacement for Closure in Moscow I guess, but nobody knew who they were). I didn't actually see The Creepshow, as I was standing on the Stage 2 side for a good spot for Sunny Day Real Estate, but of course because of the typical two-mainstage festival setup, I did hear all their set. They seemed pretty interesting, playing some catchy female-fronted psychobilly that seemed to get their fans on the other side of the arena dancing and singing along with great enthusiasm.

Legendary early 90s emo quartet Sunny Day Real Estate just reformed last year, with all four members from their original lineup - Jeremy Enigk (vocals/guitar), Dan Hoerner (guitar/backing vocals), Nate Mendel (bass, yes, the Foo Fighter) and William Goldsmith (drums, also ex-Foo Fighters). It's the band's second reunion, but the first time since 1994 that all original members have played together, and for the first time ever, they were playing in Australia - suffice to say, for the small but passionate crowd assembled in front of stage 2, this was a very special moment. The band walked onstage to a heroes' welcome, and when the song chosen to open the set was Seven, you could feel the happiness in the air. They were the first out of the three reunited bands performing at Soundwave today, and they set the bar high. Naturally, the set consisted mostly of songs from the cult classic Diary, along with a surprise inclusion of b-side 9, and J'Nuh from the Sunny Day Real Estate album. The band played their songs extremely well, with Enigk still singing very well after all these years away from the band. Goldsmith's performance was also particularly impressive; during the more intense musical moments he became a whirlwind of energy, absolutely pummeling his kit and working up a very noticeable sweat. The band closed with Sometimes, and the crowd were left wanting more due to the 40 minute limit on their set, but the band looked extremely happy to finally play in Australia and I wouldn't be surprised if we see them again, perhaps after they release their long-awaited new album. (Sunny Day Real Estate score 10/10.)
In Circles
Song About an Angel

Next up was the tail-end of US stoner sludge metallers Baroness, in the festival's more "metal" stage, which was unwisely located INSIDE on a 34 degree day. Anyone who went in there knows what I'm talking about - it was just HOT. And with only two doors the side and two at the back open, there was a serious lack of ventilation. Thankfully, I didn't have to stay in there too long, at least not for this band or the next (Isis) as I'd seen them both the night before at their sideshow.

So I made my way back to the mainstage for Eagles of Death Metal. We were informed by Taking Back Sunday (playing the preceding set on the adjacent stage) that they were "very handsome man" and that the ladies "will probably be pregnant by the end of it". As expected, Jesse "The Devil" Hughes did inject a hell of a lot of swagger and sex appeal into the band's set, mostly with his between-song banter, but unfortunately once the songs were being played, his voice seemed to falter a little bit. I'm going to assume perhaps it might have been something to do with partying too much the night before or something - he did admit that he had been at Cherry Bar the night before and was keen to return that night, so yeah. A good set though featuring most songs you'd expect such as Wannabe in L.A and I Only Want You. It was just the fact that his vocals were a bit poor meant I didn't quite enjoy it as much. Which was a shame because I'd really been looking forward to seeing them after I missed them last year. (EoDM score 7/10.)

Next up it was back to the ever-increasingly hot sauna that was Stage 4, for a bit of good ol fun-time stoner rock, and who better to deliver it than Clutch. I didn't know a lot of the songs they played, but I stayed for the whole set anyway, and how could you not? The band's songs were inspiring some serious crowd energy down the front, no small feat considering the band were playing in the Soundwave oven as it were. "I thought when I woke this morning, that I was excited when I heard we'd be playing indoors!" commented frontman Neil Fallon. Yet despite the heat, the band didn't let up for a second -the riffs were monstrous, Fallon's vocals were right on the money and the crowd - including I - loved it. (Clutch score 9/10.)

I checked out the first few songs of Anvil, finding them quite amusing in a good way. They wouldn't have anywhere near the audience they did had they not realeased that movie (which I really must get around to seeing), but those that were in attendance certainly did enjoy the chance to see these true purveyors of speed metal do their thing.

Next up was the headfucking metal madness of Swedish five-piece Meshuggah. I met a few friends of mine outside before heading back in, and one remarked, "That name sounds Yiddish" - of course, it actually is; it means "crazy". Which is really a very good name for these guys - their music is chaotic, unpredictable, and yet extremely precise. Despite the increasing temperature in Stage 4, the Swedes worked the crowd into a frenzy as they tore through their polyrhythmic math metal numbers with great abandon. Guitarists Martin Hagstrom and Fredrik Thordendal were an absolute pleasure to watch as they bashed out complicated riffs and intricate solos together, holding it all together. And frontman Jens Kidman has one of my personal favourite metal voices. Their set included plenty of well-known numbers from across their career, from newies such as Bleed and Combustion to older favourites like Rational Gaze and the closing Future Breed Machine. Brilliance. (Meshuggah score 10/10.)
Rational Gaze
Future Breed Machine

It was time for something considerably more low-key, but no less exciting, so I headed in the direction of Stage 1 for Jane's Addiction. As the second of today's reunited bands, many were wondering just how they'd cut it, especially considering the hard-living lifestyle they were all known for back in the day. Of course, they put on a great performance on the day, full of energy and enthusiasm for the songs they were playing. Perry Farrell's voice sounded great too; he faltered a few times but it was far better than Jesse Hughes' performance earlier that day. Dave Navarro delivered some typically ripping solos, and the rhythm section of Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins was spot-on. Farrell's banter tended to tread the fine line between amusing and ridiculous, but all in all, it was great to see these guys live at least once. I must say, I was disappointed by some of the songs being played in different keys - I know, a bit pedantic, but if you're used to a song sounding a certain way, it's a little weird to hear it otherwise for the first time. Anyway. The ending of the set was a nice touch - Navarro and Avery traded their electrics for acoustics, while Perkins played percussion at the front of the stage, in a lovely version of Jane Says. (Jane's Addiction score 9.5/10.)
Up the Beach
Mountain Song
Three Days
Been Caught Stealing
Ain't No Right
...Then She Did
Ocean Size
Summertime Rolls
Ted, Just Admit It...
Jane Says

After that I spent a bit of time wandering searching for some mates, finally meeting them over at Stage 3 just after Anti-Flag's set. We decided to have a few final beers and sit in the stands and catch up on the day's events - but unfortunately Escape the Fate were on. I do NOT understand what it is about this sort of music that attracts people. It seemed absolutely boring and generic and for some reason, the crowd in front of that stage loved it. Meh. Thumbs down to mates for suggesting this spot to meet :P

FINALLY, the night drew to its brilliant conclusion - Faith No More came from out of nowhere, with a performance that was typically epic and aggressive. From all accounts their gigs in this land of sunshine have showed that they are certainly not suffering a midlife crisis, and the thousands of fans' reaction showed that still indeed care a lot for this band. Their performance - with a helluva lot of classics, Mike Patton madness, and even some random webcam chat to some unsuspecting people all accounted for - showed that at the end of Soundwave 2010, Faith No More were kings... for more than a day. (Faith No More score 10/10.) (I'm sorry, I really couldn't help myself...)
Don't Dream It's Over (Crowded House cover)
From Out Of Nowhere

Land of Sunshine

Be Aggressive


The Gentle Art of Making Enemies

Chinese Arithmetic/Poker Face

Last Cup of Sorrow

Cuckoo for Caca

Easy (The Commodores cover)
Ashes to Ashes
Midlife Crisis
I Started a Joke
(Bee Gees cover)
Digging The Grave

King for a Day


Just a Man

This Town Ain't Big Enough for Both of Us (Sparks cover)
We Care a Lot

So, Soundwave 2010 was the first time I've attended this festival, but if future lineups are equal to this, I'll be sure to return. It's better organised and less crowded than some of its bigger counterparts and offers a wider variety of acts. The whole day really was quite enjoyable!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The best (compact disc) sounds of the year 2009

So, some might see this as a little late in the piece, but then again, isn't posting your top 2009 CDs and gigs in say, November a little bit premature? What about all those great albums that get released in November, or all those awesome gigs you attend? So that's why I've always preferred to leave it a little late, and here it is. First up, the ten best albums of 2009, and they were, in my humble opinion!...

10.Deströyer 666 – Defiance
It’s been a little while between drinks for this legendary Australian-via-Europe blackened thrash metal group, but on their first album in seven years, the mighty D666 show no signs of slowing down. They’ve always been an underground favourite in the metal scene – not just Down Under too – and with this album it’s easy to see why. Blistering riffage and leads, truly evil vocals and a thunderous rhythm section, D666 are back and more defiant than ever before! Their no nonsense approach to their music always pays off well.
THE STAND-OUT: I Am Not Deceived
OTHER STAND-OUTS: Weapons of Conquest, The Barricades are Breaking

9. Porcupine Tree – The Incident
Well then, it’s yet another release from that band that just keep going from strength to strength! Some might not approve of the direction the band has taken in recent years, and I suppose that’s a little understandable, but the fact is they have become a band that are rapidly increasing their fanbase while still retaining the key sonic elements that we all know and love. I mean, you could hardly call this album a “sell-out” – it contains two discs of material, the first of which is comprised of fourteen “pieces” that together make up the 55 minute song cycle that is The Incident itself. The different tracks – with influences from ranging from discordant noise ambience to all-out heavy metal riffage to calm and gentle progressive passages – do of course stand up by themselves, but are linked together in such a way that the best way to experience the album is to listen to the whole thing together in one sitting. And indeed, that’s how the band are playing it live. The second disc isn’t too bad either – a collection of four extra songs independent of The Incident. Another classy effort from Mr Steven Wilson and co.
OTHER STAND-OUTS: V. Drawing the Line, II. The Blind House, Bonnie the Cat

8. Sunn O))) – Monoliths & Dimensions
Sunn O)))’s “music” has been called many things in the past – many of them not complimentary – but one thing that has been noticeable in recent releases is their concerted effort to push the boundaries of their own sound, beyond the standard “LOUD SLOOOOOOWWWWW GUITARS” approach. The duo of Anderson and O’Malley do that very well here on this album, officially their seventh studio outing. Familiar guests Attila Csihar and Oren Ambarchi are once again present, as are newcomers such as experiment US violist Eyvind Kang. In just four epic tracks, Sunn O))) manage to deliver a record that is hypnotic, frightening at times, beautiful at others, and always crushingly loud and heavy. Brilliance.
THE STAND-OUT: Well... there’s just four tracks, so you know what? I’m going to give it to them all!

7. Mastodon – Crack the Skye
I make no secret of the fact that I think these guys are one of the most talented bands to emerge from the heavy metal scene in the past decade, and with their fifth studio album, they once again vindicate this opinion. Troy Sanders, Bill Kelliher, Brent Hinds and Brann Dailor have taken the foot off the pedal a bit since the all-out assault that was 2006’s Blood Mountain; on this album you can find a lot more clean singing, slower tempos and less in-your-face metal riffage. Not to say that it doesn’t sound like Mastodon, because of course it does. They’ve just adjusted their already amazing dynamic range a little bit, which should win them over a whole new audience without losing the loyal fans they’ve amassed over the years.
THE STAND-OUT: Divinations
OTHER STAND-OUTS: Quintessence, Oblivion, The Last Baron

6. Muse – The Resistance
I think this beloved trio of Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dom Howard will continue to, ahem, rise (no pun intended) with every release they bring out, and once again on this effort they have set their own creative bar way up there, in the upper reaches of the stratosphere which their bombastic sound so effortlessly reaches. Though the familiar Muse sound is present and accounted for on tracks like Uprising and Guiding Light, they have managed to keep things sounding fresh and inspired with some new ideas thrown into the mix. Frontman Bellamy’s voice continues to truly impress, such as on Resistance and the very Queen-esque United States of Eurasia, while his symphonic influences are also given a healthy workout on tracks like I Belong to You and of course, the epic closing suite Exogenesis Symphony. The stomping guitar riffs, the dazzling keyboard/piano wizardry, the rumbling bass, the steady drums – this, ladies and gentlemen, is a MUSE ALBUM. And if you don’t like that (which it seems a lot of you don’t), then you can quite frankly...
THE STAND-OUT: I Belong to You
OTHER STAND-OUTS: Exogenesis Symphony, United States of Eurasia, Undisclosed Desires

5. Portal – Swarth
Portal are truly one of the most unique bands out there in the ridiculously crowded, often same-old same-old scene of “death metal”. A band that is not focused on lightning-fast guitar solos, rapid-fire blastbeat-ery and those ridiculously guttural vocals, but puts more of an emphasis on atmosphere and dynamics. The sound of Portal is one that is NOT easy to listen to – hell, I’m still struggling – but it is one that will reward the persistent listener for its amazingly bleak journey into previously untapped sonic territory. (Sorry this review is a bit incoherent. If you know Portal, you’ll know it’s truly hard to describe what they sound like.)
OTHER STAND-OUTS: Illoomorpheme, Marityme

4. Them Crooked Vultures – Them Crooked Vultures
Way back in 2005, a certain David Grohl, in an interview with Mojo magazine, quipped, “The next project that I'm trying to initiate involves me on drums, Josh Homme on guitar, and John Paul Jones playing bass. That’s the next album. That wouldn’t suck.” In 2009, this wonderful project finally came to fruition, with a series of highly-praised gigs that sold out very quickly despite the trio not having released any recorded music yet! Eventually, in November, the debut self-titled release from the Vultures arrived, and what an album it is! The songs sound pretty much like you’d expect them to from a trio comprising of a guy from Queens of the Stone Age and Kyuss, a dude from Led Zeppelin, and that legend from Foo Fighters and Nirvana. Down and dirty blues-tinged riff-driven rock ‘n’ roll as it should sound. Yes.
THE STAND-OUT: Elephants
OTHER STAND-OUTS: Scumbag Blues, Reptiles, Mind Eraser, No Chaser, Gunman

3. Karnivool – Sound Awake
And in 2009, the wait was over. It’s been an agonising four years since the Perth fivesome dropped their awesome debut Themata, and everyone was getting a little bit antsy, but I think we can all say it was worth the wait! As the album begins with a little crackly ambience and then, of all things, a freakin’ vibraphone, you wonder exactly what Karnivool have in store this time... before an EXPLOSION of thundering bass and drums threatens to tear your head off – and then, THAT VOICE comes in and you know everything’s going to be just awesome. It’s certainly one of those rare albums that delivers precisely what it’s expected of it – but of course, with a few surprises to keep things interesting.
THE OTHER STAND-OUTS: Simple Boy, Umbra, New Day, most other tracks really!

2. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead – The Century of Self
The indie world fell in love with this experimental Texan group after the release of their monumental third album Source Tags & Codes, but then what? The band followed up with the still-awesome but somewhat disappointing Worlds Apart, and then really pissed off a hell of a lot of people with So Divided in 2006... enter 2009. Free of their record label and with a bit of a re-jigged line-up to boot, ...Trail of Dead have finally lived up to their own standard with this cracker of a compact disc.
THE STAND-OUT: Isis Unveiled
THE OTHER STAND-OUTS: Halcyon Days, Luna Park, Pictures of an Only Child, Bells of Creation

This album also gets the gong, deservedly, for best cover art of 2009! Look at that. And now just remember that lead singer Conrad Keely DREW IT ENTIRELY WITH BLUE BIRO.

But anyway, it's now time for the big one! According to yours truly, 2009 belonged sonically to ...

1. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
In 2008, a little duo from out of Bristol, England exploded onto the music scene with a little album entitled Street Horrrsing. With its melodic approach to noisy drone, Fuck Buttons’ debut release saw Andrew Hung and Benjamin Power become something of a household name in the hipster indie scene, as they toured the world with their explosive live show, very often playing on the bill of ATP events. Surprisingly, it took them just a year to record and release a follow-up, and they did so in the form of this little beauty. Tarot Sport marks a slightly different direction for the group, as they have all but eliminated those wonderful screamed-through-a-plastic-toy-microphone vocals that were their trademark on Street Horrrsing, and also taken things in a bit more of a beat-friendly direction. Nevertheless, the harsh synths and rhythmic percussive pulse will be familiar to those that loved their debut, and indeed, this release can only mean a joyous leap forward for the UK twosome.
THE STAND-OUT: Flight of the Feathered Serpent
OTHER STAND-OUTS: Surf Solar, Phantom Limb

OK, so that just about covers it! There were some other brilliant albums I picked up during the year, but alas there can only be ten entrants in a top ten, so some must miss out! Coming soon, the top 10 gigs of 2009!

Monday, February 1, 2010


So everybody, it seems that MySpace really isn't the place for this kind of thing anymore, or the kind of place for ANYTHING anymore, which is a bit sad really, but that's the way it goes. As the title suggests, this is where I will voice my thoughts on the music I am hearing at the moment - gig reviews, album reviews, yes, the band of the month might even make a return. By Friday, I aim to have posted my top 10 albums and gigs of 2009, a task that I have found rather difficult but it's coming together I guess... anyway. Occasionally I might also deviate from the music topic, but anybody that knows me, knows that there aren't many parts of my life that don't revolve around music. So, thanks in advance for reading... cheers.