Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Maximum Wolf - Spacescapes (album review)

If there’s one musical craze that’s definitely risen to prominence in the past few years, it’s that highly debated style of bass-heavy electronica known as dubstep. Known for its distinctive repetition of oscillating so-called “wub wub wub” synth patterns and ridiculously intense use of bass tones, what was once a relatively underground phenomenon has suddenly gone quite mainstream, and the sound has transcended several genre borders. Sonny Moore was once the vocalist for a post-hardcore group From First to Last, but you may now know him for packing out venues and headlining festivals worldwide under his Skrillex moniker. The members of British space-rock superstars Muse attended a Skrillex concert and were influenced by the phenomenon enough to include some of the style on their new album. And even closer to home, Perth progressive rockers Karnivool raised a few eyebrows in 2011 when they took along dubstep/drum and bass producer Shockone on the road for a full national tour, with the Perth musician taking to the decks for some very un-rock-and-roll DJ sets immediately prior to Karnivool’s appearance. Make no mistake, for the time being at least, dubstep is here to stay, and it’s apparently not just a sound for the “ravers”.

Which brings us to this here album – an entirely independent, and debut for that matter, release from a young Melbourne producer going under the appropriately animalistic alias of Maximum Wolf. Like the aforementioned acts, Maximum Wolf comes from a more rock-oriented background. Known to most in the Melbourne underground music scene by his last name Ramadge, or simply Ram, you may have come across him fronting the scuzzy dance-punk prty-starting trio Humans. However, there’s very little sonic overlap between Humans and Maximum Wolf, so if you’re expecting more of the same with the cleverly-titled Spacescapes, well, don’t. The album fires into life with Existence, which, at seven minutes and twenty-six seconds, comfortably holds the title of the longest track on the album. It is, as you would expect from a track of that length, a slow-builder; beginning with gentle chiming synth leads and some steadily rising glitchy beats. Some underlying bass rumbles set the tone nicely for things to come, with the tension rising until finally, POW! At around the five-minute mark, the whole thing disintegrates into a gloriously messy sonic overload of synthesised distortion and broken beats. You’re already getting the urge to dance around your bedroom/loungeroom like you’re out at your nightclub of choice on a Friday night, and it’s only the first track.

From then on in, Spacescapes rarely lets up in its intensity and energy – if you’ve ever been to a Humans gig, you know that Ram is one crazy character, and this is an album that won’t surprise you in the least. Though dubstep is certainly a prominent stylistic influence on his Maximum Wolf sound, he’s clearly willing to play around with other sounds and there’s plenty of EDM bases covered here – groovy electro-house in tracks like EE, some borderline trance in Mysterious, experiments in breakbeat on the likes of Jupiter, while some of the later tracks on the album delve into some chilled-out ambience (see Neptune) and effectively act to as a balance to some of the more intense moments on the album. Of which there are plenty. You’ll be hard pressed to find a track (on any other album this year really) with a more monstrous sound than Mystery, with its window-rattling subsonic frequencies and hyperactive rave-tastic beats. There’s a film clip online for that one too. It’s interesting to note that in recent times, there has been a bit of an increased focus in the electronic dance music scene on so-called “minimal” music and a “less is more” approach – obviously nobody informed Maximum Wolf, with tracks like Sharks and CME proving that MORE IS MORE. And if this album is any indication, hopefully there is indeed going to be more.

Key tracks: Existence, Mystery, Sharks, Jupiter

Sub Atari Knives - Sub Atari Knives (EP Review)

Everyone loves a “supergroup”. At the very least, the formation of a new band whose biography begins “featuring current/former members of...” always causes a bit of excitement in the community who followed the members’ previous exploits, and it is a successful, albeit slightly accidental, way of gaining the band an early fanbase. Take Them Crooked Vultures, for a recent example. The band were selling out gigs (in quite large venues) before they’d even released one complete song, and why was that? Because their vocalist/guitarist is Josh Homme, their drummer is Dave Grohl, and their bassist/keyboardist is John Paul fucking Jones, that’s why. At a smaller-scale local level, the formation of Sub Atari Knives in Melbourne in late 2011 got a lot of people immediately talking, with a lineup boasting former members of K-Oscillate, Mammal, and MM9. Hugo Tremayne (vocals), Nick Adams (bass) and Ben Ellingworth (drums/programming) quickly got their heads together and wrote a bunch of tunes, so they could get out there fast and perform some gigs to give the curious fans an idea of what they sounded like. Though gigs haven’t been very frequent, they have certainly been highly praised for their energy and massive live electronic sound – and now the Sub Atarians have released an EP, which as happens so often, raises that age-old question of “Can the band replicate their live sound on their recordings?” (Or vice-versa.)

The answer, in this case, is yes. The disc opens with Tremayne ambitiously boasting, “We beat the common sound, we beat the common ground”, before a rapid crescendo of drum-and-bass beats overtakes the senses, and Alter Ego gets the EP off to a great start. Though a few people have commented that the band could use a live keyboardist/synth player, rather than Ellingworth just using his laptop, in the comfort of your own home that problem is simply not apparent. Heavily indebted to the current dubstep craze that is sweeping the globe, Ellingworth’s vicious loops and buzzing synths effortlessly create the kind of euphoria that is an essential part of good electronic music these days.

The tracks the band have chosen are a short but oh-so-sweet representation of where Sub Atari Knives are at today, and the tunes might be familiar to fans with good memories who have attended those handful of gigs. In terms of highlights, it’s hard to go past Hear. Life. Spoken. , which more than anything else, is a great example of Hugo Tremayne’s impressive vocal ability. As the EP progresses, it’s certainly something that stands out; Tremayne’s obviously spent a bit of time listening to The Prodigy in his life, but in no way is this a bad thing, as his aggressive vocal delivery is extremely effective in getting the listeners’ attention. Nowhere is this more evident that in the eponymous track Sub Atari Knives, where the call to “Move and sway!” is one that has been obeyed with great zest at previous Sub Atari live outings, and no doubt will be in the future.

The presence of Nick Adams, former bassist of Mammal, in this band has been a reason for general excitement among fans of his previous work, but unfortunately on this EP, it isn’t always exactly clear what the hell he’s doing. Obviously in electronic music, the synthesised sounds and heavy beats play a major role, and it’s because of this that Adams’ impressive chops sometimes take a backseat on this disc. It’s not to say he can’t be noticed at all, but overall on the musical side of things, it’s very much Ben Ellingworth leading the charge. Not that that’s a bad thing, as overall, it’s just a solid EP. The music presented here is of a very high standard and will hopefully see the Sub Atari Knives name ascend to greater heights.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

"I've got the sun in my eyes, I didn't see you passing me by" - The Butterfly Effect @ Hi Fi Bar and Ballroom, 08/06/2012 (final show with Clint Boge)

Ten years in the music business is a very solid achievement for any band, and indeed there was good reason for Queensland's favourite prog-tinged hard rockers The Butterfly Effect to celebrate last year as they hit that milestone. However, it's fair to say most fans didn't expect what was coming next, when earlier this year the band's vocalist Clint Boge announced that he was leaving the band for good, for his own personal reasons and to turn his attention to other musical ventures. Luckily for fans and band alike, it was decided that the founding (and unchanged) lineup would embark on one final tour to give Boge the send-off he deserved, and on a Friday evening in June in the city of Melbourne, it was officially the end of an era. A absolutely packed to the rafters Hi Fi Bar was a fitting venue for such an occasion, given that the band have played many gigs here in the past and always drew a solid crowd. With old friends in The Siren Tower and The Khyber Belt warming the stage before them, the night was set from the word go to be something very special indeed.

The sampled sounds of the Erhu (a kind of Chinese violin) filled the room as Perth folkish rock act The Siren Tower kicked off their opening set with the haunting The Banishing of William McGuiness. With the impending release of their debut album A History of Houses just around the corner, there were a lot of people keen to see how they'd perform on this evening, and they lived up to the expectations of the growing Friday night crowd. The band are fronted by former Heavy Weight Champ frontman Grant McCulloch, and he was obviously the one to watch on this evening, as his powerful voice boomed out into the room with an obvious passion for the songs he was singing. He also appeared very comfortable talking to the crowd between songs, explaining what it was that he was singing about, and even throwing in a few cheeky but necessary plugs for The Siren Tower's performance the following night at St Kilda's iconic Esplanade Hotel. "I fuckin' love the Espy front bar," he remarked, to the approval of the crowd, before following it up with a correction. "I love the Hi Fi Bar too... I love all bars!" The Siren Tower's brand of low-key, very Australian-sounding tunes were a bit easygoing considering the occasion, but the punters still warmed to their sounds considerably, and they'd no doubt won themselves a few new fans by the end of their short set.

"Good evening Melbourne, we're The Khyber Belt!" - with that greeting from their always enthusiastic and happy frontman Forbes McKail, up-and-coming Melbourne/Brisvegas rockers The Khyber Belt seemed to be well ready to perform, and they kicked things off with an energetic performance of EP favourite Sun. The Khyber Belt only performed their first gig in March last year (although the five members have performed in various other bands throughout the years), and although it took them a while to settle in, they've now become a very enjoyable part of the city's vibrant live music scene. The release of their self-titled debut EP in October last year has also helped them get a bit of a leg-up, and they returned to the Hi Fi stage tonight after performing with Dead Letter Circus the previous month, at which they got quite a good response. It was much the same this evening, with their uptempo hard rock numbers getting the crowd slowly but surely moving in anticipation of the headliners. McKail also told a story of his introduction to The Butterfly Effect, reminiscing of how he once accompanied his friend (and guitarist in this very band) Tyson Fish to a gig at the Annandale back in the day, not even really knowing who The Butterfly Effect were at the time! It was a good way to set the tone for the evening, as everyone in the room no doubt had their own story of how they first experienced one of the most loved Australian bands of the past ten years. Finishing off with the stomping London, McKail's cries of "Burn this city down!" rallied the crowd, and so ended a pretty intense half-hour set which had certainly warmed the crowd up.

As the room filled to bursting point and the lights went down, a piano introduction filled the room - setting the tone for something a little different than what some may have been expecting from the act to come. As all other shows on this tour have done, the show began with the focus of the night, Mr Clint Boge, taking to the stage solo to sing along to a piano backing track in an exciting take on the old favourite, Beautiful Mine. About halfway through the song, Boge's haunting voice was drowned out by cheers as his bandmates made their way to the stage at perhaps an awkward moment - and then it was time, for one last time. The Butterfly Effect kicked off their last ever performance with their founding lineup with Window and the Watcher, which despite being somewhat disliked by a section of their fanbase (particularly the longest-serving fans), was still a solid anthem to kick off proceedings at a very special evening.

It was interesting to note that despite the celebratory nature of last year's ten year anniversary tour, many had observed that the band were not in the form that one would expect to justify such an occasion. However, this time around there were no such complaints - the boys clearly wanted Clint's final performances to be as memorable as possible, and so it was clear that they'd really put in the effort to make sure they were as tight as possible. In contrast to last year too, the band went all-out on putting together a stellar setlist; alongside all the usual favourites such as One Second of Insanity and A Slow Descent, there were also several seldom played rarities such as Phoenix and Consequence, and even a cover of Helmet's classic Wilma's Rainbow. In addition to this, there were a pair of reworked acoustic versions of TBE favourites; with Everybody Runs and Gone adding a special touch to the evening.

In the interviews leading up to this tour, there had been some unusually candid moments from the band, with them being pretty honest about the fact that they were no longer getting on very well was what lead to Boge's departure. However, tonight it seemed all that was put aside, with the band genuinely seeming to be having a great time for their last performance together. Boge himself wasn't letting the opportunity go to waste, as he strutted from one end of the stage to the other, smiling from ear-to-ear and always encouraging his fans to sing along - for the last time, as it were. In the early stages of the band's set, the boys were happy to just let the music do the talking, but as time wore on, it was clear that Clint wanted to say a few words to properly say goodbye. "I remember when we first came to Melbourne, we played at the Espy Front Bar... with Cog!" he reminisced, with many punters smiling as they were reminded of another great Australian band who recently met their end. Boge went on to say that he "fuckin' hated" sharing a bill with Cog, such was their awesome musicianship, and revealed that The Butterfly Effect had been informed on that visit that the Hi Fi was the target venue in Melbourne to conquer. "So it's only fitting that I finish my time with the Butters here tonight!" he concluded, to suitable approval. Other anecdotes included recounting the story behind their breakout hit The Cell, which was dusted off for the first time in quite a while on this tour.

Slowly but surely, the set continued to progress, and before anyone in the crowd wanted to admit it, Boge and bandmates had departed the stage after The End, the last song of the encore. However, everyone knew that on some previous shows on this tour, the band had returned for one more song in a rare double encore - would that feat be repeated tonight? Would there be even more songs played, such was the special occasion? Well, there was a longer-than-usual wait, but indeed, The Butterfly Effect did return to the stage a third time, and when Clint Boge issued his next words, the grins on the punters' faces said it all - "These are the last three songs you get to sing!" For the first and only time on the tour, the band ripped into a pair of oldies from their debut self-titled EP, with Sweet & Low and Take It Away highlighting the sharp sonic contrast between old and new TBE material, and delighting the fans who sat at the more extreme end of the spectrum of dedication to the band. But it was a tried and true stayer with everyone that was to be Clint Boge's last song tonight, and the crowd didn't hesitate to join in - there was a sad but somewhat joyful irony in the lyrics of Always, as Boge's last sung lines were shouted back to him by the near-exhausted crowd - "I AM WITH YOU ALWAYS!" Finally, it was over. Boge remained on the stage for as long as possible, smiling and sharing the final moments onstage with his friends of ten years, or as he fondly described them, his "music writing life partners", before finally exiting to a mixture of cheers, tears and plenty of applause. Though the band had said up until this point that Clint was merely leaving, and the remaining members may yet decide to continue, you couldn't escape the feeling among the crowd that tonight had definitely been a farewell performance from the band itself, not just its frontman. Vale, The Butterfly Effect.

Beautiful Mine (Clint solo; piano version)
Window and the Watcher
A Slow Descent
Perception Twin
Final Conversation
Aisles of White
Wilma's Rainbow (Helmet cover)
Room Without a View
Everybody Runs (acoustic)
One Second of Insanity
Worlds on Fire
Gone (acoustic)
The Cell
The End
----Encore 2----
Sweet & Low
Take it Away

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Maximum Wolf, Noise Bar, 18/08/2012 (debut live performance)

Etienne de Crecy and his cube. The Chemical Brothers and their all-out psychedelic big-screen visual assault. And of course, Daft Punk and their pyramid. Make no mistake, the game has changed dramatically when it comes to presenting electronic music in a live format, and it simply isn't enough anymore to have the performing act standing up there on stage with his/her/their computer/synths/turntables and merely playing the songs back. Punters have come to expect a little more now - they want blinding, potentially seizure-inducing lights. They want lasers. They want visual material. And god help anyone who's not making an effort to look like they're "playing" the music that's coming out of the speakers.

Perhaps it was these factors weighing on the mind of a young Melbourne electronic artist by the name of Maximum Wolf, for when he rocked up to popular Brunswick haunt The Noise Bar for a very late-night Friday live set, he brought everything he possibly could to enhance his show. Despite it being the very first time he had performed live under the name, he clearly wanted to make a good impression, and brought along an impressive live set-up and lightshow to showcase a few tracks from his debut album SPACESCAPES, which was released in June and is available now for free download at his Bandcamp page, as well as some other material he's been working on recently. It was one of those performances where the smoke machine was used to, if you'll pardon the pun, its maximum capabilities, and it was barely five minutes into the performance before the entire room was blanketed in fog and it was essentially impossible to see Maximum Wolf onstage - but that didn't matter, for the effect he'd created only enhanced the atmosphere of the show. He'd clearly put a bit of thought into exactly how to present the set with its best possible ambience - perhaps the simplest yet most effective touch was placing a metal sheet in front of the table with his "MW" logo cut out of it, and aiming his laser and strobe lights through the gap.

It was an unfortunate but undeniable fact that the performance did not run 100% smoothly for Maximum Wolf, but in all fairness, things went quite well considering that it was, as mentioned, his first performance under this alias and with this material under his belt. It can't be an easy task to play the music, and control the lights and laser simultaneously, but that was the task faced by Maximum Wolf tonight. It was noted that the whole setup didn't sync perfectly at times, such as the laser not firing when it was supposed to during the more intense musical moments he produced, but with one guy controlling everything in his first ever gig, the minor imperfections were easily put aside as the small crowd, mainly consisting of close friends, enjoyed a short but solid live set, with many not hesitating to get their dance on! A debut performance is always a tough thing to go through, but despite a few technical hitches here and there, most agreed that Maximum Wolf had put in a great effort for his first, and hopefully the first of many, live shows!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

(This is where Humans lyrics should be but I don't really know enough) - Humans/Sheriff/The Sinking Teeth/Lubbock Lights, Gasometer Hotel, 19/04/2012

It's a pretty well-known fact that Melbourne, Australia has one of, if not THE, world's greatest live music scenes. If you love music, there's ALWAYS a gig on - be it a full day/night festival with international headliners, a night at a larger venue such as the Forum or Palace to see a big international or local, or a simple cheap night at your local with some solid "next big things", the options are endless. How else could you explain a gig like this one happening on a THURSDAY? Though it's not usually an ideal night to get loose and rock out, plenty of friends and fans turned up to Fitzroy's Gasometer Hotel to see these four quality young acts doing their thing, and with a lineup like this, it's easy to see why.

Getting the night off to a considerably relaxed start, taking into account the rest of the lineup, were the sublime post-rocking trio Lubbock Lights. Up until now, this project has been a duo by the name of Dan & Dan (funnily enough, the members being Dan Smith and Dan Savage), but they've recently decided to expand the lineup a bit (thus necessitating a name change), and tonight they were joined onstage by Nik Militiadou on drums (and in future plan to include a certain keys/synth player who would later appear on tonight's lineup). It's arguable that this whole post-rock thing is becoming a little bit overdone at the moment, but if a band can do it well, as Lubbock Lights certainly did, then why not give it a go? On display was the usual extreme variation of dynamics typical of post-rock bands, as the evening kicked off with something a little more refined and experimental than the later acts to follow - the calm before the storm, if you will. As the bandroom filled up steadily, the chilled-out crescendoing guitars lulled the audience into a nice relaxed state.

Everyone loves a supergroup, and up next was a three-piece featuring members of The Analyte, Left Feels Right and the Hawaiian Islands, The Sinking Teeth. Led by former Analyte vocalist-guitarist Nick Manuell, the trio's noodly post-hardcore seemed to be a logical extension of the group's past ventures, and the sudden increase in pace from the previous band warmed the room up considerably! The songs were short and punchy, filled with plenty of catchy riffs and Manuell's sharp vocal attack. His skills with a microphone have improved significantly over the years, and not just on the vocal side of things either - as usual, he delivered some quite abstract but amusing banter, and seems to be writing some songs about some interesting topics. Another great asset in this band is the rhythm section - Left Feels Right's Jules Doan is quite handy on the bass, with the likes of Bloc Party and Foals seeming to be a major influence his dance-punk playing style. Behind the kit tonight was Ben Stewart, another talented member of this up-and-coming trio. As The Sinking Teeth, these three gentlemen haven't been playing together for all that long, but individually there's plenty of gig experience between them, and it certainly shows onstage. These guys will definitely be one to keep an eye on in the near future.

For many in the room, the memory of a certain evening at Cherry Bar was still very fresh in their minds, and as the Sheriff boys began setting up their gear for their first gig off the back of their EP launch a few weeks ago, the anticipation rose noticeably. "Good evening sports fans!" greeted the band's bassist/vocalist Jimi Coelli, sounding fired up and ready to rock as usual, as the band kicked into the dirgey but incredibly groovy Pick Yourself Up, a newer song that's found its way into the set this year to the delight of the Sheriff regulars. Though Sheriff's music is mostly no-nonsense and doesn't feature too much musical wanking about, this one does feature a surprisingly appropriate jam on, of all things, the fucking theremin, courtesy of guitarist Tom Watson. Speaking of Watson, he certainly drew the crowd's attention on many occasions during this evening - initially it was for the wrong reasons, as his seemingly irrepressible urge to run through the crowd and go nuts (which is a GOOD thing of course) resulted in his axe being disconnected from his pedals several times. "TOM'S GUITAR, DOESN'T WOOOOOOORK!" sang Coelli, in tune to the "I'll be there for yooooou!" refrain from Creep and the Sicko. But with the help of a few friends in the building, the issues were soon resolved and the performance went ahead - in true Sheriff style, with great gusto. Individual crowd members were singled out by the band to come up the front and have a boogie to the rockabilly-flavoured You're Not Too Cool (So Baby Dance With Me), with a competition for the best dancer resulting in one lucky girl walking away with a free copy of Sheriff's killer new EP. The band certainly have a great ability to get their fans to come back to see them play time and time again, and the familiar faces were certainly enjoying the songs that they have grown to know and love over the years. Unsurprisingly, it was the super-popular What You Want that finished the evening off, which saw Watson run up to the venue's balcony/mezzanine level. An audience member threw him his guitar lead, and he played the song's final moments from his position high above his bandmates - before throwing the guitar down into the waiting crowd, where an audience member luckily caught it!

Pick Yourself Up
Gig From Hell
Gunshot Rodeo
Your Mothers Daughter, Your Fathers Son
Creep and the Sicko
You're Not Too Cool (So Baby Dance With Me)
On the Floor
Simon Young  (was on setlist but they ran out of time, not before teasing the crowd with the intro)
What You Want

It's always a bit tough when you have multiple bands on a bill delivering extremely high-energy sets, but tonight's closing act ensured that everyone was able to bring out one final burst of adrenaline - it was of course the relentless dance-punk trio Humans, and with their appearance on the stage, the Gasometer crowd was set to do one thing, and that was PARTY. The trio brought along a laser and smoke machine to set the tone even further, but unfortunately the smoke machine didn't quite work which minimised the impact of the laser; nevertheless the party went ahead and the trio thrashed their way through a short but blisteringly intense set. Notably featuring just a vocalist/keyboardist, bassist and drummer, the obvious lack of guitar isn't something that hinders their sound at all; the overdriven bass becomes the focal point of some very danceable songs. However, it was very hard to draw any attention away from frontman Ram, as he threw himself around (and occasionally off) the stage in the most hyperactive fashion possible, and when he was required to play some keys, he didn't just play - he positively punched them with great abandon, as if they'd somehow done something to really offend him. Crowd participation was warmly encouraged by the band, and not just in the form of singalongs - midway through the set, the boys began passing out grotesque animal masks for the crowd to wear, which they did! In just short of thirty minutes, the young but talented trio worked the room into an absolute frenzy. Concluding with the raucous FUCKTV, from their free three-song demo, was a sure-fire way to keep the crowd moving til the very end.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

"The most amazing thing with electricity" - Sheriff, Cherry Bar, 07/04/2012 - EP LAUNCH!

It's fair to say that this gig was celebrating a LONG-AWAITED occasion that was anticipated by many. You see, generally speaking, most bands usually like to get a studio recording out there as quick as they possibly can, to allow as many people as possible to hear their band and to increase their chance of scoring some live shows. Not Melbourne's Sheriff. The young but super talented "Southern Horror Psychedelic Blues Rock" trio, formed in 2008, clearly decided early on that they wanted to build up a reputation for blisteringly intense live shows above anything else, and as such have been gigging relentlessly since their inception. It was only at the very beginning of last year when they finally got themselves into a studio to smash out six killer anthems to form the very first Sheriff EP. Though the wait has been a long one, the EP is finally available to the public, and on Easter Saturday 2012, the unrelenting force that it is Jimi Coelli (bass/vocals), Thomas Watson (guitar/vocals) and Callum Routledge (drums/vocals) stormed into Cherry Bar and tore the place apart in a performance well befitting the important occasion.

The band's good friend Simon "SP" Cantwell has had the honour of introducing the band to the stage at several gigs prior to this, and he was certainly ready to do it again tonight. He's also a bit of an up-and-coming stand-up comedian on the side, and that was certainly evident in his passionate intro for his friends; his furious ranting ensured that everyone in Cherry stopped whatever they were doing and paid attention to the stage which was soon to host "the best-dressed band IN THIS BAR!" With the appropriately grandiose Also sprach Zarathustra blaring out of the PA, those well-dressed gentlemen made their way onstage, and then it was off with a bang, as the thunderous riffs of What You Want kicked things off. A solid fan favourite over the years, and a track for which the boys recently released a pretty awesome video, this particular track as an opener meant only one thing - tonight, Sheriff meant FUCKING BUSINESS. It is indeed the sign of a good gig when, less than five minutes after it began, guitarist Thomas Watson has jumped off the stage and is entertaining the entire crowd with some up-close-and-personal demonstrations of his impressive shredding abilities. Boom.

If there's one thing to be said for Sheriff, it is that they know how to entertain a crowd, and they do so, at every show they play, for the entire show. Knowing that tonight was a big night for them, they put in an extra special effort, and it certainly paid off in spades, with the packed Cherry crowd not hesitating to bust out their finest moves on a Saturday night. And yes, it's taken them almost four years of their existence to actually release something, but nobody could say that they can't write a decent song. On this occasion, Sheriff showed us that they've written no less than ten of them - ranging from sinister slow-paced stoner-esque grooves like Pick Yourself Up (featuring Watson showing us yet another talent of his, this time on the theremin) to uptempo rockabilly party-starters such as You're Not Too Cool (So Baby Dance With Me). Bass player and main lead vocalist Jimi Coelli has developed a reputation for his witty between-song banter and tonight he was in fine form as usual, declaring "Happy Zombie Jesus Day" on several occasions, and cheekily using it to introduce the band's own song Zombie.

No gig this special would be complete without special guests, and so it was a few songs in that Sheriff introduced to the stage their occasional two-piece horn section, who go by the amusing name of the Horny Bastards. With a trombone and horn backing them up, the middle portion of Sheriff's set featured a much more full sound, and it also certainly helped to accentuate their psychedelic leanings. Though Cherry's not a venue with the best PA in the world, the horns were perfectly audible in the mix, yet certainly not dominant over the stomping swamp-rock of the band they were backing up.

For a band with no released material until now, Sheriff have managed to inspire an extremely devoted following over the years of their existence, and the songs have become extremely familiar to many, which certainly showed in the crowd, where many singing voices other than those coming from the stage could be heard. Coelli's usual request for dancing during favourite You're Not Too Cool (So Baby Dance With Me) (which is aptly written on the setlist as simply "ROCKABILLY") is obeyed with great enthusiasm by a group of people up the front, as they get their boogie on to a tune that certainly takes its cues from the likes of the Stray Cats (a known influence of Sheriff). Meanwhile, the band's heavier numbers such as Simon Young and Gunshot Rodeo inspire plenty of headbanging and fist-pumping. It's a beautiful thing to watch, and the smiles on the faces of the three members onstage say it all. Coelli and Watson give back to the crowd in spades too, with Watson entering the crowd several times throughout the set to shred whenever he so feels like it (where audience members gladly offer him the opportunity to scull a beer or two); being the vocalist Coelli finds such manoeuvres a little harder to pull off, but he does roam around the stage plenty and his movements and passion see him work up an obvious sweat during the course of the set. Rock and roll, baby.

All good things must come to an end, and it was the blistering EP closer On the Floor that rounded out tonight's set on a high note. There weren't really any calls for an encore, but that wasn't surprising, as in one solid hour, Sheriff had delivered an absolutely smashing set which had really left the entire audience pretty much spent of energy, breathless and very very sweaty. Now they've finally got an EP out there, we can only expect Sheriff to be playing some even bigger and better shows in the future.

What You Want
Pick Yourself Up
Your Mothers Daughter, Your Fathers Son
Creep and the Sicko*
You're Not Too Cool (So Baby Dance With Me)*
Gunshot Rodeo*
Take My Hand*
Simon Young
On the Floor
With the Horny Bastards

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Best of 2011 - in recorded form, that is!

I have definitely taken my sweet time getting this one out there - god this time of the year is busy! But there's no way in hell that I wasn't going to post this, as it's something I've always loved doing and so, because this thing is well overdue, let's get it started... with the TOP TEN ALBUMS OF 2011, AND THEY ARE, IN MY HUMBLE LITTLE OPINION:

10. Noel Gallgher's High Flying Birds - Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds
It's fair to say I was pleasantly surprised by this one! But then again, it was always something I needed to give at least a few listens to, given my past musical affinity with Gallagher, or to be more precise some band he used to be in called Oasis. Anyway, as we all know Noel finally left Oasis in 2009, finding himself no longer to put up with the constant war with his dear brother Liam; this would eventually see the Oasis name retired, with the remaining members continuing as Beady Eye, and Noel putting out a stellar album under this moniker. Not too far removed from the Oasis sound, there's plenty of upbeat guitar-driven material with some great hooks, balanced out with a few more reflective slower-paced numbers. Again, a surprisingly good release!
LISTEN TO: The Death of You and Me, AKA...What a Life!, Dream On

9. The Decemberists - The King is Dead
One of the earliest releases from 2011, it's nonetheless obviously made an impression as it's managed to carry itself through the year and have its high quality music stand up alongside all the other brilliant tunes that came along after it. Colin Meloy and his troupe of alt-folk-rocking friends have decided to simplify a bit on this album, cutting back on the lengthy songs and longwinded (but enjoyable!) concepts that have been a noteable feature of the two previous Decemberists albums The Hazards of Love and The Crane Wife. It's all still a very enjoyable listen; Meloy clearly hasn't lost his lyrical eloquence, nor his amazing voice, as he tells those stories as only he can in the form of song.
LISTEN TO: This is Why We Fight, Down By the Water, Dear Avery, June Hymn

8. Dream Theater - A Dramatic Turn of Events

Who would've thought that losing their drummer of 25 years could actually inspire a band to release one of their best albums in quite some time?! With the departure of Mike Portnoy, drummer and one of the two major creative forces behind Dream Theater, in late 2010, many were sceptical of how the band would recover from such a blow. That, coupled with the fact that Dream Theater have arguably been on musical autopilot over the past few albums they've released, meant that many fans of the band were going to treat this album with caution. However, once the new album arrived, there was a genuine sense of surprise in the air that Dream Theater had managed to shake off such a loss and still create an album that sounded fresh and inspired. Though nobody would deny that Dream Theater have slipped comfortably into their sound over their career and that this album is certainly going to sound familiar, on this particular album the ideas seem to be flowing a lot more than than on some of their previous albums. It's a solid album for a band that perhaps some were starting to give up on! I know I wasn't expecting to give this one a top 10 spot here!
LISTEN TO: Build Me Up, Break Me Down, Bridges in the Sky, Outcry

7. A Lonely Crowd - User Hostile

Here's a band I would never have been expecting to place in this countdown, as they're still a relatively underground group from my hometown of Melbourne, and one would think that their material just wouldn't have demanded the same attention as releases from other, more established, acts. However, I've thoroughly enjoyed the handful of live performances I've seen this extremely talent four-piece do, and when this album was released, I thought it might be something I'd enjoy - but not this freakin' much! A Lonely Crowd is the brainchild of the two Ancell brothers, Luke on guitar and Scott on drums, who have been going since 2008 with a variety of musicians getting involved in the lineup at various points. They've finally settled on the immensely talented David Morkunas on bass and keys and Xen Pow on vocals and flute. This album contains recordings from across their career however, so you still get to hear former band members Leah Ceff and Shane Lieber popping up on various tracks, as well as some handy guest vocals from Ennis Tola mainman Tomas Fitzgerald on one track! The band describes themselves as "experimental progressive-acidmath", which despite sounding a little ridiculous, is a good way of describing a sound that has many twists and turns - steadily rocking one minute, gentle the next, absolutely all-out thrashing metal madness the next! Recent live sets have featured a whole lot of new tracks, and the Crowd are currently recording their second album - who knows where they're going to go after this one!
LISTEN TO: Bipolar Bear, ADJustify, Barbed Haywire, Tyranny of Dissonance

6. Fucked Up - David Comes to Life

Ah yes, we are now truly in the business end of things, with an album that received almost unanimous critical praise and earned the Canadian hardcore group a whole new audience. Despite being a pretty sonically abrasive act in the past (and with a ridiculously intense live show to match), on this album Fucked Up try their hand at some new, slightly more accessible ideas - and it's all presented in the form of a concept album, a love story between David and Veronica. You'd never know a band with a name like that could create something so catchy, so melodic and yet still retaining plenty of the intensity that the group have been previously known for. It really was the album that put the boys and girl on the musical map last year, and Australia was blessed to have them tour here twice!
LISTEN TO: The Other Shoe, Turn the Season, Running on Nothing

5. Fair to Midland - Arrows & Anchors

I was a bit late in getting this one; despite persistent recommendations/reminders from a great friend of mine whose musical opinion is ALWAYS one I value, it just didn't make its way into my collection until the very end of the year. Nevertheless, as you can see it's made quite an impression! The progressive rock/metal sound is one that always pleases my ears, and with Fair to Midland, it's nice to see them throwing some new ideas into the mix, including some folk-ish experimentation and some truly varied and impressive vocals (Rikki Tikki Tavi anyone?). Considering I hold bands such as Dream Theater, Karnivool and Dead Letter Circus very dear to my musical heart, this just seemed like a band I should have gotten into years ago! And they've JUST announced an Australian tour, count me in!
LISTEN TO: Short Haired Tornado, A Loophole in Limbo, Rikki Tikki Tavi, Golden Parachutes

4. Floating Me - Floating Me

Ah yes, a band that I've given quite a bit of attention on this blog (and my contributions to Fan Made Recordings as well), and with good reason, given that the five blokes involved with Floating Me have all made themselves a name with other musical endeavours that I've enjoyed in the past. Namely, the musical recipe that is Floating Me is made of three parts Scary Mother, one part Karnivool and one part Cog! Tasty! After a good response to first single Sugar, released in late 2010, 2011 was the year when Floating Me really began to take off in their own right, as they began the year touring with the likes of Shihad and Dead Letter Circus, then released their debut album and headed off on a few very successful headlining ventures! The album itself is quite a mixed bag of sounds; there's plenty of dark and brooding atmosphere present on the likes of Deathless and Xtoto, while upbeat numbers such as Narke and Breaking to Breathe show off this band's incredible rhythm section of Jon Stockman (Karnivool) on bass and Lucius Borich (ex-Cog) on drums! Throwing off the ties to their other work, this album and the live shows they performed throughout the year really showed that Floating Me just might be one of the most exciting acts to come out of this Aussie heavy/prog/rock scene in some time!
LISTEN TO: Narke, Bezhumous, Breaking to Breathe, Across the Gulf

3. Gotye - Making Mirrors

If you have ANY interest in music whatsoever, and live in Australia, then Gotye is a name you probably heard quite a bit in the year 2011, no matter how much you tried to avoid/deny it. It was a mammoth year for the man known to his parents as Wally de Backer, as the second single from his third album, Somebody That I Used to Know, propelled him to far greater heights of fame than he'd previously reached. Well, other than that particular song, the album served as a worthy follow-up to the critically-acclaimed (but not quite as commercially successful, let's not deny it!) Like Drawing Blood. With a five-year gap between albums, it was going to be interesting to see what Wally delivered this time, but his idiosyncratic cut-and-paste style of sample-based composition remained firmly intact on this recording! Yep, on here you can find plenty of musical ground covered, from the smooth jazzy groove of Smoke and Mirrors, to the outrageous 60s-esque pop of I Feel Better, to the outright bizarre sample-driven State of the Art - which just happens to be a song entirely about an organ! Ahh, Mr de Backer, Wally, Gotye, whatever, where will you go next?!
LISTEN TO: State of the Art, I Feel Better, Eyes Wide Open, Bronte

2. Battles - Gloss Drop

Battles' last album Mirrored was one that I enjoyed a HELL of a lot. I enjoyed it so much that when it got to the end of the year 2007 and the time came for me to do my beloved end-of-year chart, I placed that particular disc at POSITION NUMERO UNO. Not like my opinion actually counts for anything, but yeah, in that year I just thought that album particularly ruled (and it had one hell of a competitor in a certain prog-rock/metal album...). Anyway, fast-forward four years and well what do you know, Battles have released their long-awaited second album! But there's been one pretty big change happen in the band - vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Tyondai Braxton left during the recording of this follow-up, deciding for whatever reason that Battles just wasn't the band for him anymore. Fair enough. Nevertheless, Ian Williams (guitars/keys), Dave Konopka (bass/guitar) and John Stanier (drums) decided that Battles was still the band for them, and kept on keeping on to finish this longplayer. And I think we can safely say thank God they did, for this album is sheer brilliance! It's really the kind of album you would have expected them to make; it's a perfectly natural follow-up to Mirrored, with plenty of their trademark mathy noodling and electronic-ish loopy experimentalism present and accounted for. They've even managed to keep vocals present, although not quite in the band - outside help was called for, and Matias Aguayo, Gary Numan, Kazu Makino and Yamantaka Eye responded! All in all, there was a pretty high level of anticipation and expectation for this one in the music community, but Battles managed to deliver and then some!
LISTEN TO: Sundome, My Machines, Futura, Wall Street

It's now time for the big one, and from the moment it was released somewhere in the middle of the year, I knew that it'd take something pretty special to dethrone this one from its position at the top - unsurprisingly, nothing did. But what was it, you ask...

1. sleepmakeswaves - ...and so we destroyed everything
Holy mother of God, what an album. The Sydney post-rocking foursome have been doing their thing and doing it very well since their inception in 2006, but it's been a slow ride in terms of studio releases up until now. There's been a demo, an EP and a split with Tangled Thoughts of Leaving. But it's certainly been quality over quantity and the group have won themselves many fans and lots of positive feedback - and it all resulted in quite a lot of anticipation for this, sleepmakeswaves very first full length album. It's been a long time coming, but my goodness it has been worth it; post-rock is becoming a little overdone for some people, but then again, they probably just haven't heard albums like this. A very large part of post-rock is the extreme variance in dynamics, and sleepmakeswaves certainly know what they're doing in this department. Opener to you they are birds, to me they are voices in the forest (one of many delightful titles on this here album) begins with almost inaudible synth sounds before, without warning, a shrill burst of rapid fire musical mayhem EXPLODES out of nowhere, and then things settle down again, and then things get louder - and so on, and so forth. Elsewhere, the band's command of electronics and glitches are also given a healthy workout here - see the beautiful interlude-ish piece our time is short but your watch is slow for that - and when the album finally reaches it breathtaking conclusion in the title track, there's even vocals. Is there anything this album cannot do?!
LISTEN TO: a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, to you they are birds, to me they are voices in the forest, ...and so we destroyed everything

SO. It took quite a while, but we finally fucking got there! 2011 was a bit of a slow year for me in terms of discovering new music, but as you can certainly see, there were still a few quality releases that pleased my ears immensely. And as always, not everything can make the top 10! Here is, in no particular order, a list of honourable mentions!
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead - Tao of the Dead
Absu - Abzu
Alarum - Natural Causes
Art vs Science - The Experiment
Black Devil Yard Boss - Black Devil Rising
Frenzal Rhomb - Smoko at the Pet Food Factory
Geamala - Forking Paths
La Dispute - Wildlife
Laura - Twelve Hundred Times
Mastodon - The Hunter
Meniscus - War of Currents
Radiohead - The King of Limbs
Steven Wilson - Grace for Drowning
TV on the Radio - Nine Types of Light
Wild Flag - Wild Flag
Wolves in the Throne Room - Celestial Lineage
Whew! There was quite a few of those. Maybe I need to do a top 20 next year? We shall see!

Moving along then, to the top five EPs of 2011! They were...
5. The Khyber Belt - The Khyber Belt
4. I Am Duckeye - Die
3. Heirs - Hunter
2. Solkyri - No House
1. [Me] - Naked
(Again, all Australian acts!)

Top five songs of the year:
5. Fair to Midland - Short Haired Tornado
4. Battles - Sundome
3. [Me] - Like a Fox
2. sleepmakeswaves - a gaze blank and pitiless as the sun
1. Sheriff - What You Want
(because I can!)

Best live release:
Engine Three Seven - Becoming Atmosphere DVD

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

"People won't be people when they hear this sound" - Battles, Forum Theatre, 28/01/2012

New York math-rock experimentalists Battles have certainly found a solid footing in Australia, touring this country on several occasions prior to this year and selling out many of their shows. The group were last on our shores in 2009 as part of the Vivid Festival in Sydney, but since then, a few important events have taken place within the Battles world. Perhaps the most notable of these was the departure of founding vocalist/keyboardist/guitarist Tyondai Braxton, who wanted to take a bit of a break from the band, and so amicably departed during the recording sessions for their sophomore album. But the remaining members – Ian Williams, Dave Konopka and John Stanier – pressed on as a trio, and in 2011 released an absolute beauty of an album entitled Gloss Drop. In Braxton’s absence, the group kept the album mostly instrumental, but for a few songs called upon the talents of a rather impressive cast of guest vocalists – Matias Aguayo, Gary Numan, Kazu Makino and Yamantaka Eye no less! Now, with a returning slot on the 2012 Big Day Out lineup, Williams, Konopka and Stanier dropped by the Forum on a Saturday night to treat their Melbournian fans to something a little more intimate and longer!

Up first on the bill was Melbourne electronic performer Mathew Watson, under the moniker Other Places. On stage left, Williams took care of the synthesizers and electronic-based side of things, while his friend Dave Williams proved himself to be quite handy with the drumkit in the centre of the stage. It was a real shame that Other Places suffered the typical “opening act” effect – that is, there was hardly anyone in the room while they were performing, and those that were there didn’t seem like they were too fazed or affected in any way by the music coming from the stage and PA. However, Watson’s sounds proved very enjoyable, as he delivered a short but sweet set of glitchy electronica that certainly didn’t seem out of place on the bill considering the headlining act. The sound of the PA was absolutely massive too, with some of the heavier frequencies being heard and felt in equal measures. This guy has the potential to go places (pun slightly intended).

There seems to be quite a few people singing the praises of Melbournians Witch Hats at the moment, which was perhaps how they got themselves noticed and got the honour of supporting Battles. However, they didn’t really seem to be the ideal band suited to this particular occasion, and they too received a polite but mostly lukewarm response from the growing crowd. It would be foolish and indeed, blatantly incorrect to say that the band aren’t talented, but their indie/garage sounds just didn’t match the band they were opening for, and it all sounded a little same-old same-old, given that the headlining act for the evening have made a name for themselves for being sonically groundbreaking and a little bit “out there”. This is one band that would definitely be better enjoyed on a boozy weekend night with a lineup of likeminded acts at a venue such as, say, the Tote or the Workers, rather than opening for an international math-rock band at the Forum. But to their credit, they took to the occasion with enthusiasm and vigour, delivering a solid set that gradually got more interesting, but still not interesting enough. For their last song, there was a quick set-up of a keyboard on one side of the stage, which was then played by a previously unseen guest. This all seemed a bit pointless really for only one song, but then again, a few people in the crowd were probably secretly glad that the set had finally come to an end and the focus could finally shift to the headlining act.

Two video screens sandwiched between a wall of amps flickered into life, and the crowd reacted suitably, as three blokes made their way to the rather impressive array of instruments in the centre of stage. With a familiar loop making its way into the mix, it was Gloss Drop opener Africastle that opened the set tonight, and right from the word go it became obvious that Battles were well on their game tonight and were easily going to live up to the expectations that the crowd were placing upon them due to their previous reputation. Williams and Konopka looked suitably busy even in just the opening minutes – in Williams’ case he’d be playing away on his guitar one minute, before abruptly throwing it behind his back to juggle various keyboard and electronic duties. On the other side of the stage, Konopka spent a large portion of the set on the floor playing with pedals, as well as switching between guitar and bass even in mid-song.

Obviously the band are unable to tour everywhere with the Gloss Drop guest vocalists, but as Africastle gave way to Sweetie & Shag, the crowd was introduced to Battles’ simple yet effective way of making sure the vocalists’ presences were still felt in the live situation. Blonde Redhead’s Kazu Makino appeared on the video screens in pre-recorded form, delivering her vocal lines to the song in perfect accompaniment to the trio who were recreating the song on stage. The band would use this trick a few more times throughout the evening – namely with Matias Aguayo on Ice Cream, and Gary Numan on My Machines. It’s always fun to see a band perform songs a little differently onstage than they did on their album, and Sweetie & Shag and Ice Cream had some very interesting extended outros. And of course, in Braxton’s absence, the pair of older songs that made it into the set were given something of a sonic makeover. An early rendition of Atlas, which saw the crowd understandably lose their shit as soon as those recognisable riffs made their way into the mix over Stanier’s unrelenting metronomic assault, saw Braxton’s pitch-shifted vocal wackiness replaced with what sounded like a children’s choir. Though this new approach to the song was a bit unexpected, for the most part it still sounded like the song that the fans know and love from the group’s immensely popular debut album Mirrored, and it got probably the biggest reaction on the night. Another popular track from Mirrored, Tonto, was stripped-back and not performed to its full studio length, however unlike Atlas it was debatable whether this new version of the track worked well with the crowd.

All through the night, there seemed to be absolutely no faulting the performance of the three people onstage – at some points of the set, it wasn’t clear whether those were indeed humans up there, as their musicianship frequently reached robot-like levels, especially in the case of Stanier. No matter how complex the loops got, no matter how many layers of sound were layered upon other layers of sound, Battles just refused to fuck up. Finally though, as Gary Numan appeared on the video screen to sing My Machines, it was technical difficulties that threatened to derail an otherwise flawless performance. Williams struggled furiously with his pair of keyboards, but during most of the song, it seemed that he could not get any sound out of them and at one point a technician had to quickly dash onstage to attempt to fix the problem – which he apparently did. By the end of the song though, it seemed all was rectified, and the trio brought it home with a solid rendition of Futura, the video screens featuring a clever animated display of the pink mess that adorns the Gloss Drop album cover.

An encore at this point seemed a little unnecessary, but the crowd certainly weren’t complaining about the chance to have more Battles in their life, and Williams and Konopka kicked it all off with a feedback-drenched introduction to the concluding track on Gloss Drop, the sonic behemoth that is Sundome, before being rejoined by Stanier after a few minutes (no doubt he needed a bit of extra time to recover!) Though unfortunately this particular track would not feature the vocalist-on-the-screen technique (a real shame, as this song features the amazing Yamantaka Eye from Boredoms), it was still a stellar way to conclude the evening, as the band delivered a delightfully wacky extended version of what’s already a slightly longer than average track! At last, it was all over, and as the band departed the stage, the rapturous crowd farewelled the band in the usual fashion, but there was an added sense of stunned amazement at what those three blokes from New York had just done.
Sweetie & Shag
Dominican Fade
Wall Street
Ice Cream
My Machines