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