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Saint Surly: Lo/Sketches

Article originally appeared on 4ZZZ May 25th 2017

It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Saint Surly, so long that some might have thought he was out of the game, then -out of nowhere- instead of the unexpected but predictable follow up to The Gleaner Part 1, up pops Lo/Sketches, something altogether better.

Saint Surly has always leaned heartily into instrumental hip hop, with a wild array of samples and eclectic beatscapes that often reminisce over the more obscure elements of the genre, though without languishing in the homage trap or rolling around in references like some kind of sample swine.

It’s a certain kind of restraint you don’t often see, but, for Lo/Sketches, it seems those reins haven’t exactly been loosened so much as changed out for a better bridle setIn some ways it can feel as overt as it does subtle, some of the sampling comes close to basically checking the chambers, and while it digs pretty hard on a few of these notable tropes it does so sparingly and with an organic grace that is immediate in a nostalgic way. While it can feel a little too conspicuously humble at times, that’s far preferable to any kind of overt gloating and actually leaves some room for interpretive enjoyment.

Most notable are the portions of full blown lyricism, a rarity for Surly that drags the hip hop out of the instrumental and throws it on stage. Tracks like DustyOnetime, and Guilty shine rather than glare, adding a robust new dimension that never felt missing until it appeared.

For something billed as sketches, or self-referentially as “a mix of hazy instrumentals and spot-welded rap acapellas [Sic],” the overall flow, track to track transitions, and general smoothness is really to be commended. There’s a seamless quality that’s lent in part by the obvious lo-fi intent and occasional scratch masking, but it comes out as curation, these are contiguous chapters bound together and not simply a box full of singles for sale. Lo/Sketches is a wonderful and welcome surprise that shows Saint Surly at his best.

Shrimpwitch: Eggs Eggs Eggs

Article originally appeared on The Music May 11th 2017

Shrill, fierce and loose, living in the vein of Bikini Kill, Shrimpwitch is ripe with classic riot girl motifs and a distinctly Aussie twang and colloquial quirkiness. Shrimpwitch’s debut EP is the best ten minutes of thrashed out sentiment on the scene, and it hits like a shot of vodka with a face slap for a chaser. Although it’s missing a bit of the personal charm and banter captured on their Live At The Tote recordings, it’s not lacking any of the bracing ferocity or frenetic energy of those performances. With two main ingredients and four hot tracks, Eggs Eggs Eggs is a simple but delicious recipe.

Ellis Dewald: Hammer

Music video made for Brisbane Band Ellis Dewald

Spirit Bunny: Spirit Bunny

Article originally appeared on The Music Apr 21st 2017

To get a feel for Spirit Bunny, put your hand on a Tesla ball and tell your hair not to stand up. Spirit Bunny almost crackles with that same electronic frisson, yet it feels, if not contained, then channeled into an amazingly precise conduit with clear purpose. A feather-light mesh of synth, key, repurposed rustic-tech, and coordinated percussion that’s as meticulous as the other elements are gritty and distorted. Battles, the second track on the album, is the audio equivalent of Ghost Dog nodding to RZA in the street, an understated acknowledgement of peers on different missions. It could be pure coincidence but it seems more like well deserved confidence.

El Michels Affair: Return to the 37th Chamber

Article originally appeared on 4ZZZ Apr 24th 2017

Back in 2009 Leon Michels, le titular the in El Michels Affair, put together a collection of funk riddled neo-soul renditions of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The original being an inarguably seminal album, certainly sacrosanct to some, Michels efforts were met with both derision and celebration. Seen by some critics as poorly sketched shadows of their inspirations, and by others (Raekwon included) as interesting extensions of source material, obviously the best thing to do was wait almost a decade then try the same thing all over again.

Where Enter the 37th Chamber was a more straight laced piece of interpretive derivation, Return to the 37th Chamber offers a much more oblique approach to appropriation, with far less Wu-Tang touchstone moments than the 2009 offering. In the intervening years acts like Vulture St Tape GangKerbside Collection or BADBADNOTGOOD have done a lot more to reshape the territory, El Michels Affair seems almost tawdry in its ministrations now, a little late game Mrs. Robinson play.

The whole thing would have been better served without the immediate affiliation, the ghost of the Clan hovers over this, and not completely in that pleasant Patrick Swayze way. Standing alone these could have been a brace of largely instrumental curios smattered with surprising vocals, a handful of interesting thematic deviations and a benignly upbeat disposition, making your toes take note to tap later. So you know, all in all, good, good, not bad.

That’s what a Return to the 37th Chamber feels like, really, not exactly fresh and not exactly stale, a state of fresh-yesterday forward thinking nostalgia that feels like a score to an unwritten movie you’re sure you know you saw, which, if you wanna talk appropriation, is like a stalker becoming their own victim by wearing their parents’ clothes. That’s not how identity theft works.

Mid Ayr: Elm Way

Article originally appeared on The Music Apr 21st 2017

Mid Ayr’s latest four-track is one part pop-rock, three parts dream-gaze, in almost that exact measure. Going through Elm Way is like taking a late summer detour through an innocuous suburban estate. Sure, it’s a well manicured piece of civil construction but it lacks some of the gritty thrill you get from more rustic projects. Underneath all the production it becomes much harder to connect with Hugh Middleton’s meaning, especially after revisiting last year’s earnestly lo-fi leanings. Hopefully down the road is a middle ground in the shape of an album that blends the best of both.

K.Flay: Every Where Is Some Where

Article Originally appeared on The Music Apr 7th 2017

K Flay is the kid Missy Elliot and PJ Harvey might have raised.Scathingly witty, sardonic but not too dark, instantly upbeat and engaging, Every Where Is Some Where follows her first album’s trend of typical irreverence and atypical construction, blurring honest and understated lyricism with an addictively anarchic beatscape and fiercely delivered conviction. K Flay somehow manages to back moments of vivid rage against tranquil pieces of vulnerability, stitching a dozen disparate elements into something immediate and consistently delightful. Even her outright vulgarities are well-earned, varied, and as purposefully placed as every detail in Every Where Is Some Where.

Julie Byrne: Not Even Happiness

Article originally appeared on The Music Apr 7th 2017

It’s been said before, but Julie Byrne’s got that Joni Mitchell thing going on, meandering through folky feelings and slenderly plucked strings, describing the scenery with expansive yet laconic candour. Not Even Happiness is Byrne’s second trip into this territory, while it finds her better prepared, or at least more polished in production, it’s also our second trip here and it feels a little like getting a postcard from the vacation you took last year. Byrne is clearly a natural songwriter, so it’s a real pity that among a handful of beautiful but interchangeable tales, the interlude is the standout.

The Meltdown: The Meltdown

Article originally appeared on 4ZZZ April 6th 2017

Who would have thought there were so many Australians with soul. It seems like every week there’s a new quartet, collaboration, ensemble or collective, crooning their way to success with brassy aplomb, most of them with more instruments than a hedgehog has quills. It’s almost enough to make you want to have a meltdown, until you actually have one. Which leads us here, either a humorous segue or grim portent depending on your narrative lens.

More than just an unfortunate spillage in the dairy isle and a six month ban, The Meltdown in question here are a seventeen piece funk, country, soul, guitar, synth, posi-goth, hyphen behemoth. Scratch that, they’re actually just a modest eight piece of Melbourne based Soul/Jazz/Blues. Brought to you buy the purveyors of the finest radioactive gospel.

They’re really good at what they do too, managing to make a forty minute record play on long past any real sense of time, and the tongue-in-cheek decision to put long winded country blues ballad Forever And Always before Don’t Hesitate’s alt-gospel proselytism of positivity is just one of many master strokes of ironic cohesion. Swaying between bouts of mild-tempo’d pain and moderately paced pleasure, big-brass spear and backup vocals at hand, un-derisively self-titled is an album poised to leap into the roiling fray of the fatted music industry midriff.

We live in tumultuous times, and having something familiar like this to fall back on can be a great relief. So, imagine the comfort of slipping in and out of genre tropes like trying on the guests’ coats at your parents’ key party, this one a little George Clinton and that a little Marvin Gaye, all of them still super-cozy despite or because of being so big you’ll never touch the sides. In this way, The Meltdown are a misnomer made balm and prescribed against their moniker. Keep rubbing it on and surely you will find relief.

Diet Cig: Swear I’m Good At This

Article originally appeared on The Music Apr 3rd 2017

Sometimes a two-piece can come out thin and slip into overcompensation. Instead of filling those similar spaces with bouts of distended distortion and riff indulgence, Diet Cig lean into their sparsity like it was Archimedes’ lever. There’s a raging softness knitted into the duo’s angst that makes their debut joyful and refreshing, both in timbre and taste. Swear I’m Good At This is an aural security blanket wrapping up the damaged teen in all of us, telling us it’s alright not being okay, being hurt, angry, happy, manic; but this album is so far from alright — it’s great.

Lastlings: Verses

Article originally appeared on The Music Mar 17th 2017

Almost effervescent, Verses deals R&B/soul doused in pop lyricism, glassine synths and subversive club beats that dabble in early dubstep without delving into the monstrous modernity of it. When it excels at the blend it can be quite striking, but none of it necessarily sparks, often lacking the grandiose gut-punch needed to really impact. All softly culminated crescendos, Verses acts like a lead-on for something bigger and, paired with their previous EP, comes across as prologue part two of a story that hasn’t been written yet. It’s only the anticipation that sucks.

Lonelyspeck: Lave

Article originally appeared on The Music Mar 6th 2017

Lonelyspeck’s second EP is like being adrift on a glass sea. It’s rife with slightly distorted, crystalline beauty; peaceful and enchanting, but also distinctly sharp, with an air of purposeful refraction. Sione Teumohenga lets their voice wash across the five-track offering with amazing lightness, dipping in and out of their instrumentation and skittish ambient trappings with casual ease. It often feels as though their singing is simply another sample, a synthetic string to be plucked and composed alongside the rest of their tools. Lave is an unexpectedly lively thing, ponderous yet full of hidden depths and immediate appeal.

Nadia Reid: Preservation

Article originally appeared in The Music Feb 23rd 2017

Loquacious but laconic, almost despondently idyllic, Preservation is a deeply personal emergence story framed as though Gus Van Sant were directing a butterfly biopic, so that every triumph still feels a bit muddy and conflicted. Reid’s latest comes with a much fuller sound than her first, somehow rounded and confident while still maintaining the supple, yearning vocality and folkish modernity of her storytelling. Effectively an album about the exploration of self, its climaxes are more intimate and more subtle, the sounds of minor successes put to string. Preservation is mellow, mature and quietly at peace with the world.

Sampha: Process

Article originally appeared on The Music 20th Jan 2017

After years of featured cameos that almost incidentally highlighted his talent, everyone’s been waiting on Sampha’s debut LP.

While his Process contains the same exquisite delicacy of his previous appearances, here it’s built upon with an eclectic sense of intimacy and spacious arrangements. The album begs to be toured through a suite of perfectly furnished rooms while Sampha gently explains their purpose and inspiration.

Lead single, Blood On Me is easily the most raucous and obvious track of the lot, but the other cuts run much deeper. Where this song functions as an antagonistic shout, the rest are positive in rumination; it’s as though he put the anger part of sadness at the front so he could deal with what’s to come — a beautifully dissonant and unexpected approach that feels oddly comforting.

The instrumentation before and after these early upbeat tracks is rendered quite sparingly, with minuscule drum loops and sparsely picked keys layered with effortlessly intricate effects. Of course, this leaves most of the work hanging on Sampha’s delivery. Constantly treading a course between fortitude and fragility, like skimming a stone across a lake with no bottom, there’s just enough bounce in his voice to keep the stories spinning across the expanse.

Totally welcoming yet vaguely opaque, intimate but not exactly personal, Process never demands anything of you but has plenty to share. It’s well worth your time to check out what’s on offer.

Duke Garwood: Garden Of Ashes

Article originally appeared on The Music Jan 27th 2017

If you hold Duke Garwood up to the light, all you might see is the silhouette of some gothic country contemporaries. It’s easy to pick out those influences, but much harder to dig up the true meaning in his work. Whether celebratory or inflammatory, there’s a not-quite-resigned passivity there, almost nonchalance, and it can make you wish he were more chaotic and melancholic. Although full of sumptuous imagery and crafty instrumentation, Garden Of Ashes is slightly too delicate, too ‘take me as you will’, and Garwood’s crushed sandstone intonations often leave much of the emotion just out of reach.

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