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Minor Victories: Minor Victories (Orchestral Variations)

Article originally appeared on The Music Jan 23rd 2017

Last year, members of Mogwai, Slowdive and Editors put together an album over the internet. What was built from shared digital snippets, and supposedly shaped as a noise-rock record with female-driven vocals, grew into Minor Victories. Released into the high middles of success, it ultimately lay just outside the expectations of each band member’s audience, and Minor Victories (Orchestral Variations) does it again. By not being a literal orchestral rework but rather a ground-up re-imagining, stripped of Rachel Goswell’s vocal presence and the vestiges of its prior construction, these variations are exquisitely rendered but vacuous portraits of space without stars.

Little Simz: Stillness In Wonderland

Article originally appeared on The Music Dec 19th 2016

Where Little Simz’s debut was a rough and ready statement of intent, her follow-up is the repercussive processing of that ambition. Stillness In Wonderland is both a pause in the maelstrom of success and a self-reflective retort. This is an artist actively questioning her art and managing to couch deeply personal sentiments inside brash statements. So, there’s still posturing, but the vulnerability beneath lends the brazen some much needed ballast. While on the surface Simz still cyphers formidably and spits rhymes as frenetically as ever, it’s in the stillness that her intentions are most clearly heard.

Childish Gambino: Awaken, My Love!

Article originally appeared on The Music 13th Dec 2016

If his work on the FX program Atlanta has shown anything, it’s that Donald Glover delights in defying expectation. Now, acting as Childish Gambino, it’s on display again – taking the roots of his earlier work on a surprising but enthralling trajectory. Much in the same way his show fuses magical realism with the absurd and high-human drama, so to does Awaken, My Love! fuse the best of some disparate elements into something far more, heading away from rap fundamentals and wandering closer to Zappa territory while wearing George Clinton’s soulful shoes. Full of howling passion and exemplary funk, this is not just some of Gambino’s best work, but some of the best out there.

Miranda Lambert: The Weight Of These Wings

Article originally appeared on The Music Nov 22nd 2016

Underpinning the tales of heartbreak and hope on Miranda Lambert’s sixth solo album is a lightness of instrumentation which bears the rustic weight of woe that gates the genre. Littered with anecdotal Americana, we’re delivered a full gamut of rural spiels, from the lonely gal at closing time to the long-suffering lover burning with doomed optimism. What’s really outstanding about Lambert’s latest is the complete lack of self-satire or post-ironic recognition throughout its exhaustive 24-track run, which has to say something about the credibility of the erstwhile reality TV star if not her unimpeachable drive and sincerity.

Highly Suspect: The Boy Who Died Wolf

Article originally appeared on The Music Nov 22nd 2016

Following on from their Grammy Award-nominated debut, Mister Asylum, the trio’s latest release covers a lot of the same ground that grunge pioneers started mapping back in the ’90s, and continues their journey into innocuous rock peppered with ample angst. It’s got a fair share of toe-tapping tunes, like the Queens Of The Stone Age-tinged Postres, but they’re often backed by lustreless elements (like a strangely joyless cover of Send Me An Angel), and the lyrics tend to swing between lamentation and absurdity. However, when they do break away from imitation, there are glimpses of something really worthwhile that might be better explored next time.

Mister Ott: Single Shot

Article originally appeared on 4ZZZ Nov 29th 2016

Most people are gonna have trouble picking out the distinction, but Mr Ott calls itself ethio-jazz, or is at least largely inspired by Matthew Ottignon’s travels with Dereb the Ambassador and the work of Mulatu Astatke, the ostensible father of the genre. While it shares a lot of the same cultural antecedents, it’s very much a western creature, not world music exactly, but a new world amalgamation that feels more akin to BADBADNOTGOOD’s gap year in Addis Ababa than something more traditional.

As ever in this kind of category, your enjoyment of instrumental cadent drift will power your intake of the album. Much of Single Shot has a tumbling kineticism that harkens back to  some of the finest examples of camp ’60’s cinema title sequencing. As fun as that sounds, there’s an almost ingrained futility in being able to invoke an image without putting purpose to it.

At times it’s easy to start wishing there was more variation, but that’s at odds with something that’s predicated on a melismatic structure, the extended build of minute variations riffing on a central theme. Each track does contain its own small quirks, like the almost chip tune deviations that bookend Snakebite or the percussive bedrock that lies under Dragon Majesty, but they’re each mildly obscured by their own main purpose. Even the album closer, Space Will Win, which leans into an almost odyssean preamble that seems most promisingly different, simply takes twice as long as the rest to get there.

In spite of this, or perhaps specifically because of the hypnotic recidivism in its construction, Single Shot is hugely engaging if you surrender to it. Clever, confident, and nuanced in the same way as a colour gradient moving from pink to fuchsia. You can get swept up in it, but you have to be open to the trancelike inundation of African inspired syncopation and the soft melismatic swell of musical minutiae. That or just put it on in the background while you clean the house.

Bleach Girls: Hi!

Article originally appeared on The Music Nov 28th 2016

Driven vocals and an air of millennial nonchalance tinged by the beach scenes of a Byron Bay upbringing, Bleach Girls’ debut EP is short, sweet, and hits you like spiked punch. With a total run of less than 10 minutes, the songs are swift and sharply pointed, all at their best when Fi Fi is leading the lyrical charge from behind her drum kit like Cherie Currie meets Kram. Exactly as the name implies, Hi! is a great place to start a conversation, hopefully we don’t have to wait too long to hear what else they have to say.

Polographia: Friends

Article originally appeared on The Music Nov 21st 2016

The electro-pop duo out of Sydney sell themselves on an ideal of bittersweet nostalgia. They very nearly skewered themselves with the motif, since the idea itself conjures better times you’ve already had, but there’s not really anything to compare them to except a low rpm club scene or the fifth-beer haze of day drinking. If little else, its selection of surreptitious beats and guest samples will get you swaying, but the EP is definitely at its most interesting when it features its friends, with Hurricane in particular offering the most divergent moments in an otherwise vaguely soporific fifteen minutes.

Man & The Echo: Man & The Echo

Article originally appeared on The Music Nov 11th 2016

Man & The Echo’s debut has a certain ‘dinner and a show’ vibrancy to it, the swinging rhythms of buffet cabaret and the storied threads of a Dusty Springfield type somewhere on the road to Vegas punditry.

It’s a skittishly retro sound that eats off a dozen plates, blue-eyed soul buried under bites of disco, country-seasoned crooning and a suitable Britpop base, with songs that take their truths as much from cultural mythology and literary illusion as they do from elderly care and suburban despair. Many of these tales are extrapolated from frontman Gareth ‘Gaz’ Roberts’ own experiences, the years spent working for welfare rights or the dead-eyed pub patrons staring back at him at night. At times it can brush awfully close to self parody, but there’s an unalloyed sincerity in Roberts’ delivery that buoys the benefit of the doubt, enough to warrant following through on the homespun narrative threads that tie the inspirations to their tracks, and though the rhythms and themes have their own ebb and flow, the energy of the album never wavers.

The UK four-piece present even the most absurd portions of their material with a wholly committed zeal that unifies the album and speaks to their easy cohesion as a group. Even if the mix of elements may seem disparate at first, the end result is something familiar yet wholly idiosyncratic. It’s not new or daring necessarily, but is nevertheless completely fresh. As a first course, Man & The Echo is boldly genuine and compellingly flavoursome.

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The Bamboos: Fever in the Road

Coming down from the rollicking furore of their Medicine Man tour, The Bamboos latest release is more of a low key affair, sombre, sultry and sometimes a little sinister.

While it still maintains the funky baselines, husky horns and a stable of genre perfect rhythms that popularised their music, Fever in the Road has a certain sadness sewn throughout its tracks, a strange despairing vibrancy which marks a thematic departure for the band, both intriguing and disconcerting.

Beginning the trip with Avenger, a ghostly and synthetic piece, Fever chicanes early through highs and lows, settling finally on a tone of almost accusational despondency by the time Looking West ushers in the end of the album. That’s not to say this is depressing fare, it’s simply so much subtler than those that have come before it.

At times fragile and others raucously firm, the leapfrogging vocals of Kylie Auldist and Ella Thompson have a resounding buoyancy even in their most laconic depths, a trick that weaves a perfect point-counterpoint balance for the duration of the album. As always the ensemble casts a flawless backdrop for the two girls to ply their trade.

Founding father Lance Ferguson leads the band through a rock solid collection of riffs and motifs, chords that strike at the heart of nostalgia while keeping their eye firmly on the future. There are moments that ache to be part of the era they emulate, tracks such as Leave Nothing Behind that easily evoke thoughts of the 60’s staples which no doubt inspired them, but it’s in the merging of the modern that Fever’s depth shows through.

The aural canvas laid here is deceptively layered, with moments of psychedelic digression nestled alongside the rousingly anthemic, dap dabbling piano complemented by cowbell and haunting hints of synthesiser tied with natural flair to more organic guitar progressions. nothing feels out of place here and the journey as a whole feels delightfully and purposefully plotted.

For those expecting a rehash of past Bamboos albums you may be disappointed, but for the wiling, Fever in the Road is a soothing departure from the funk laden zealotry that has been the band’s pedigree. Certainly, this is the dark side soul, but it’s by no means a downer.

Warpaint: Heads Up

Article originally appeared on The Music Sep 21st 2016

The third album from the LA group, Heads Up is less of a warning than a statement of confidence, charismatic and full of delicate conviction. There are some moments that’ll make you wonder if they’ve exchanged their ponderous electro-folk for something altogether fizzier, but thankfully the band’s indulgence in lengthier tracks means each song has time to play its ideas right to the end. Each fully embraces its own motifs, a trait that sets the album as a string of insular pieces that still tell a whole story, like abandoned pearls on a hotel dresser.

Freya Josephine Hollick: The Unceremonious Junking Of Me

Article originally appeared on The Music Nov 8th 2016

At first pass, the Melbourne-based country practitioner’s new album feels purpose-built for nostalgia, shaped by the bones of bygone artists and couched in a rustic delivery, but Hollick ultimately follows her own reflective journey. Sprawling and simple, Hollick’s tales shine above the sparsity of instrumentation. The decision to capture the tracks live in Ballarat’s Main Bar brings a raw sense of place to the album and highlights the vital intimacy of the vocals. Darkly saccharine, painful and poignant, The Unceremonious Junking Of Me is a rich and textured release that reshapes the landscape of country to suit itself.

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Tash Sultana: Notion

Article originally appeared on The Music Sep 30th 2016 

Tash Sultana’s Notion is so fully formed that it’s hard to think of it as an EP. Actually, it runs longer than most full-length albums and doesn’t even get winded. Full of lean and layered instrumentation that loops with a silken-psychedelic lilt, vocals that flit from ephemeral drift to beatboxing brash and a core of chords tied tight to a toe-tapping ideal, it’s an immensely impressive outing made even more so by the fact that it’s coming from a single source. Without a doubt, this is a notion worth exploring.

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