Tuesday, September 6, 2011
I applaud The Herd. Not only, as a collective, have they provided us with four successful albums and now a fifth in Future Shade, but they have also nurtured many acts into success through their Elefant Traks label. In amongst their own body of work has come solo projects from basically all of the eight members that form the band; the work of Urthboy, Ozi Batla, Unkle Ho, and Jane Tyrrell’s contribution to Newcastle acoustic troupe Firekites provides a snapshot of the hard work and commitment to the music industry that these guys have delivered. Their political nature and controversial lyricism has further defined their 10-year career, allowing them to reach audiences broader than simply the Australian hip-hop community. And yet they achieve this with such a great sense of honesty and modesty, two attributes that can be hard to find in a genre dominated by big egos and self-indulgence.
My gratitude further extends to their support act, Sietta, of whom Elefant Traks recently signed. The Darwin-via-Adelaide two-piece has received strong recognition for its debut release The Seventh Passenger, culminating in a nationwide support slot with their Sydney label mates. A successful frame of mind usually brings about confidence in any field, and from the first moments of these guys taking to The Gov stage, Sietta were completely at home. A strong performance was merely a fait accompli. Along with two backing singers, lead vocalist Caiti Baker is bold, completely soulful, and full of the elements that made her influences Etta James and Aretha Franklin great. Her flow is smooth, and complements the musical stylings of her compatriot James Mangohig, who has the production and soundscape side of things covered. These soundscapes are eclectic, ranging from funk and soul, to much deeper electronic and bass sounds, whilst even dabbling in amongst the reggae and dub creations that appear to be sweeping the world at present. This is most likely the reason they will go onto great success; their variation of sounds will hold them in good stead going forth into further recordings and tours. And with a breakout song as attractive as current hit What Am I Supposed To Do, the future looks bright for this talented duo.
You can feel the anticipation throughout The Gov as The Herd prepare to take the stage. And when they do, they begin an hour-and-a-half onslaught of pure, no holds barred music. Opener 20/20 is the perfect way to kick off the set, demonstrating the 8-piece at their absolute best both musically and lyrically. The set-up is spellbinding for a hip-hop crew; there are turntables, keyboards, electric and bass guitars, piano accordions, oh, and some MC’s for good measure. Most often, each member takes a turn at assisting the group’s sound with any instrument they can get their hands on. Tracks from their new album demonstrate the progression this group has made over the course of their 10-year history. Jane Tyrrell-penned Grandma’s Song is indicative of their maturity, while the chorus in Spin Cycle is hard to avoid, portraying the urgency of the band’s messages.
Recent singles The Sum of It All and Signs of Life are played to perfection. There’s something about Signs of Life that really hooks you in; there is a slightly off-time feel to it, slowly flowing along, then completely over-emphasised in its culminating fade-out. Popular track from previous album Summerland, The King Is Dead, gets a worthy spin before the band leave the stage, only to return for an encore that largely pleased the sold-out Gov crowd. The group’s brilliant cover of Redgum’s I Was Only 19, possibly the most successful Australian cover of recent time in terms of not only musicianship but also cultural significance, was indeed an emotional performance. Then finally, the crowd was rewarded with a version of the band’s first ever single Scallops, to which they responded with word-for-word sing-a-longs.
My burning after-thought from tonight’s gig was that Australian hip-hop, and in a broader sense, the Australian music industry is a far brighter scene with The Herd around. Their influence on young musicians in the genre has provided it with a level of respectability that can sometimes be lost in amongst the narrow-mindedness of many urban artists in the Australian music landscape. If the band did happen to walk away from the business tomorrow, they would leave the Australian independent in a far better place than they found it in. A capable pair of hands they have brought to us, along with cultural sense, political advocacy, moral conscience, and fantastic music to boot. They still set the pace amidst their contemporaries in all areas, and seem as though they may do so for some time to come.
Monday, August 22, 2011
Adelaide’s own Terry Jones carries on the tradition of many famous crooners on his latest release, It’s My Right To Be Wrong, under the moniker of The TJ Collective. The Collective is formed by a number of well-known and applied South Australian musicians, all supremely disciplined in the style of music that Jones produces. This is made even more enhanced by the fact that these songs are all written by Jones, yet are almost wholly played by the Collective, aside from Jones himself appearing on saxophone throughout the album.
The album itself is a trip through memory lane, covering styles that range from soul and funk to jazz and rock ‘n’ roll. There is even time for some serious scatting work on Soul Provider, another sign of the smooth songwriting that makes this album a success. Possibly Jones’ greatest asset is his ability to cover such a wide range of genres without losing the sound of the collective altogether. April Berry’s vocal performance Once In A Lifetime is simply outstanding, and is something that needs to be heard to be completely appreciated. Two of the more interesting tracks come later in the album in Paris 1967 and Cleopatra. The latter combines slower, marimba rhythms with minimal instrumentation and backing atmospherics, while the former, probably the album’s greatest moment, is a real hark back to, well, 1967 Paris. The horns on this track are simply sublime, as a French narrative floats along effortlessly across a myriad of light rhythms that really encapsulate a classic jazz sound. To be completely honest, it is a track that would come along once in a lifetime, and outdoes many acts in a similar vein attempting these older styles of music in recent years.
If you want to hear jazz/swing/soul/funk/rock/everything played by professional musicians, be sure to grab a copy of It’s My Right To Be Wrong. It is ultimately the professionalism in the production and musicianship that makes this a fun, entertaining album to listen to. Terry is sure to be spruiking these new tracks at a venue near you in the coming weeks, so be sure to keep your eye out for a gig or two and get along to see these great musicians show their wares in the flesh.
- Check out Terry's website for more information.
Friday, August 12, 2011
On most occasions, songs about the trials and tribulations of war can be particularly confronting, especially if you have some relation to a military serviceperson. However, our relationship with those in warzones can often become detached, as we hear little about the work that is done by our soldiers in certain areas of the world. Their stories need to be told, they need to be understood, and this is where Fred Smith comes in.
Fred Smith is no stranger to warzones, having been deployed to places like Bougainville, The Pacific Islands and South America, whilst also working and living in the United States, Iraq and Afghanistan at various stages over the past ten years. Dust of Uruzgan is Smith’s fifth full length album and largely follows on from his previous work in a stylistic sense. For those who are uninitiated, Smith’s lyrics and succinct poetic brilliance provide the real spark for each of his songs, often fronting musical compositions that bear a great resemblance to classic Australian songwriters like John Williamson and John Schumann. His lyricism is easily relatable, and like his songwriting counterparts, Smith provides many snapshots into the lives of those he’s seen or had some kind of relationship with, using his fragile and honest voice to communicate their tales across to the listener.
Dust of Uruzgan focuses largely on Smith’s experiences in the Uruzgan Province of Afghanistan, an area of the country heavily populated by Australian soldiers since the Afghan War begun. Australia’s presence in the region mainly focuses on the training of Afghan soldiers and armies with the overall outcome being the ability of these soldiers to fight independently against rebel Taliban soldiers without the influence of Western forces. Smith provides many accounts on Dust of Uruzgan which go a long way to summing up the feeling of those working in the harsh conditions of war. Sapper’s Lullaby is possibly the most well-written and outstanding song on the album; it depicts the death of Sappers Darren Smith and Jacob “Snowy” Moerland who were killed in landmine accidents in the line of battle. The more you listen to this song, the more you begin to appreciate the outstanding work that our soldiers do for country, and when Smith sings the line “all good things must die” a range of emotions are triggered, not the least pride, helplessness, and overwhelming resentment knowing these men passed away long before their time. It is a true representation of modern wartime and one that will surely stand the test of time through the ages.
On the flipside, Smith also provides more upbeat accounts of life in the firing line, with resounding sentiments of mateship and camaraderie evident on tracks like Niet Swaffelen Op De Dixie, Zeebrugge FOB and Taliban Fighting Man. All of these demonstrate, in differing ways, the friendships made between soldiers of Western countries, and the idea that anyone on your side is immediately your mate. Woman In A War shows another more heartfelt side to Smith’s songwriting, combining with songwriting partner Liz Frencham to display another side to war that juxtaposes its often tough elements we are generally familiar with.
Musically, this is another step-up from Smith’s previous work, with styles varying from traditional folk, bluegrass and Dixieland sounds to more acoustic, low-key compositions that clearly sum-up the differing emotions felt within a warzone. Dust of Uruzgan presents a contemporary Australian take on many traditional themes, inviting a new audience into the current wartime situation, whilst never forgetting the roots left by previous battles and successful Australian songwriters. Smith is destined to become one of Australia’s truly great folk songwriters, and amidst a time of great commercialism in music, it is pleasant to come across such a refreshingly honest record that perfectly portrays the stories of Australian soldiers presently doing us proud in various parts of the world.
- Fred Smith is in the middle of an Adelaide tour that takes in the SA Folk Centre at George St Thebarton this Saturday night, tickets are $20 at the door, with doors at 7.30pm.
Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Having just packed out two shows at the Northcote Social Club in their home city of Melbourne, Alpine were on a mission to maintain the momentum of their 'Villages' tour on its Adelaide stopover at Jive. With the critical and broadcast success of debut EP Zurich well and truly in the bank, the 6-piece appear comfortable and content on keeping things intimate, although this show was a step-up from their previous appearance in this city at the much-smaller Ed Castle Hotel. The crowd was to dictate this point further, as a wide array of mums, indies and moshers converged on the venue in the hope of an enlightening performance on a consequently icy evening.
A small but enthusiastic congregation came together to witness locals City Riots put on their second major support slot in a matter of days at the same venue no less. Having been third in line for Papa Vs. Pretty’s Adelaide appearance two days earlier, and now opening for another touring act in Alpine, I would be expecting a headline slot in the coming days if the trend were to continue. Many in this city are beginning to warm to the local hopefuls, who continue to churn out tight performances each time they take the stage. The blend of deep synths with their unabashed rock sound make for pleasurable listening on older tracks, such as She Never Wants To Dance, and the newer beasts, which are beginning to sound like radio staples almost immediately. With new single In My Head gaining regular airtime and their touring juggernaut set to continue in support of Ball Park Music later this month, don’t expect City Riots to leave your radar anytime soon.
It certainly appeared as though Alpine have made an impact on Adelaide audiences as more people began to wander into Jive following their performance. Though by the time they’d hit the stage, the attendance was incomparable to the band’s Melbourne shows, demonstrating the fact that this city still perhaps neglects great talent in a live format on occasion. Opening energetically with Heartlove, Alpine instantaneously relieved themselves of any inhibitions and set about enjoying every moment of their time on a Jive stage made to seem tiny once filled with the band’s instruments and stage presence. That stage presence is dominated by vocalists Lou James and Phoebe Baker, who, when in full flight, are impossible not to become engaged with. Baker flies around the minimal space available in an ethereal manner, while James largely holds her position behind the microphone, content to rest on her delicate vocal range that, in tandem with her band-mate, really carves out the essence of Alpine’s uniqueness. Once the band rocks out, watching all members move around the stage is simply captivating, as they create music that you really feel rather simply hear.
Tracks from their debut EP Zurich were well represented this evening, with Too Safe possibly the most enjoyable of the lot with its slow and enthralling build-up. The level of crowd participation continued to grow as the band aired a number of as yet unreleased tracks that were well-received amongst the enthusiastic patrons. It is almost scary to think of the havoc that could be caused once the band begin putting together a full-length release after viewing some of its newer material on this occasion. Closer and notable single Villages demonstrates Alpine’s ability to make the simple sound completely grand; the song slowly creeps along courtesy of some 80s inspired synthetic rhythms and elegant harmonies, then suddenly rushes out in a wash of light keyboards, acoustic drumming and raw energy from all involved to create a real pop masterpiece. It is no surprise that the crowd did not want the show to end there. The band’s drummer leapt out and asked if the Adelaide audience wanted one more song, to which they requested and Alpine subsequently obliged. Though I did not catch the name of the song, their performance of an INXS cover slotted in well with the band’s sound and ensured everyone was left cheerful as they meandered into the realms of another Saturday night.
It’s not often in this setting a band can unravel folded arms and genuinely make people want to move to its music, yet Alpine succeeded in making sure everyone in their presence felt involved in what they were watching. The ability to make a crowd consider itself part of the overall experience is the best element of live music, and thankfully, we were witnesses to this tonight. Thank you Alpine, please adorn our fair city again sometime soon.
Take a look at the band's cinematic video for 'Villages' here:
Monday, July 11, 2011
2011: the year that electronic music was revitalized for the better. It’s hard to forego the immense breed of talent arising this year, particularly from artists coming out of the UK. Many would not be complaining though; the mere fact that these skippy beats and heavy rhythms are being reincarnated is enough for a new generation to appreciate, rediscover, and generally feel good about. Enter SBTRKT ("subtract", for those of you playing at home). An intriguing entity in himself, Aaron Jerome, under the guise of SBTRKT, hides behind a distinctive mask, creating a character-like image that represents his brand rather than himself as an artist. It’s a good move, not just because I’ve seen his face and it’s really ugly (I haven’t), but it provides a visual for listeners amidst the often bland image of guitar bands and their timid efforts at creating “the look”. Furthermore, it allows Jerome to distance himself personally from his music, producing an almost intermediary figurehead between his compositions and the listener, whilst removing the personal burden that comes with being a well-known musician.
SBTRKT follows on from earlier single and EP releases aside successful remixes of tracks by M.I.A., Mark Ronson and Underworld. This album really allows Jerome to step out of the shadows of his DJ persona and become a real electronic composer with a simplistic knack for hooks in amongst the conducive sounds of the moment. There is so much variation on this album, something that makes it a pleasure to listen to on repeat. Heatwave begins the album modestly, with vocals and distant synth flourishes working in tandem with pan-shifting beats to create a warm opening. Vocalist Sampha is distinct throughout SBTRKT, and his first port-of-call here is Hold On, a true ballad that employs light atmospheres amidst xylophone lines to provide an eerie, fairytale-like mood. It is here in Sampha’s vocal that Jerome allows his inner crooner to be unleashed, albeit through another voice, and demonstrates that an intrapersonal connection with the audience can still be effective in passing on interpersonal messages to the listener.
The inclusion of a number of female vocalists helps to characterise the album further and demonstrate Jerome’s ability as a DJ to imply the feeling of ‘guest appearances’ in how these tracks vary from the majority of the album. The most notable collaboration here is with Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano, who adds a smooth, silky poise to lead single Wildfire; it is easily the most commercially accessible track on the LP. Jessie Ware’s vocal range is perfectly suitable to the deep electronic rhythms of Right Thing To Do, while Roses Gabor greatly enhances Pharaohs, a highly danceable house track that dapples in disco and funk stylings while maintaining the continuity of the rest of the album. On the contrary, Ready Set Loop is a fast, up-tempo instrumental that possesses a real warped feel, falling somewhere between a loop-heavy electronic act, like PVT, and the dub-step currently fermenting in the music world like a broth on high heat.
We really have a find here though in Sampha; his undeniable delivery is beautifully breathy, incredibly soulful, and all parts raw. And the more you listen, the more you tend to appreciate the talent at hand. Never Never is a classic R&B production, and utilizes Sampha’s succinct range to great effect, working with backing vocals to create a collective feel. He also allows SBTRKT’s exploration into various styles to work so well, as a track like the fast-moving Something Goes Right perfectly juxtaposes the sleuthing grooves of Trials Of The Past. It truly demonstrates that SBTRKT could ply his trade anywhere on the live scene, from the festivals to the seedy bars and far beyond, and his effect would be no less engaging.
Music always comes in waves, regenerations and experimentations. And at present, the 2011 electronic movement fits all of these categories. It is simultaneously reviving sparkly keyboards and harmonies from the 90s while experimenting with new and interesting beats and rhythms to create an eclectic new wave of music. With every month there appears to be a new member on the throne of the scene, healthily pushing the boundaries of their compatriots. And currently, SBTRKT is the king. It may yet take some doing to knock this masked man from the position of crossover electro-royalty.
Have a look at the sweat-laden video for 'Wildfire' feat. Yukimi Nagano here:
Looks as though SBTRKT will be heading our way this October, keep eyes and ears peeled.
As Thomas Rawle, lead singer of headliners Papa vs. Pretty, stated early on in the band’s set, the last time they played in Adelaide was in front of roughly 15 people, so obviously they were delighted to be playing to a Jive crowd that managed to fill the ground floor completely. Of course, this previous performance was prior to the 3-piece releasing their debut album, United In Isolation, subsequently having it featured on the public youth broadcaster, and gaining consistent airplay for rollicking tracks One Of The Animals and Honey. This kind of publicity is huge for a band who’s average age barely reaches beyond the 20 year mark, but it was clear on this Thursday evening that age is no barrier for this talented Sydney group.
Adelaide act City Riots appeared first this evening having been overseas to record their debut album which has been a long time coming for many. At this stage the crowd were still briskly wandering in, but the band managed to put on a professional performance nonetheless, certainly demonstrating their progression as a band in the last few years. I’m sure we can expect more from the group throughout the remainder of the year as the album is released.
Due to time constraints the now filled out Jive crowd were introduced to Melbourne act Redcoats, who immediately had everyone’s horns up. As the band were setting up, I must admit I was highly skeptical of what was to come. The guys look like an authentic 70s rock group; three of the lads sported long, flowing stoner-like locks, while lead singer Emilio Mercuri almost came across as a reincarnated version of Andrew Stockdale, pinned back afro and spearing eyes included. And as they came out to begin their set it was easy to hear the influences of these guys right from the start. Flourishes of Zeppelin, Hendrix, Kyuss, Floyd and Rage Against The Machine all shone through early on the band’s performance. It would be easy to forfeit the band’s credentials based on the fact they were reviving the sounds of their forefathers, but the overriding fact became that Redcoats are simply brilliant at what they do. For the majority of their near 40 minute set I simply zoned out, in a good way, Their style of music is completely mesmerizing, entrancing, and played with an undeniable level of skill to match. Their constant shift of time signatures is something to behold. Mercuri is a true frontman, while guitarist Neil Wilkinson and bassist Rhys Kelly wield their instruments as if they’d just been removed from a time machine that landed in the early 90s. Dreamshaker is a hit with most of the crowd, but it was the longer, more drawn-out songs that really showed the potential of Redcoats going forward. This was certainly a live experience worth witnessing again.
Papa vs. Pretty arrived soon after to kickstart their performance, which was unfortunately marred by numerous feedback issues early on. It seemed to rattle frontman Rawle and created a somewhat disengaging atmosphere at the beginning. However, as soon as the first chords of Heavy Harm strung out, the band seemed far more comfortable on the stage, with the initial sound problems seemingly devoid by this point. Heavy Harm is a great indicator of the band’s sound, as Rawle exquisitely finds his way around the guitar, while the rhythm section of Angus Gardner and Tom Myers allow the band’s music to flow up and down when necessary. At times the mix creates problems in hearing Rawle’s incredible vocals, yet when they do appear they are genuinely unforgettable, falling somewhere in between a rockabilly drawl and a Beatles-esque croon.
One Of The Animals received a huge reception from the crowd as was to be expected, while Wrecking Ball from the band’s Heavy Harm EP displayed a raw grit to the band’s sound. This was brilliantly contrasted by I Still Believe In Us, a far slower track from said EP that demonstrated Rawle’s immense ability with the 6-string, with lush harmonies provided by Myers from behind the sticks. Myers voice consistently enhanced the band’s sound on the night, and especially shone on latest single Honey. This was probably the most well-performed song on the evening; it showcased everything good about the 3-piece, while displaying a level of maturity and comfort on stage that is far beyond their years. The guys completed the set with an unnamed production which they only ever play live, and after a reluctant call from the crowd, returned for a two-song encore to end the night on a high.
Many can sometimes be fooled by broadcast radio these days, with recent countdowns demonstrating that accuracy in determining the best from the rest can sometimes succumb to a popularity contest. However, the recent publicity provided to Papa vs. Pretty was consolidated this evening at Jive; these guys are the real deal. Thomas Rawle is a talent to be reckoned with, and with an apparent 30 albums worth of unreleased material up his sleeve, we can only dream of what the band has to offer up next.