Jordan Millar is one of those rare artists that I fell in love with at first note. “Walking on Me” was just so ridiculously catchy, and its follow-up “Maps” was every bit as impressive. I knew I’d love his latest album Cold Lights On Curious Minds, and I wasn’t disappointed.
“Maps” really is the perfect opener, as it sets the scene for an album that’s instantly accessible. It’s an easy blend of pop and folk, two genres that underpin many of the album’s tracks. Not that Jordan is a one-note pony. He shows more edge with “High Horse”, a bluesy tune which wears its heart on its sleeve. I also felt the helplessness and hurt in the moving “Guilty”. “Losing Hope” is a poignant number made that much more beautiful with Elle May’s angelic guest vocals.
“More Time, More Money” is a fitting closer for an album that features guest appearances from many of Jordan’s friends including Elle, his touring buddy Jack Carty, Australian Idol graduate Amali Ward, and acclaimed keyboardist Beau Golden. This track feels like a jam, a coming together of voices and hand claps and instruments that truly reflects the collaborative nature of Cold Lights On Curious Minds.
It might have been a group effort, but Jordan is the star here. His acoustic guitar chops drive the tracks, and his warm voice has an honest, organic quality that immediately draws you in. This album is a really easy listen. Some might criticise it for being too easy, too pleasant, but since when has that been a bad thing?
Image source: iTunes
The sophomore effort from Perth’s Sons of Rico was always guaranteed to put fun first. The band’s moniker was inspired by cult comedy classic Napoleon Dynamite, and their latest record playfully pays tribute to a cheesy Latin crooner. The good vibes are in abundance, but by the end I was left scratching my head.
Perhaps that confusion isn’t a bad thing. I admire Sons of Rico’s ambition. The album opener “Against the Grain” is a big bold start, and while the second track “I’m Not Thinking About You” gets a bit shouty at times, it makes its point. “In My Eyes” was a real highlight for me, with angelic harmonies combining with raw rock riffs.
And then the album takes a sharp left turn, abandoning its modern rock feel for something much more retro. “Just My Type” and “Adjustable Value” call to mind Electric Light Orchestra and Supertramp. Referencing such classic rock pioneers isn’t a bad thing at all. It just doesn’t gel with what came before.
I’m still not sure whether that’s a problem though. Sons of Rico might be a band still trying to work out what they want to be, or they could be an outfit that enjoys making music genre constraints. In any case what they do is damn good fun, with a bubbling energy that’s infectious. Perhaps that’s what matters most.
In Rico Glaciers hits stores on March 29. Sons of Rico will launch it at the following shows:
5 April 2013 – Amplifier Bar, Perth
6 April 2013 – Settler’s Tavern, Margaret River
11 April 2013 – Sol Bar, Maroochydore
12 April 2013 – Great Northern Hotel, Byron Bay
13 April 2013 – Alhambra, Brisbane
26 April 2013 – Revolution, Geelong
27 April 2013 – The Workers Club, Melbourne
2 May 2013 – Good God, Sydney
3 May 2013 – Hoey Moey, Coffs Harbour
4 May 2013 – Great Northern Hotel, Newcastle
Image source: JB Hi Fi
The Evening Cast might be a fledgling act, but their stellar debut EP Lake proves the Victorian band is a force to be reckoned.
This is a lush recording, with exquisite layered harmonies and rich orchestration. It takes some talent to ensure a big sound doesn’t become a mess of noise, but The Evening Cast are up to the challenge. No doubt they’ve been guided well by the production team of Joe Laporta (Bjork, Foo Fighters) and Marty Brown (Clare Bowditch, Art of Fighting). The skills of these supporting players make this disc seem more polished than most debuts.
I love the poetic lyrics and quirky romantic of the EP opener “Knots and Bows”. The poppy “Surprise” and “Heartbeat” are pure joy. Not that it’s all sweetness and light though. “No Stopping” shows a darker determination with its pounding pianos and earnest vocals. I really felt this one.
At seven tracks, Lake is much longer than most EPs. It feels more like a mini album than an EP. It’s a bit risky for a new act to take on such an ambitious release, but The Evening Cast are up to the challenge. There are no filler tracks here. Lake is an excellent debut that shows the promise of this exciting Aussie act.
I’ve sat down to write this review a few times. However the problem is, every time I slip The Magician’s Daughter into my stereo, I forget to make any notes. Not because there’s nothing noteworthy about Mama Kin’s sophomore effort, but because the music tends to take over.
My analytical brain is rendered defenseless against her haunting voice and uncanny knack for crafting a song. It seems wrong to dissect the album note by note or tune by tune. It’s much easier to just listen and appreciate it. And so I do, until next time that I intend to write the review and realise that I never did get around to taking those notes.
I really love this eclectic collection of songs. Mama seems to rail against being placed in any box. She serves up retro soul, gentle country, sultry blues, and more with ease, borrowing from whatever musical styles she deems best to tell her stories. The term “warrior songs” came to mind on one of the many occasions I’ve listened to The Magician’s Daughter, and I can’t seem to get rid of it. There’s a lot of feminine strength here, the strength of loving someone, of being a mother, of feeling loss and living through it. I was so struck by the tender intimacy in tracks like “Bosom of Our Bed” and “The River as She Runs,” the stoic pain of “Cherokee Boy,” and the explosive power of “The Fire.”
Mama Kin proves she’s a real musical force with her exquisite second album The Magician’s Daughter. It’s released across Australia on February 22.
Image source: Liveguide
After releasing a solo album a couple of years ago, Queensland’s Mark Boulle is back with his band mates for Haba Dudes album number five. On Gofer Land the outfit is billed as Mark Boulle and the Haba Dudes but make no mistake; this recording is still very much a band effort.
Mark Boulle’s ruggedly raw voice stands out front and centre, but the instruments really elevate it, whether they’re the swell of strings, a classic piano, or some simple hand claps. These elements help bring the songs Mark penned to life. They add gravity to the words, and realise Mark’s vision.
When you slip a Haba Dudes record on, you know you’ll be entertained. At 15 tracks Gofer Land is an ambitious album, but its diversity ensures that it doesn’t drag. The band seems to delight in delivering the unexpected.
The album starts with the laidback “Lovin in Your Mind,” a track which is as much fun to listen to as it seems like it was to perform. “Hurt U Again” is another of those numbers that feels like we’re listening to a jam session. I was thrilled to be taken along for the ride. More highlights come with the ultra-catchy “Take Me Slowly” and sultry “Animal Kingdom.” I was beginning to almost feel like I knew what to expect from the Haba Dudes, some gypsy music here, a little folk there, when they threw me for a loop with “Gypsy Man.” This track shows real fire with its rocking, reverby guitars.
I guess you never really know what to expect from the Haba Dudes. And that’s just why I like them, and their latest release Gofer Land.
Image source: Mark Boulle and the Haba Dudes Bandcamp page
With the year drawing to a close, I expected I had heard all of the albums destined to make an impression on me in 2012. And then I started up King of the Sun by Jamie Hay.
It’s an album of pure heart, a collection of songs that’s raw and organic and poignantly stripped bare. With little more than an acoustic or slide guitar, sometimes a banjo, to keep time, Jamie’s vocals take center stage. There’s so much passion and soul in his roughened voice, it grabs you and forces you to listen until the last note.
King of the Sun is quintessentially Australian in many respects. Jamie’s songs reference local towns and use the word “mate” casually. They take place in pubs, not bars. But your average Aussie bloke wouldn’t share as much of himself as Jamie does here.
It’s hard to name standout tracks, because every one is so bloody good. I was still moved by “Rabbit Hole,” the single I heard months before. “The Gift of Years” also compels, an a capella track that is so striking and brave. It’s fitting though for an album that dares to be exposed.
I feel like I can’t say enough good things about King of the Sun, so perhaps I should just say this. I haven’t gone through my recent reviews and decided what album is my favourite of the year, but I’m not sure I need to. I’m pretty sure this is it.
Image source: Hobblehoy Bandcamp
Perth pop-rock act TV Snow have overcome adversary to release their debut album Red.
The album was recorded at a time of great excitement for the band. They were travelling around the country and keen to build on the promise they’d shown on their debut EP. But just a day after recording wrapped, tragedy struck when their bassist Ben Linden was fatally attacked by a shark off Wedge Island.
It’s a harrowing story which makes listening to the album all the more poignant. A lesser band might never have released it, but I’m glad they did. The tracks show us a group that’s so cohesive, with tight vocal harmonies and a true understanding of how their instruments work together.
I’d be lying if I said it was perfect. The songs are fun to listen to, but they’re not really as dynamic as they might have been. Few cut through as the kind of tracks you want to hear again and again. I did love the optimism of “Boy Wonder,” and I appreciate the way the strings make “I Will Dance” come alive. However I’d be hard pressed to recall the melodies of most of the other songs. Rather than being a truly impressive collection of songs, Red is the kind of album you could slip on at your next barbeque without complaints.
It’s not perfect, but Red is a fun listen. It has none of the sadness that defines TV Snow’s career right now, and it’s a fitting celebration of Ben’s contribution to the band.
Red is available digitally now and in stores from January 4.
Image source: TV Snow website
It’s been a little more than four years since the first Parx-e compilation found its way into my stereo. The second was released with little fanfare, but I’m thrilled to have a copy of the third installment keeping me company today.
The third Parx-e album is supersized, with two discs rather than the single CD the first delivered. I suppose there was just too much talent to cram onto one! The quality certainly hasn’t suffered, with Parx-e Volume 3 serving up an enticing and eclectic mix of Aussie and international indie acts.
It’s that variety that ensures that even at a couple of hours, the third Parx-e doesn’t feel like a slog. However it doesn’t feel like we’re jerked around between genres either. The Parx-e team must have made some killer mix tapes in their teens, because they know how to put together a diverse collection of music without jarring our ears. OK, so the metalbilly stylings of Black Hayet might have jarred me just a little bit, but I think that was the point!
I was thrilled to see some of my favourite independent Aussies like Bec Plath and Catherine Traicos featured. Just as the first album did, the latest Parx-e also introduced me to some new talents like pop-rockers Crossing Romeo and playful jazz pop chanteuse Rosaline Yuen. I’m sure I’ll find myself delving into the catalogues of many of the contributing musicians.
Go Go Sapien and Steph Hannah, two of the artists featured on the disc, will play a free show Brunswick’s The Penny Black on October 19 to launch Parx-e Volume 3. The album will be officially released and available for free through the Parx-e Zine website the following day.
Image source: Parx-e Zine
When I heard Jake Diefenbach and Emma Dean had teamed up for a new act called Geppetto, I was thrilled. These musicians were behind two of the most creative and exciting releases I’d heard in recent years, and I was excited by the marriage of their creative talents.
Into the Woods delivers everything that I hoped it would. Emma and Jake are the perfect pair, with vocals that blend beautifully, and a shared sense of theatricality that’s only heightened in their collaborative work. It feels like the score for some modern, off-Broadway show. To suggest these songs wouldn’t find themselves in the mainstream theatres of New York is no criticism. There are classical elements there, but the electro beats and other contemporary influences would probably turn off the Big Apple’s more conservative theatre goers. Instead I imagine this music gaining a cult following amongst hip young things.
Into the Woods bolts out of the gate with two big showstoppers: the title track and “This is Where the Trouble Starts.” The poignant and tender “Forged in Flames” which follows allows us to catch our breath. It marks a turning point in the EP, as the remaining songs are also in a gentler vein. These delicate numbers are exquisite, and show yet another side of this dynamic duo.
The only problem with Into the Woods is that it seems too big for an EP. I’m left wanting so much more than this short form can possibly provide. I like to think of it as a teaser for a full-length work, rather than a completed project. Into the Woods is beautiful, brave, and special, and hopefully just the entrée. Bring on the main course Geppetto; I’m still hungry.
Image source: Emma Dean online store
Queensland’s Carmichael introduces us to his brand of electro-pop with the EP Falling For You.
While it’s billed as an EP, the recording feels a lot more like an old school single. “Falling for You” is the centerpiece, with a standard version, an “alt version,” and three remixes. That focus on one track makes the others feel like B-sides simply supporting the title tune.
“Falling for You” is a solid number though, which undoubtedly deserves its time in the sun. I was particularly impressed with the lyrics, which are far more poetic than the words we find in the average floor filler.
The stripped back coda “Time” is an exquisite bridge between the lead single and Carmichael’s creative cover of “Tainted Love.” It takes real musical instincts to reinvent a song so dramatically. This chilled out but dark take is very clever.
I’m not one for remixes or reworkings at the best of times, so for me the five versions of “Falling for You” felt like overkill. However they do help us see the title tune in new lights.
With his Falling for You EP, Carmichael’s shown he’s got a natural feel for dance pop with heart. The recording doesn’t offer a lot of diversity, but it hints at just what this fledgling artist can do.