Friday, September 22, 2006

Gala Mill

The Drones are a band unlike any other in the world today. Totally immune to fasion or currency, what you hear is what you get. And you get gold. The previous release, 'Wait Long by the River and the Bodies of Your Enemies Will Float By...' was a rare treat; a record by an Australian band proudly playing Australian music and daring to take it seriously. Justly rewarded with critical praise and awards, the follow-up, 'Gala Mill' takes that platform and builds what hopefully will be viewed in the future as a masterwork.
Restraint is the order of the day here, with the high-intensity explosions of 'Wait Long...' only allowed out once or twice (needless to say, when they do, it's a doozy, as evidenced by the thumping 'I Don't Ever Want to Change'), instead opting for longer, more spacious arrangements, allowing frontman Gareth Lidyard's crazed, strained vocals to come screaming to the fore. The restraint shown on this album actually manages to increase the intensity throughout, creating a sense of barely suppressed rage, fear and alienation.
Recorded shortly after the release of 'Wait Long...', 'Gala Mill' was recorded in a stone mill on Gala Farm in Tasmania, and the area's convict past permeates the record, be it the folk tale 'Words From the Executioner to Alexander Pearce' and the reworking of the old traditional ballad 'Moreton Bay' into 'Sixteen Straws', an 8 minute, sprawling, wordy epic, which along with opener 'Jezabel', bookend this magnificent piece of modern Australiana.
With this, The Drones have established themselves as one of, if not the most, relevant and important rock band in Australia today. They may never get the attention (and sales) of rehash rock bands like Jet and Wolfmother, but hopefully, many years from now, the legacy of this most wonderful band will live on.

5 stars

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Top Ten....ever! #10 - Pink Moon

As previously mentioned, I am something of a listophile. Top tens in particular are a great conversation starter, and always a source of controversy and interest. Being a music blog, I therefore decided to post my all time top ten albums of all a serial format!
So here is number 10.

Never before has the sound of one man and a guitar been so intoxicating, or hauntingly beautiful. In 1972, Nick Drake was a disillusioned man. After releasing 2 records to critical acclaim, he had failed to achieve any sort of commercial success, All the while his Fairport Convention friends had achieved quite considerable success, only fuelling his diappointment and angst. So, over two midnight recording sessions in early 1972, in the space of 8 hours, he put it all to vinyl.

Only one overdub exists over 11 tracks; a couple of tinkling piano keys on opener 'Pink Moon'. With the exception of those few notes, 'Pink Moon' the entire record is Drake and his guitar in stunning, technicolour close-up. Even his breathing is in tune. Over gently plucked guitar strains, his tenor voice singing songs of alienation ('Know') and loneliness ('Which Will'), Drake unwittingly created an entire mythology following his death in 1974 from a sleeping pill overdose.
After finishing recording, he simply dropped off the master tapes with a secretary at the record company and walked off. But this indifference is't apparent when listening to the music. Other than the sparse arrangements, and the lack of excess instrumentation, the music is astonishingly complex, Drake using his trademark unique tunings to fashion songs that are simultaneously beautiful in their simplicity and appealing in their depth.
The record closes on a rare note of optimism with 'From the Morning', a touching tale of the beauty of sa simple life. Odd, then, that the lyric from it; 'And now we rise, for we are everywhere' adorns the tombstone of this most talented musician, who provided us with something truly beautiful before he departed all too early.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Pearl Jam - Fading star or Rock Royalty?

When Pearl Jam exploded on the scene 15 years ago with 'Ten' the ultimate in the new grunge wave (until 'Nevermind' appeared 3 months later), they were hailed as the new rock mesiahs, saviours of rock and roll from the over-produced, hyper-synthesised Duran Duran's of the world. All flanelette and attitude, this was raw, emotive, and powerful rock. Motley Crue with integrity. Buttloads of the stuff. No film clips, no extraneoous rubbish, just rock. Two acclaimed follow-ups, Vs. and Vitalogy maintained the rage, and immortality beckoned.
Then something strange happened. As the last bars of 'Betterman' faded off into the distance, people forgot Pearl Jam. 5 albums have been released since, each with lower sales than the last, people began to ask, 'have Pearl Jam lost their balls?'
In my mind, the answer is an unequivocal 'NO'. 8 albums in, and they may have produced their weakest record yet, self titled, back-to-our-roots rock 'n' roll. And it's still bloody good. World Wide Suicide is perhaps just too political to be a hit these days. It just doesn't appear on commercial radio, and this is Pearl Jam. People will listen to a new Pearl Jam song, surely? Surely not. If any band had such a record of sustained excellence, they'd be thrilled. But Pearl Jam are pilloried.
The problem is not that Pearl Jam have lost it, the problem is that people who loved Ten are now in their late twenties and early thirties and want more of what reminds them of being 16. Without the angst, because they're quite comfortable now, thank you very much.

Along came Yield in 1999. And it is amazing. By far Pearl Jam's finest hour. Yet hardly anyone owns it. Why? It can't be for lack of songs. Given to Fly, No Way, Brain of J, Do the Evolution and Wishlist are all nothing short of brilliant, many have received substantial air time. Yet no-one wants a bar of it. There's something wrong, and it isn't with Pearl Jam.
So if you're at the record store and see 'Binaural' on special. Pick it up, take it home, and listen to it without prejudice. Imagine it's a debut record from some bunch of unknowns from Seattle. And then see whether Pearl Jam have still got it.

No Balance Palace

Even thought the title sounds exactly like a Danish band that speaks English as a second language trying to get all mysterious, Radiohead-style, and a name that is taken from Zepellin at their most bloated and pompous (they were still very cool then though), Kashmir are certainly no overblown Radiohead wannabes.

No Balance Palace is Kashmir's 5th album (the second to be available on the shelves in Australia), and it sounds exactly like a band that knows exactly what it is doing. Kashmir are HUGE in Denmark, kind of a Scandinavian Powderfinger, and these early forays into Western (i.e. English) music look pretty good so far.
Previous release, Zitilites, was a hidden gem, defying those who passed them off as little more than clones of Thom Yorke and Co. (Kashmir did, however acknowledge Radiohead's influence in many interviews at the time). While the comparisons are probably deserved, Zitilites displayed control and restraint in equal measure, resisting the urge that many of their contemporaries fell into of attempting to create a new musical genre and demolishing musical barriers for evermore. Funnily enough, that kind of thing rarely comes off.
It is this restraint that makes No Balance Palace such a rewarding listen. From the opening fade in of 'Kalifornia' to the Bowie-inclusive 'The Cynic' (David certainly is getting around at the moment)and the closer, 'She's Made of Chalk', Kashmir display a thoroughness bordering on the anal-retentive, inflecting every inch of this record with very personal ideosyncrasies and sounds. Chord (and Key) changes are always a little unexpected, and frontman Kasper Eistrup's vocals range from sounding bored, almost tired on 'The Cynic' to exultant ('Ophelia').
If atention to detail and atmosphere are the hallmarks of a great band, don't expect Kashmir to be confined to Denmark for much longer.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Modern Times

Dylan is back. And more Dylan that ever. Some are labelling this new piece the third installment of a trilogy that begun with 1997's Time Out of Mind and 2001's Love and Theft. The three represent a huge return to form, and Modern Times may well be the best of the lot.
"I don't see myself as a political activist, I see myself as more of a song and dance man", he was quoted in 1965, but here it seems he has managed to merge the two into a cohesive whole. Modern Times is the title from Charlie Chaplin's silent film about Nazi Germany, and, as with much throughout Dylan's vast career, it is unlikely the title selection is a coincidence. This is a record steeped in history - indeed, the songs take their cues directly from 50's rock, swing, jazz, country and blues - yet their tone, in a most subtle way, is astonishingly contemporary, a gentle dig at the modern world via a glowing reminiscence of simpler times.
Dylan actually wrote a flat-out love song (the leisurely 'Spirit on the Water')harking back to a simple life and a simple love, enhancing the sensation that 'Modern Times' are losing their quaintness and appeal. Throughout, music that in lesser hands would seem dated and stale is brought to vivid life through the (naturally) sharp lyrics and Dylan's, new, old man growl, so full of character that you wonder how he ever sung before all the cigarettes got to him.
Bob Dylan is back in form, in a big way.

An Eye for a Brow, A Tooth for a Pick

There is a constant debate amongst everyone from schoolkids to the intelligentsia over what the definition of cool is. Shakespeare probably got the closest when he wrote 'above all else, be true to thyself'. Ground Components certainly have done that. And they've made a record that is cool. Very cool. Cool in it's total lack of pretension and a resolute focus on rock and fun. Opening with the schizophrenic 'On Your Living Room Floor', blending creepy keyboards, barking commands (otherwise known as Joe McGuigan's vocals), screaming guitars and (of course) a childrens' choir, the resistance to external influences is stamped all over this ultra confident, ultra cool debut. Did I mention it was cool? MC Macromantics joins in on the unexpected delight 'Coming in From All Angles', while the stunningly tight groove of rhythm section Indra Adams and Joe's brother Simon come storming to the fore on 'Head in the Sand' and the 70's Cop Show inspired 'Stale Thoughts'.
But the two clear highlights are the pseudo-Spaghetti Western/horror movie theme 'Fistful of Dallas' and the extended cover of Dylan's 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding). Stretched out to over 8 minutes, it never steps below exhilirating and inventive. Eye for a Brow... is chock full of vision and ambition; Ground Components have created one of the most confident and impressive debuts from an Aussie band for years. An absolute corker of an Aussie record.
And it's cool.