Generally seen manning a rack of synthesizers and sharing lead vocal duties as part of Brisbane trio Sekiden, or more recently augmenting the line-up of venerable alt-rockers Regurgitator - not to mention freelancing for SPOD, Dave McCormack, The Mess Hall and Not From There’s Heinz Riegler - We Have Secrets... marks Seja Vogal’s first solo venture.
Unsurprisingly, the record is dominated by Seja’s collection of vintage synths, though in contrast to the fuzzed-out power pop of Sekiden and the similarly hyped-up steez of the ‘Gurg, it is, for the most part, a pretty downbeat affair. Seja’s languorous vocals, swathed in layer upon layer of overdubbed harmonies and mixed with gently fizzing and pulsing electronics, create an almost dreamlike state of semi-consciousness. The crisp, snapping beats on Framed You in Action and A Million Wheels hint at a hip-hop influence, while Through the Backstreets, built on a clapped-out drum loop, acoustic guitars and an insistent keyboard line, is an obvious stand out.
In truth the LP could have used a bit of judicious pruning as all this mid paced synth-pop balladry tends to blend together after a while - though you can probably forgive this slight indulgence as surely that is, after all, the very nature of a solo record.
While as not immediate as the rest of Seja’s back-catalogue, We Have Secrets... has an understated charm that reveals itself over repeated listens.
A wise hermit by the enigmatic moniker of WikiQuote once bent my ear and spaketh thusly: “Change begets change.” John Butler, master of the fleet-fingered displays of righteous banjo, seems to agree, going as far as to assemble a new trio to find that new spark, leaving scattered strands of glorious dreadlocks in his fearless wake. Ironically, his actions proved that change doesn’t necessarily change. Confuzzled? Onwards, cherished reader.
April Uprising is a glistening collection of polished pop gems for the masses that he seeks to unite against the menacing terror of the ubiquitous, omniscient “they”. But for now ignore the sparkling production, forget every statement he’s made as a public figure and simply listen to the record: remember that he is an artist creating music first and foremost. Yes, there is some relative experimentation; John Butler fires off some hip-jerking pseudo-disco in Close to You and croons from the perspective of the teenage girl in To Look Like You, but as with the tragic haircut: it’s all on the surface. The breathless, rapid-fire syllable stacking, the eerily precise finger-picking, the driving rhythm section and lyrics rife with socio-political indignation; I ask you: why did he put so much emphasis on his evolution? I stress that there is nothing wrong with having a comfort zone or staying the same. But sometimes just singing about the desire for change, for revolution, for uprising; it isn’t enough to make a great record.
Katalyst has built up quite the cred over the years with his hip-hop infused take on the funk/soul sound, showcased on albums Manipulating Agent and What’s Happening, which both really went the distance. UK future-soul singer Steve Spacek has been a regular collaborator, but last year it emerged the pair would be working together on an entirely new project. Those expecting a Katalyst rehash are in for a nice surprise, because Soul-Fi sees them both journeying to wicked new places. What’s most captivating is the futuristic rubdown Katalyst has given the funk-soul sound. The production is really quite amazing, and while he’s shown elements of this approach in the past, it’s taken a step further on Soul-Fi. But as much as the album might rest on Katalyst’s superb sonic craftings, equally as sublime is Spacek’s crooning – he’s got as soulful a voice you’re ever likely to hear, but there’s a welcome dash of darkness to what he does. His sinister whisperings take us deep in Listen, with the live instrumentation playing beautifully off the assorted bleeps and synths. Similarly, the funk jams and vocal harmonies of Closer bounce blissfully off Katalyst’s spacey soundscapes. Funk-soul and sci/fi electronica may often appear mutually exclusive, but Katalyst and Stacek make them perfect bedfellows. In fact, the standard is kept high across the album’s 17 tracks, with the occassional creepy vocal interludes reinforcing the kitchy ‘60s B-movie aesthetic, and leaving us with a cohesive piece of work that draws together most satisfyingly. Dope.
Some top-notch African funk compilations have been hitting the shelves in recent times which transcend all the messy political turmoil of the 1970s, and present that decade as a totally exciting period in African popular music. In particular, the Soundway label deserves a big thumbs up for its ongoing series which explores variations of popular music in Nigeria and neighbouring Lagos in the ‘70s, and which reveals the influence that the extended funk workouts of late 1960s James Brown had on upbeat highlife sounds suffusing Nigerian music. An emphasis was placed on butt-shaking rhythmic patterns accentuated by horns and guitars that were uplifting to the point that listeners could only respond with exuberant dance moves that would push to one side somewhat harsher realities. In terms of conjuring a sustained joyous groove, this latest Soundway compilation sits comfortably alongside its peers, and I have to say that around half-way through the first listen even a hesitant dancer like me had to tongue and groove in a most satisfying way. The album opens with an infectious workout from the one and only Fela Kuti who brought to the fore the absurdly vibrant afrobeat sound, and his 1971 total-funk contribution Who’re You? brings out the right stuff at a relatively concise eight minutes in length. Fela gets things off to a good start, but other included artists would pick up on the influence and well and truly run with it.
Fear Factory were the cutting edge in 1996, when their brutal synthesis of unforgiving metal guitar, ethereal vocal melody and jackhammer percussion provided a steely, automated blueprint for extreme music in the 21st century.
Come 2010 the cyber sheen has oxidised slightly, as the band first fell apart, then splintered amongst much recrimination before reforming (in part) to deliver a comeback album, Mechanize. But was it worth all the wrangling?
Irrefutably yes. Mechanize is the best effort from the band in a decade, with the stunning album closer Final Exit in particular worthy of anything from the band’s past. Returning guitarist Dino Cazares proves he was the missing ingredient, with his staccato riffage melding perfectly with new drummer Gene Hoglan to create a sound almost more Fear Factory than Fear Factory. And on top of all of this is the majestic vocal work of Burton C. Bell, a man able to move from stentorian bark to sleepy croon in the blink of a cybernetic synthesized retina. They ain’t the sound of the future anymore – but they’re still crushingly good.
Breed Obsession was a hard act to follow, with its melodic riffs and mega-catchy tunes. If there was any criticism, it would be that it sounded so pretty it almost verged on power pop. Well, you can forget all about that now, ‘cause the rock is back! With Cohesion, Gyroscope have done a U-turn and emerged closer to their garage roots. The gloss of the previous albumn has been shed to expose the glory of the band’s sharper core. This time around, the band scorned a highly produced, silky studio finish in favour of a gutsier product, with more distortion and harsher vocals. Some of the Places I Know retains the formula of the last album, but the real highlights are in the screaming wall of sound presented by tracks such as Tunnel Vision.
There’s more fury than fine-tuning evident in I Still Taste Blood. Instead of riding a cleanly delineated vocal track, Dan Sanders’ voice has to compete with the guitars for supremacy in Don’t Forget Me When I Die. The CD doesn’t even slow down with a true ballad to draw breath. Working with Wood has a soft intro, before it changes its spots with strident vocals and hacked guitar notes. The last track often takes a gentle line and Spider fools you initially before zapping your eardrums with its echoing, fuzzed guitars. The boys from the West have done it again, and this is an album for the true believers!