If Fahy’s first recording, the five-tracked The Sun Will Burn Through This Cloud is to set a path, it heralds a voyage of discovery filled with inspiration. Opener Throw Yourself trickles into the heart then bursts like a solar flare; its melody and harmonies testament to Fahy’s dedication to his art. His vocal range and emotive brilliance burns through in Numbers, Forever. He explodes and cascades with a dexterity that evidences true talent. West Virginia Coin speaks of folly and forgiveness but capable hands lead us through an unorthodox time signature that shows adeptness at composition. When ...But Not That Hard rolls into view, Fahy has already built an expectation of greatness. A Song Is Not The Place ends the album with Fahy caressing away sentimental notions of notes wrapped up with string. Not one to dismiss admiration, he gently reminds us that life is not to be lived through another’s eyes, keen though they may be.
Throughout, Fahy effortlessly sweeps between soothing and aching, his voice weaves around the heart with thread finer than silk. With the exceptional aid of Bec Taylor, Chris Endrey and Joe Oppenheimer, Fahy has captured a real sense of beauty and hope that permeates and warms with that familiar closeness of friends.
The Sun Will Burn Through This Cloud is available from Smiths Alternative Bookshop and Landspeed.
I first encountered The Soft Pack through their loose association with Rick Froberg: he of San Diego’s finest Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes and now New York’s Obits. On the hunt for some similarly-charged garage rock to sub in for my increasingly worn copies of the Snakes’ three unimpeachable LPs, The Soft Pack’s debut proved a worthy addition to the collection.
That mini album - complete with bullet-riddled sleeve - was released under their previous, less marketing department-friendly moniker The Muslims, so here we have the first ‘Pack album proper. Lunkheadedly-titled opener C’mon is an energising statement of intent and sets the template for what’s to come: frantic floor tom ‘n’ snare drumming; bouncing basslines which utilise the full scale of the fretboard; slashing guitars topped with surf-inspired leads; and Matt Lamkin’s flat, though by no means charmless, vocals. The four-to-the-floor momentum of the album is only broken by the reverb-heavy wash of the doo-wop flavoured Mexico.
The Australian issue of the LP is also complemented by two bonus tracks which, far from being some cursory ‘added value’ tack-on, rival anything on the rest of the album. These noisy, ragged recordings pack a wallop and promise more great stuff from The Soft Pack down the line. But for the moment, their debut remains eminently enjoyable.
Proof that the dynamic between Sarah-Jane Wentzki and Richard Andrew (Underground Lovers, Crow) produces music of excellence consistently, What Doesn’t Kill You, is another beautiful offering from Melbourne’s Princess One Point Five. At first quiet and atmospheric, the album is reminiscent of ‘90s trip-hoppers Lamb (a very good thing indeed), with moody piano, haunting melodies and even a few instrumentals scattered throughout. Wentzki’s vocals are similar to those of Sally Seltmann/New Buffalo, and possess both a fragility and strength.
Spliced in between instrumentals, moody piano and fragile, poignant vocals, are boisterous pop songs with sly lyrics. Could Today’s chorus of “what the hell is with today today?” be a sly nod to ‘90s teen flick Empire Records? I hope so. Nonetheless, it’s a whip-smart, neat little pop track, followed nicely by Quote Me, a quick jab at the music industry. Though all relatively short songs, every track is well crafted and sleekly produced.
Princess 1.5’s delicate nature can lend itself to be pushed into the territory of background music, and only a few tracks leap out and demand to be listened to on the first few plays. However, repeated spins of What Doesn’t Kill You rewards the listener with lingering tracks. Perfect timing too, as the the music’s distinctive wintery feel makes a good match for the current oh-so-cold weather.
Terry Brock is one of rock’s perennial nearly men. First emerging in the early eighties as a backing vocalist for pomp rock gods Kansas, Brock then went on to add his considerable vocal elasticity to Scottish also-rans Strangeways (who have recently, for reasons best known to themselves, reformed). He then joined up again with elements of Kansas in the Seventh Key project before fronting a reformed Giant for their poorly received Promise Land opus from last year. Which brings us to the here and, indeed, the now. For Diamond Blue Brock has teamed up with former Streets guitarist Mike Slamer (that’s Streets the eighties AOR Gods, not the pasty-faced rapper of the same name), and the results are predictably incendiary.
Melodic hard rock is the name of the game, and Brock and Slamer deliver the good stuff in spades. The title track is, simply, spine tingling in its simplicity – great vocal +brilliant solo+ massive chorus= instant classic in my books, and this rudimentary blueprint is used time and again throughout the album. It’s You is a gargantuan mix of Bryan Adams before he turned into a twat, whilst elsewhere Brock’s measured vocal brilliance lifts slightly more workaday material such as No More Mr Guy to heights of which you wouldn’t think such meat and potatoes fare capable. There’s absolutely no place for DB in the modern marketplace – but if you like great songwriting delivered with style and panache, then maybe you should give this a go.
When things got really interesting in popular music like psychedelic rock, funk and the experimental leanings of bands like The Velvet Underground, psychedelic German musicians of the 1970s paid close attention and particular aspects set some fascinating sounds in motion. I still reckon Pink Floyd stands out as the primary influence on German psychedelia, but adapted to suit a particularly inquisitive and forward thinking sensibility. So, when listening to the 1972 IBliss track High Life which runs for an appropriate 13 minutes, hallucinogenic vibes of an epic sort contain traces of such lysergic journeys as Pink Floyd’s Echoes. But the German bands were too smart to merely imitate, and sought out an original expression which in part arrived as the motorik beat, courtesy of key artists like Harmonia, Neu! and polyrhythmic funksters Can who are all represented by first-rate tracks on this outstanding two CD set. The compilers have not scrimped on diversity, and familiar names like Tangerine Dream share space with enticing trip-outs such as the 11 minute track Rambo Zambo from Kollectiv who might never have made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, but probably should have.
Joe Oppenheimer does not wait on destiny. To find a more charismatic storyteller you’d scour the four lands and return empty-handed. Time Ticks A Way represents the first scribing of Oppenheimer’s tales, and the heart sings as the troubadour enchants and transports. Story of You resonates as a chronicle of love and the resigned understanding of its transience. Oppenheimer positively shines in recognition of this fragile beauty. The undying melody and interlacing harmonies carry through to Hush Penelope with his emblem of blissful heartache. The femininity and symmetry in Penelope’s vocals gives purity to this song that tears open the sky at its climax. Time Time gives Oppenheimer’s motif the rag-time treatment. Knowing very well the futility of his attempts to dissect his subject, Joe occupies the urge with a wink and a nod. The Man Who Saved The World is a voice from another Age. Its eerily concise wisdom and train-like cadence reminds one of that other wandering folk poet, while Should You Ever closes with a haunting note of love beyond decaying senses. Oppenheimer’s songs often involve reflection or foretelling and the cyclical nature of time. This is indicative of the man himself, ever curious as to the weaving of life. Being his most natural expression, his songs carry his insight with a genuine timelessness. Oppenheimer will continue to weave his stories into songs articulate and prophetic. One cannot help but be drawn to the pattern.
Time Ticks A Way is available from Smiths Alternative Bookshop and Landspeed.
Just when you thought you’d had your fill of bonkers, robot obsessed, futuristic, Philip K. Dick vs. Prince vs. James Brown vs. Fritz Lang concept albums (never! - Ed.) – along comes Janelle Monae to make you look like an idiot. If you make it through the gonzo essay in the liner notes with sanity intact (and believe me its possible you won’t) you’ll find an album that aims very high and hits its mark more often than not. After being ‘discovered’ by Outkast in 2006 and joining Sean Combs’ XX label, Monae has spent the last few years gestating ArchAndroid in a world that sounds hell more fun than this one. It’s a three-suite monster built around outrageously addictive Atlanta grooves, hard funk, big band swing and afro-hip-hop. One minute it’s a dance-pop album channelling Lily Allen right down to a faux-cockney accent (Faster) the next it’s a Goldfrapp-esque downtempo autumn stroll (Sir Greendown) the next it’s sweet Nuggets-era psych-pop (Mushrooms & Roses).
By the time you get to the double hit of soul-pop in Cold War and Tightrope its obvious Monae is some sort of didactic freak blessed with galloping ambition and a fearless shapeshifting voice that remains defiantly unchallenged by some pretty intense stylistic demands. Arguably ArchAndroid could do with an edit – but I wouldn’t want to be the one to suggest it to her. Barely half way through her twenties, my spine tingles considering the possibilities Janelle Monae has wrought.