This is the third release from an outfit originally known as Henry F. Skerritt and the Holy Sea. In 2007 they decided to forgo personal fame and pander to those who can’t remember long band titles, and retitled the group with their current name. With a lot of today’s FM fodder being pretty strong on the beats but rather low rent on the lyrics, it’s great to bask in this shining example of Aussie songwriting talent. Folk rockers The Holy Sea provide a distinctly Antipodean flavour to this fine collection, with themes gouged out from the savage history of this wide brown land. The colours in the album, with its frenzied, evocative rhythms, are fed by Henry’s passion for Australian art history, which is inescapably linked with the story of the nation. Skerritt’s forceful vocals are commanding, whether he’s howling out The King of Palm Island or roaring along to There Be Dragons Here, about the thrill and danger of exploring the seas in search of the great southern land. Album highlights are The Ten Rules, about the big dividing lines in life, and The Seafarer, in which the balmy vocals from Emma Frichot are contrasted by the eloquent agony of tortured strings from Gareth Skinner’s cello. The best word picture appears in Bad Luck with “The body of my lover stretches out just like the hills of Adelaide”. (Obviously not a curvy lass, as anyone who has seen the hills from the city would know).
In 2007 Robert Plant co-released the highly successful Grammy award-winning album Raising Sand with songbird Alison Krauss. This collaboration saw Plant more inspired as a vocalist than at any point during his 20 year solo career. Never before had he sung so intimately or collaboratively. Indeed it has been a prolific few years for the former Led Zeppelin frontman. His latest effort Band of Joy is of similar vintage to its predecessor - a moody, atmospheric and exploratory work that delves deeply into Southern American music. Named after Plant’s first band (a psyche blues outfit that included the late John Bonham), Band of Joy features an all-star lineup of Nashville session players, including: multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, guitarist Buddy Miller, and Patti Griffins on vocals, who unlike Krauss before her, plays more of a backing role. The album encompasses a collection of rare covers and traditional songs. The Carolina-spiritual Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down sees Plant at his most ethereal, backed up by some haunting banjo, and bit of psychedelic Hendrix noodling, for good measure. The Los Lobos’ cover Angel Dance has an upbeat feel-good vibe that allows Plant to let loose with distinguished self-assurance. Despite a few somewhat forgettable tracks Band of Joy is a simple and inspiring work that will no doubt reinforce Plant’s place and importance in contemporary popular music.
After gigging steadily since their 2008 formation, Sydney power-poppers The Shake Up have enlisted the aid of The White Stripes producer Jim Diamond to lay down their debut release. The energy packed, super catchy opener She Read the Riot Act was made to jump around to and sets the pattern for the rest of the album. There’s an obvious ‘70s UK influence, with the Brit pop sound of Meet in the Middle and the punkish hacked off guitars in Everybody Loves It. Kiss the Pavement captures perfectly what it’s like to be at (insert fave nightclub name here) late on any Friday, with a skinful of beer and a head full of agro. Makes Me Sick and Unmade Plan, with their great guitar licks, are two highlights and the album winds up on a high with Pretty City with its cute female backing vocals on the chorus. Jim Diamond’s polished finish ensures that singer/guitarist Miles Selwyn’s pugnacious stage presence (hair plastered to his face, legs shaking in skinny leg black jeans and Mick Jagger-like snarl) comes across well in this crystal clear production. All tracks follow a similar pattern with simple but very infectious rhythms, clear lyrics and choruses that were made to shout along to. Variety is not a strong point here, but that does not detract from The Shake Up’s attractive mix of alcohol soaked themes, skin tight riffs and an arrogance that’s spoiling for a fight.
It would be easy - so very, very easy - to rip the absolute proverbial out of Filter. Major label industrocore darlings at the end of the last century, they faded quietly from view as their futuristic drug-fuelled tunes of war became strangely anachronistic in seemingly no time at all. Now, over a decade later they are back with a fifth studio album that sees them no longer sounding like Nine Inch Nails’ slightly dopey little brother but sounding a hell of a lot like Britrock songstrels A.
The trouble is, A, to go with the chart bothering songs, had a sense of humour, whereas Filter struggle in both categories. Opener The Inevitable Relapse is a reticent attempt at re-writing Feel Good Hit of the Summer, whereas its follow up, the slightly more impressive Drug Boy at least has a sense of its own identity. Absentee Father is tired bleating of the kind usually reserved for Korn or Papa Roach albums, so you have to wait until track four before anything truly worthwhile presents itself. Despite trying to please too many people – No Love quotes by turns Marilyn Manson, Muse and Porcupine Tree to slightly dizzying effect- the song’s a sure fire live anthem in the making that nearly – but not quite- gets the juices flowing enough to make you forget what’s gone before. No Re-Entry echoes post-grunge Welshmen Feeder with its air of weary desperation, whilst the rest of the album, though not horrible, is much of a bland muchness.
Kiwi post-hardcore three-piece Die! Die! Die! have made their most pleasant album to date, and that’s a good thing. Kind of. Fans of the band will take the first two tracks on the album as a move to a lighter sound, but the angular, distorted guitars and frenetic drums still clatter around your being, this time with heavily emphasised vocals, recorded and presented in a way that is purposefully more polished. Once the single Howye drops, Die! Die! Die!’s new intentions are realised – more expansive, melodic and progressive than their previous stabby, jerkabout albums.
One thing that has always excited about this band is their inherent ‘tightness’ – the crisp and precise way the sounds combine and collide, and this remains throughout Form. And despite the initial taste in the mouth that they have changed for the worse, this album stands up to repeat listens and is actually very good – a very solid middle order means at no point during Form do you get the urge to hit the skip or eject buttons. The biggest disappointment is that due to the album being out in New Zealand months before its release here, I have a feeling many Die! Die! Die! Fans will have already heard this... Still, if you haven’t, and like skittish, alternative post-hardcore and post-punk, Form will serve you well.
This is where the good stuff happens, and it has been some time since I’ve listened to something this tight, heavy and all embracing. Putting aside second album In The Future which probably pressed those prog rock buttons a little too hard, Black Mountain often hits those sharpened riff pleasure zones just like previous greats Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath did when psychedelic meandering gave way to something a bit grittier and more hard-hitting. I mean, let that super riff on fifth track Let Spirits Ride from Wilderness Heart cut through all that difficult routine and habit and you’ve got the wild ride of early 1970s Hawkwind all over again. But the energy levels are kicked into overdrive with the opening trackThe Hair Song with such call to arms lyrics as, “children having their fun with the blues / Let your laws come undone,” attached to an instrumental kick with enough propulsion to well dislodge those headphones. The winner has to be second track Old Fangs which gets right to the political point on opening line, “is it safe for the cowards to do what they’ve already done?” while the razor sharp chorus and ultra blister post-punk grunge brings it home. Black Mountain want to accentuate the universal power of self expression by encompassing cutting-edge observation and intimate concerns like, “roses won’t make her feel better tonight,” often within the one song. Could this be album of the year?
If Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ return to form album of 2008 Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!! was any indication of the creative trajectory that Nick Cave et al had set themselves after Grinderman’s debut of 2007, then it’s no surprise that Grinderman 2 has met and surpassed the expectations created by both its own predecessor and that of the Bad Seeds. On Grinderman 2, this Bad Seeds spin-off - consisting of Cave, Ellis, Casey and Sclavunos - have cranked up the volume, the humour and the sleazy violence all in equally gluttonous measures. Cave’s brutal tongue-in-cheek narratives give the impression of a film script or the beginnings of his next novel (When My Baby Comes and opener Mickey Mouse and the Goodbye Man stand out in particular), while Casey’s domineering bass and Ellis’ notoriously haunting bouzouki have been promoted from the position of supporting cast to leading role players. Cave and his crew have fought hard against attempts to pigeonhole them as ageing, tempered rock stars and in doing so have created an album that is loud, indulgently fun, and one that will stay with you for a good time to come.