Friendly Fires - Pala - [XL Recordings/Remote Control]

Column: CD Reviews   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 5 July 11   |   Author: Rory McCartney   |   5 years, 10 months ago

Largely recorded in their garage over an English winter, this collection was destined to take the Friendly Fires crew and their fans away from the cold to a sunny paradise. This album is a little cocktail umbrella composed of pop, dance, funk and soul. The trio has captured the holiday escape feeling, from the brilliantly coloured parrot in the artwork to the samba like drum rhythm underlying the opening tracks. The mood is cruisey rather than berko dance party, with most tracks inviting luxurious reclining rather than frantic jiving. The party theme couldn’t be better expressed than in the opener Live Those Days Tonight, with its fresh, super groovalicious beats and shimmering multi-layered vocals.  Blue Cassette morphs the dance theme, harking back to the days of ‘70s tape machines.  It incorporates the quirky effects of that media including the tape squeal and fuzziness of a worn cassette.  Hawaiian Air is an album highlight, combining discotheque cool with the lush sensuality of languid tropical nights.  Members of the Harlem Gospel Choir provided vocal support in Hurting, infusing the track with a marvellous soulful feeling, making it another standout. The title track is a slow, ultra cool hip grinder, with a strong ‘70s feel brought on by the perky keyboard chords and its slow, sultry feel.  The sparkle in the songs fades somewhat mid disk, after track six. Nonetheless, Pala is a super soundtrack for your next tropical themed dance party, to take you a world away.  

The Grates - Secret Rituals - [Dew Process] :

Brisbane duo The Grates took themselves into a New York blizzard to find their commercial soul, following the loss of their third member, Alana Skyring, to a budding culinary career.  The fruit of an intensive period of time locked up in the studio, third album Secret Rituals is a well-groomed, alt-rock meditation that marks a distinctive turning point in their career.

The whole album is currently streaming on the band's website with black and white 'micro videos' set to each track, ghostly flirtations with stop frames, but these are the only parts of the production which feel home cooked. The sound is blistering with compressed distorted guitar, mature lyrical vocal arrangements, adding keyboardist and session drummer to (blasphemous) bass guitar, and is slickly produced by John O'Mahoney (Metric, Coldplay). 

Turn me On is a track that is catchy enough, musical enough, radio enough, to just about carry the album on its own. It has a fantastic fast-paced saturated rock chorus.  Patience takes her voice into new corners of the sound archive and comes back with The Breeders, but all mixed up with her usual inimitable nervous energy that is the band's most potent instrument on its own.

 The Grates with Secret Rituals are confident enough to play around with their own sound that they have dared to ditch much of what made them The Grates.  Can they survive this critical rebirth and find a wider audience? Only time and patience will tell. 

I Exist - II: The Broken Passage - [Resist Records] :

After only a couple of years together, Canberra's I Exist have already released a second album. Backed by constant touring and produced by Billy Anderson, known for his work with Sleep, Eyehategod, The Melvins and others, many fans were excited by the follow up to last year's I: A Turn For The Worse.

With four guitarists there to provide the driving backbone, a slogan used regularly in regards to I Exist is ‘all hail the riff’. That's what we're presented with at the beginning of opener Winter's End, something Black Sabbath fans would be very happy with. The 12 tracks meld hardcore, blues, metal, sludge and straight up rock and roll. There is something for all fans of heavy music.

Their earlier releases focussed more on an anti-religion theme, which has been slightly departed from here as mystical characters are entering the realms of their music.

Although the sound is more produced than their earlier releases, it’s still raw. This just shows the progression of the band, all melding together under a renowned producer. This is another chapter in the I Exist discography, and I look forward to number three.

Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders - Hurtsville - [Spunk] :

With a booming baritone, Jack Ladder is often compared to Nick Cave. That’s not being a lazy critic; it’s a statement of fact. On this album Ladder himself doesn’t appear to want to disabuse us of these accusations (Blinded By Love is a Cave cover, right?) although he’s also thrown in a bit of Pete Murphy in a set of songs that seem to be aiming of that most overlooked of markets: ‘80s goth pop. It’s not an altogether ghastly ambition but it would be nice if the tunes were there. Still, at least he didn’t aim for Andrew Eldritch.

First single Cold Feet is the undisputed highlight… galloping rhythms, descending scrappy riffs and detached maudlin warble, the song casually drifts off into the spectral plane courtesy of Kirrin Callinan’s best Robert Fripp approximations, circa Ashes to Ashes. But after that it’s one formless dirge after another, although to hear a modern musician sound like forgotten studio whizzes David + David is a worthwhile pleasure (Beautiful Sound).

The plaudits being thrown at Hurtsville are confusing. It’s a collection of middling songs lead by one absolutely terrific track. It doesn’t matter whom it might sound like because ultimately the songs fall flat. And that should be the only metric.      

Steve Mason & Dennis Bovell - Ghosts Outside - [Domino] :

Former Beta Band-er Steve Mason dished up one of the best albums of 2010 with Boys Outside, delighting us all with ten songs brimming with emotional honesty and melodic beauty. Here, we are delivered a rather curious offering in the form of a complete album overhaul, with Barbados born Matumbi member Dennis Bovell giving all the tracks a dub rerub. With Ghosts Outside Bovell keeps Mason’s melodies largely intact, extends the running time and infuses the echoes, horns and 80bpm bump synonymous with the genre. The result is a largely enjoyable affair, with an ‘if’ caveat. Letter Dub and Yesterday Dub have the effortless cool that made The Good, The Bad and The Queen so enjoyable but, and this sounds obvious, you need to really love the dub genre to enjoy this. The strip back denies some of the original magic of Boys Outside, with Mason’s beautiful vocals taking a bit of a backseat and many of the beloved emotional peaks and troughs somewhat flattened out into the rolling dub style; Dub Position whilst certainly not bad does come across as a bit flat, whereas opener Lost And Dub pushes a little too far, with the drop veritably screaming “Look! It’s a dub remix!” with its abundance of echoes and horns. But this said, this is a worthy addition to the canon, so if you like yer dub, then rub your nub on this bub. (What does that even mean!? – Ed.) 

Def Leppard - Mirror Ball - [Frontiers/Riot] :

Incredibly, for a band of Def Leppard’s history and stature within their chosen milieu, Mirror Ball is their first ever live release. A cruel man might say that’s because vocalist Joe Elliott is one of the worst singers ever to make it big in the history of hard rock; any attempts to capture the man ‘in action’ would need so much touching up in the studio, the result would essentially be a greatest hits set with added crowd noise... But I’m not a cruel man so let’s take a gander at Mirror Ball under the guise of ‘giving it a fair listen’, shall we?

In all honesty, MB isn’t a bad album at all. It is a greatest hits set, with the addition of the likes of C’mon C’mon from their last studio outing Songs from the Sparkle Lounge and three piss-poor new studio offerings tacked on to the end of the set, one of which, the unintentionally hilarious Kings of the World, is an utterly embarrassing Queen pastiche that has to be heard to be believed. The live material is good for two reasons, namely the fact that the band doesn’t insult your intelligence by airbrushing Elliott back to perfection – he’s here warts and all, and you’ll love the fact that you can sing along and beat him to all the high notes with ease; the other being Phil Collen’s marvellous wang-bar obsessed axe work – it’s air guitar mayhem guaranteed. 

Sebadoh - Bakesale (2011 re-issue) - [Sub Pop] :

When the wonderful Bakesale came out 17 years ago it was lauded for being ‘low-fi, but more accessible’ and, compared to Sebadoh's previous four albums, it was. Tracks like Not Too Amused, Give Up and Licence To Confuse rock pretty hard, while Temptation Tide and
Skull are soft enough to be used in the movies you create in your daydreams, imagining yourself to be a character in a side-story to Reality Bites and such. Remaster jobs on this period’s works range from the horrid (Nirvana remastered) to essential (Sonic Youth’s Goo for instance). With Bakesale, remasterers have crisped up the guitars and raised the vocals in the mix slightly, luckily never losing the layers of fuzz that happily and purposefully season the melodies, so count this as a win.

The bonus disc of studio out-takes, acoustic versions, and B-sides (the excellent song Daramine being the highlight) should be enough to pique those well versed with this album. However, the real joy with this album getting a re-issue is that it opens up another generation
to one of the best slices of what back then people told us was college rock, which these days is the sound that most of your favourite low-fi indie bands borrow from heavily. A must hear for the first time, a fabulous reminder for those already familiar.



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