Rachel Collis

Column: CD Reviews   |   Date Published: Monday, 17 November 14   |   Author: Rory McCartney   |   2 years, 7 months ago

     Nightlight [Independent Release]

After creating her debut LP while completing studies towards a Masters of Music, classically trained Rachel Collis teamed up with ex-Thirsty Merc guitarist Sean Carey to co-produce her sophomore release Nightlight. Bringing him onboard helped Collis to loosen the reins on her natural tendency to order everything down to the last note and their collaboration on the new album included jamming out song options.

Collis has a voice that a contestant from The X Factor would trade a kidney for (or at least a sibling’s kidney). In ‘Tomorrow’, her impressive range and beautiful tone bring to mind the vocals of Angela Little (in her ‘Ophelia of the Spirits’ record), while there’s a touch of Tina Arena in Collis’ ability to leap up in pitch in ‘If I Could’.  She sounds great, whether trailing long, high notes or putting some vibrato into a song. Her songwriting, deeply personal in places, also reveals a carefree side and a lust for living every moment. Some of the album’s s most appealing lyrics refer to hot chocolate, wishing for a dedicated Doctor Who channel or for the ability to “drive in any lane you choose”. Collis’ piano playing reveals a delicate touch, with some of the best passages being the most gentle, the notes coming slowly, in little bursts, with light between notes. While the strengths of Nightlife lie primarily in piano ballads such as ‘Winter in Munich’, there are songs where the keys take a back seat. There’s the quirky, ukulele driven ‘A Duck Named Sybil’ with its jazzy clarinet piece and the upbeat ‘Yurora’, with its rhythmic guitar and dominant percussion. With masterful singing and musicianship, this will appeal greatly to those who appreciate finely crafted, chill-out folk-pop, but less to those who seek material to raise their pulse. 

Shellac: Dude Incredible [Touch and Go]

Stark, angular and hard-boiled are words you would expect to associate with the music of Shellac and fifth album Dude Incredible is no exception. The key to success comes from bass, guitar, drums and voice working together as a tight interconnected unit in which no one instrument takes precedence over the other. This approach is a post-hardcore principle of democracy in action and generally works well. Shellac are not the most prolific of bands only releasing five albums in their 20 year existence but each one cuts through thickets of manufactured crap with a well-honed precision, thereby paving the way for likeminded travellers to do the same. Vocalist/guitarist Steve Albini has spent a long time as an annoying thorn in the side of the commercial hit machine and consistently takes a hard line when it comes to the creative act, having dryly described Seattle grunge as ‘functional musicianship’ to give one example. The music on Dude Incredible is functional in the sense that colourful embellishments are kept at bay, so what shines through are waves of tension and release that make for a heated dynamic. The opening title track sets the scene with serpentine guitar lines coiling around piercing rhythms which lurch, swing and cajole in equal measures. This song is divided into distinct movements separated by changes in pace and density but a restless propulsion remains a constant. The album seems loosely themed around the necessary illusion of power structures, but Albini’s voice as a deadpan sonic element is what interests me. This is an exercise in focused concision and even the longer tracks do what they are supposed to on a Shellac album which is to deliver a sharp shock.

The Church: Further/Deeper [MGM/Unorthodox]

The highly acclaimed Untitled #23 was a hard act to follow, but The Church have again produced something special in their 25th LP. This beast is very different from their last album which, where tracks like ‘On Angel Street’ and ‘Cobalt Blue’ had a more moody, subdued feel. There are many hues in this new record, but they are predominantly bright, thanks to a line-up change which saw guitarist Marty Wilson-Piper replaced by ex-Powderfinger member Ian Haug. Haug’s upbeat guitar influence is evident in the lustre which pervades the album.

If some bands produce albums like chicken nuggets, then The Church serves up degustation menus. Further/Deeper is akin to fine dining, where each course brings its own special flavours to savor. Opener ‘Vanishing Man’ is a multi-layered dish, a complex creation with flashes of guitars and keys which appear and disappear like strobe lights. Chiming guitars rule in ‘Delirious’, while ‘Pride Before a Fall’ creeps up slowly with the tentative words “on tippy toe”, before spacing out with cavernous echoes. In keeping with true menu order, the sweetest course is left to last, in the vibrant rhythms of ‘Miami’, which recall their classic ‘Unguarded Moment’.

Steve Kilbey sings thorough a veil, keeping up the mystique. Consistent with the band’s intent to stay surreal and undefined, there are no lyrics on the liner notes. It does not pay to try to work out song themes, but it’s nonetheless easy to revel in Kilbey’s word art. As guitarist Peter Koppes has fondly stated, this album has more swing than the band’s usual material. You can choose to either drift away in its lush, atmospherics, or move to either the deep undertow rhythm of ‘Lightning White’ or the fast gothic Euro-disco of ‘Globe Spinning’.

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra Concert:

WHAT: Christmas concert
WHEN: Sat Dec 6
WHERE: Llewellyn Hall, ANU

The Canberra Symphony Orchestra (CSO) is gearing up for their inaugural Christmas concert, boasting a mix of traditional and modern Xmas tunes. Joining Rachael Beck and Timothy Sexton on stage will be the Woden Valley Youth Choir and eighteen year old local Cara Bessey, who was hand- picked to sing alongside Beck. “Normally making noise during a concert is taboo, but at A CSO Christmas it will be encouraged, so this will be a great concert for Canberra’s families to attend,” says Sexton. Matinee at 2pm, evening performance at 7.30pm, at Llewellyn Hall, ANU. Tickets from $50.98 +bf onwards from or ticketek.

ALBUM OF THE ISSUES: Ne Obliviscaris: Citadel [Season of Mist]

Australian progressive extremists Ne Obliviscaris haven’t had the easiest path to recognition. Hamstrung by this country’s at times senseless immigration regulations (something I know all too much about), the band sat motionless for some while (five years, more or less, actually) waiting for clearance for their French guitarist Benjamin Baret to join them in this Great Southern Land. Luckily they didn’t spend that time eating four and twenty pies and watching reruns of ‘classic’ episodes of Mother and Son. As Citadel bears out, Ne Obliviscaris is a band now reaping the fruits of all the hardship and revelling more than most in the sheer bloody-minded guts and determination it takes to put out a world class release.

You read that right – Citadel is pure class from start to finished, a lesson in extreme metal  in six parts that completely raises the bar for bands putting this kinda stuff out in the future. As much indebted to the pomp rock of legendary seventies US outfit  Kansas (vocalist Tim Charles’ sublime violin playing is the icing on this record’s cake, evoking the legendary Robbie Steinhardt at every turn) and Rush as to death metal’s heroes of later vintage, this album hits the bullseye in a fashion that would have had Jim Bowen weeping tears of joy. (Averse as I am to explaining my puns, I’d probably suggest you look the man up on YouTube – everything will then make sense).

The key here is the musicianship. Sure, we’ve come to expect top-notch chops from every Tom, Dick and Portnoy passing themselves off as ‘progressive’ in 2014, but most of these fast-fingered fools wouldn’t know a melody, much less a tune if it leapt out of the speakers and savaged their bedroom-coddled knackers. Ne Obliviscaris, on the other hand, whilst able effortlessly to mix it with the heaviest kids on the prog block (just listen to the wounded bull roars of ‘harsh’ vocalist Xenoyr for further proof) are so extravagantly skilled that they are able to turn into the heaviest metal into the most shimmering, gossamer prog in the blink of an eye. The sixteen minute long ‘Triptych Lux’ being a gorgeous case in point, as the track writhes it’s serpentine way through every conceivable mood and notion before drifting in reverie to its subdued conclusion. This is frighteningly good stuff.

Guitarists Baret and Matt Klavins deserve mention too, as an explosive duo whose ability to mesh with one another in a series of set piece barrages intermingled with fluid soloing is truly a joy to behold, but time and again the ear is snagged by the delicious playing of violinist Charles. It is he who weaves a Spanish gypsy fantasia in the middle of this otherwise almost unrelentingly devastating album – the track ‘Reveries’ - that is easily the most arresting thing I’ve heard on a heavy metal album all year.

The forty eight minutes that comprise Citadel are easily some of the most spectacular committed to wax this year by any band in the extreme metal sphere. While the juxtaposition of light and shade as demonstrated here is certainly nothing new – and no new ground is really being broken by Ne Obliviscaris – you’ll be left in a state of constant amazement as the band weave their way around  the six tracks on offer. The album’s three mainstay tracks – ‘Triptych Lux’, ‘Pyrrhic’ and ‘Blackholes’ – are easily the equal of anything released elsewhere this year by the big prog and extreme metal names. On the basis of these three tracks alone, I’d say we might well be looking at Australia’s next major metal export.

If you are familiar with Ne O’s 2012 debut, Portal of I, you’ll have some idea of what to expect here. But only some idea. And if you are so far unaware of this most special of bands, I suggest you get out to your local record n’tape exchange soonest to invest in this album – my words are sadly nowhere near enough to adequately describe the majesty that awaits your ears.

Aeriae: Victris [Clan Analogue]

Sydney-based electronic composer/producer Wade Clarke first emerged under his Aeriae alias back in 2007 with his impressive independently released debut album Hold R1 and seven years on (after the tease that was last year's Nurse 2 Alyssa Type EP), Victris finally offers up his long awaited second album on Clan Analogue. As with preceding Aeriae outings, the predominant influences here continue to be chiptunes and the sorts of cold electronic scores favoured by the likes of John Carpenter and Wendy Carlos, filtered through the complex time signatures and glacial melodic arrangements of post-IDM electronics. On the ten tracks collected here though Clarke has certainly taken the detail and scope of his productions to a new level, with the increasing complexity of his arrangements revealing his background in classical piano far more than his previous work.

Perhaps more than anything else, it's the similarly ambitious and intricate likes of Autechre and Clarke that immediately rear up as obvious comparison points here. 'Revered Daughter' kicks proceedings off with one of this album's most dizzyingly intricate moments as chattering broken rhythms lock into place against spiralling synth arpeggios that add a vaguely neoclassical feel to the moody ambient pads and bass murmurs that roll beneath. Elsewhere, 'Heiress' sees things veering out into treacherous downbeat electro as vaguely soul/funk infused synths drift against a swaggering backdrop of MPC kicks and elastic bass bends, before 'Kathle'en' offers a nightmarish wander through dark carnival organ keys and harsh snapping beats that calls to mind Severed Heads with its playfully twisted darkwave aesthetic. An excellent second album from a local producer who deserves to be better known.

Tre Mission: Stigmata [Big Dada]

By all rights MC/producer Tre Mission should be considered an outsider to the grime scene, given that his homebase of Toronto lies half a world away from the UK urban environments that spawned that genre and its close cousin garage. In many senses though it's this outsider perspective that makes this debut album Stigmata feel so fresh, with the thirteen tracks collected here seeing him being less beholden to grime's established principles and freely interfering with the program wherever he sees fit. While as a vocalist Tre is a distinctive and capable MC on his own, this album sees him enlisting an impressive range of guests, a testament to the influence last year's debut Malmalson mixtape had amongst the UK scene.

After a suitably moody intro section that sees rattling broken garage rhythms giving way to an almost Tangerine Dream-esque wash of synths and Tre's auto-tuned RNB vocal hooks, 'Real Grind' sees Wiley's guest vocals trading places with Tre's over a backdrop of loose, airy beats and blocky gamecore bass synths, the sudden interjection of Adreena's chorus harmonies smoothing off the jagged junglist snare rolls and surging sub-bass. 'Jessica' sees fellow Canadian MC K-Os joining forces with Tre for a melancholic reflection on past girlfriends ensnared in drugs and pimping (a recurrent theme here) that sees skeletal hip hop beats fluttering against a woozy backdrop of pitched down instrumental samples and timestretched snares. Elsewhere, 'Boy In The Corner' offers up a heartfelt tribute to Dizzee Rascal's influence upon the grime scene that offers up one of the biggest highlights here. An excellent debut album that's well worth seeking out.

Perfume Genius: Too Bright [Matador]

Based in Seattle, Washington, Mike Hadreas has released a third album under the moniker Perfume Genius. Deeply personal, his indie-pop albums have expressed a lot of private hurt, a troubled self-esteem and insecurity associated with his sexuality. One of his videos was seen as unsuitable for US TV, not because it was racier than the videos for your average pop diva, but because of its homosexual overtones.

With Too Bright, Hadreas enters new territory, experimenting with harsher sounds as a means of expressing emotion in a more complete way. Similar to past material, 'I Decline' starts slowly, with hesitant piano and train whistle synth. However, this record brings a more sophisticated, electro approach compared to past albums, coupled with more vibrancy and daring. The previously crisp lyrical delivery takes on a more shadowed perimeter. 'Queen' is an album highlight, its icicle bright keys waved over a low, thrumming rhythm and complex vocal layers. Hadreas taunts his listener, throwing their fears back in their faces with the sarcastic “no family is safe when I sashay”. The multi-faceted 'Fool' brings finger snaps and changeable rhythms, transitioning to floating vocals which startle with a sudden shift to an ear-piercing pitch. 'My Body' is another star, with a crazy mix of textures in a constantly shifting audio space, interspersed with a scream and bursts of fuzzy booming. 'Grid' shines out with its 'woka woka' helicopter blade sound, face slap percussion and screamed chant, before a pulsing disco beat barges in. 'Longpig' completes the list of best tracks, with its hypnotic key patterns. Full of surprises, the dramatically varied delivery at times features shrieking spikes of anger, while dropping to an almost subterranean level in other songs such as 'I'm a Mother'.

Interpol: El Pintor [Soft Limit]

When Interpol went on extended hiatus at the end of their 2011 tour, by the band's own admission they were rapidly approaching fracturing point. They'd lost longtime bassist and songwriting foil Carlos Dengler following the recording of their self-titled fourth album, borne the strain of a couple of years on the road opening for the likes of U2, and seen band members increasingly occupied with side projects. In many senses then it's almost a minor miracle that they've reformed three years later to record this fifth album El Pintor (Spanish for 'the painter' and an anagram of the band's name) at all. It also marks the first album recorded by the band without Dengler, with the bass duties now being taken on by frontman Paul Banks, reducing the band down to a trio.


What's immediately noticeable upon listening to this album is just how little an effect this has had upon the band's sound, with the ten tracks here pretty taking straight up from where they last left off. Indeed, highly-textured and hook-laden moments such as first single 'All The Rage Back Home' and 'Everything Is Wrong' see the band bringing all of their trademark shimmering guitar pyrokinetics and propulsive post-punk grooves to bear. While there are few surprises here, on the whole El Pintor is certainly a stronger proposition than its somewhat lukewarm predecessor. Beneath all of the sonic opulence though (enhanced thanks to a characteristically impressive mixing job from Alan Moulder) there's often the sense that Interpol are paying homage to their strongest moments rather than really transcending them, and there's nothing here that really approaches the heights of their first three albums.

Jane Tyrrell: Echoes in the Aviary [elefant TRAKS]

Jane Tyrrell is well known for adding a smooth female touch to such songs as ‘2020’ as a member of renown outfit The Herd and for her collaborative efforts with Urthboy. She has taken a break from that male dominated realm of mics and turntables to stitch her own name in lights, launching her debut LP. In doing so, Tyrrell has transitioned from hip hop chanteuse to indie-pop diva.

Tyrrell and others co-wrote the material in a team effort, with the exception of ‘Stolen Apples’ which fell from the pen of Paul Kelly. Don’t be expecting anything remotely like the sound of The Herd. ‘Echoes in the Aviary’ is a sonic journey through a forest of electronica and tricky percussion. ‘Wild Waters’ opens with hesitant piano, the soft, mist like singing contrasting sharply with an abrasive background soundscape. Songs such as the title track have a real Bertie Blackman ring to them. Clever layers, syncopated percussion, electro beats and overdubs feature prominently. ‘The Rush’ pits compartmented drumming against a deep, moaning synth. The hip swinging beat of ‘Raven’, with its tap-swivel-tap rhythm, accompanies dreamy vocals which rise and fall like a choppy sea. Electro squeaks and squawks abound, in songs such as ‘Ships’, which stands out with its attention grabbing plucked guitar pattern. Tyrrell changes her delivery to a seductive crooning in ‘Among the Bells’. Beginning with the tinkling sound of a music box, it’s easy to picture this sultry, siren call as the opening song of a 007 movie.

Tyrrell’s debut is an entrancing world in which her deep, evocative vocals advance slowly, but relentlessly on an electronic tide.

Magic Hands: Let Me Hold Your Hands While You Fail [Fingerwave Records]

Magic Hands, made up of Alex Badham and Lucy Roleff, slot sweetly into the recent surge of electro two pieces, which isn’t altogether a bad thing. Their debut record, Let Me Hold Your Hands While You Fail treks off into sparse psychedelia on a quest to entrance its listeners.

Magic Hands do not seem intent on producing sharp pop songs, but slow moving landscapes that travel leisurely around atypical structures. There are many moments where the gentle movement of the sound, pulled by a nostalgic ‘80s lick with Roleff’s silken vocals floating on the surface, rings of New York group Chairlift. Magic Hands keep things sparse yet encompassing, with soft intricacies woven throughout. Examples include the electronic intro of ‘Pines’ slipping around a simple bassline, the touches of a timpani drum flecked throughout ‘Holy Times’ and the gurgle of water proceeding the almost sci-fi ‘Tone’. The hip hop shudders of ‘Limousine’ are lined out with the dancing whorls, descending into synchronised push and pull surges of vocals and synths. It is a favourite for me, highlighting their aptitude with the delicate genre of glitch.

Let Me Hold Your Hands While You Fail is a beautifully relaxing listen. Unfortunately, like so many albums that are set on producing dreamscapes, it becomes very easy to either lose track of place within the album or coast around. Perhaps this is due to the silky consistency of Roleff’s voice or the overuse of similar synth sounds. However, if you’re motivated enough to listen carefully and be patient, Let Me Hold Your Hands While You Fail will unfold before your ears with its luxurious entrapments.


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