Miles Davis – Miles Ahead (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Column: CD Reviews   |   Date Published: Wednesday, 8 June 16   |   Author: Dan Bigna   |   10 months, 3 weeks ago

     [Sony Music Entertainment]

Movie soundtracks these days don’t get the attention they once did, usually for good reason.  But some continue to be smartly assembled as this one was by actor Don Cheadle, who poured time and effort into crafting Miles Ahead, a bio-pic on trumpeter Miles Davis. This complex musician stands out as a giant in the world of jazz, at the forefront of just about every major innovation that occurred from 1940s bebop onwards. The movie focuses on the lost years of the late 1970s, when Davis had retired from music and was lost in a haze of drugs and sex as a way of avoiding having to plot his next move. As such, the soundtrack includes a brief but engaging survey of those great electric-funk workouts that preoccupied the trumpeter following the release of the free-form masterpiece Bitches Brew in 1969, an album that brought open-ended improvisation to rock music audiences. 

Listeners are treated to exotic electronic pieces like ‘Black Satin’ from the 1972 album On The Corner, which turned out to be too rock-music for purists but too weird sounding for mainstream rock fans. Regardless, Davis was forging a singular path in the later part of his musical career, as revealed by the dark fusion of ‘Prelude #II’ from the 1975 Japanese concert album Agharta, where an imagined electrified future shone a beacon through dense thickets of sound. This music sounded like nothing else at the time and the inclusion of such a song on the soundtrack bodes well for each selection, establishing the right kind of atmosphere in the movie. 

Non-Davis tracks arranged by keyboardist Robert Glasper touch on the sinewy opaqueness of the best electric stuff, but with lighter brush strokes than the great trumpeter achieved when he fed his instrument through a wah-wah pedal. However, the selected Davis pieces are not all from the electric period and the soundtrack touches on the key phases that preceded it. It opens with the title piece ‘Davis Ahead’ from 1953, when Davis was in full cool jazz mode and exploring a less frenetic melodicism than bop genius Charlie Parker (in whose group Davis first received attention in the mid 1940s). The relaxed, elastic melodies of the modal period are represented by the inclusion of ‘So What’ from the 1959 album, A Kind of Blue, which outsold all others in jazz, from a group that included saxophonist John Coltrane. The latter’s boundary pushing explorations in the mid to late 1960s were different to those of Miles Davis, who professed a suspicion of free improvisation. Yet both artists achieved radical outcomes from the restless experimentation and innovation that served as a common touchstone. 

In the mid 1970s Davis was exploring dark, viscous funk after taking a passionately creative detour into hard bop with the famous 1960s quintet – (making an appearance here on selected tracks from the albums Nefertiti and Filles de Kilimanjaro) – the trumpeter had taken his ongoing musical reinvention to its limit. The final tracks on the album, pieced together by Robert Glasper, make good use of Davis’ electric language and provide a pleasant postscript of sorts, by offering a glimpse of what could have been but also throwing the sheer brilliance of the trumpeter’s creative endeavours into sharp relief. “Don’t call my music jazz. It’s social music,” is a vocal snippet on the soundtrack that resonates through Davis’ many achievements.


Hein Cooper – The Art of Escape: [Indica/MGM]

Hot on the heels of his debut EP in 2015 comes the virgin long player of Milton’s own Hein Cooper. Cooper’s talents have seen him tour internationally, gain plum radio air time and score deals with record labels on three continents. His album retains the moniker of both the EP and its most captivating number, ‘The Art of Escape’, as its title. The songs were captured in Montreal under the oversight of producer Marcus Paquin, who has also worked with Arcade Fire and The National.

The title track combines alt-folk vibes with atmospheric electronica. Initially unfolding to a gentle acoustic guitar, Cooper’s Buckley-esque voice soars, creating delicate patterns in the air, before an electronic cloud creeps in over the latter half of the song. The LP is a balanced mix of plush synth-driven tracks and de-tuned acoustic centred songs. Richly produced, ‘The Real’ fills in all the sonic gaps with its swooning synths, deep-seated, goblin bass rumble and beats that stutter randomly through the song. At the acoustic end of the scale comes ‘Curse My Life’, while the bouncy ‘Polar Bears’ successfully blends both acoustic and electronic approaches, beautifully complementing the sky-high vocals. In a similar manner, synths create shifting aurora colours in ‘Dopamine’, without ever submerging the acoustic core. Track themes express Cooper’s unhappiness with popular obsessions, with the album single ‘Rusty’ targeting the unrealistic notion that everyone has to be happy all the time, and ‘All My Desires’ kicking back at the equally shallow craving associated with insatiable materialism. All songs make it over from the EP including ‘The Luna’, which sneaks in as an unlisted bonus item; a brief, gliding afterthought to this exciting album.


David Bowie – ChangesOneBowie: [Parlophone Records]

A compilation of his greatest hits. What more could you want? ChangesOneBowie was originally released in 1976 as David Bowie’s first greatest hits album, but has been re-released this year following his unfortunate passing. Bowie’s early sound can be heard on this album, incorporating mesmerising guitar riffs, haunting melodies and songs that would influence and shape the music scene of the future.

Filled with David’s early hits from the late ‘60s to early ‘70s, this album is certainly a hidden treasure. The only way to describe his incomparable sound is rock and roll meets RnB. This combination captures his sound, giving it a unique feel. The album starts out with tracks similar to early rock and roll of the ‘60s, then progresses into glam rock with funk undertones, showing how Bowie could easily transform and evolve into new sounds and ideas. The progression of different sounds throughout the album also show the evolution of his music over the years.

When it comes to stand-out tracks on this album, it is hard to choose just one or two. Notable tracks include the infamous ‘Ziggy Stardust’, ‘Suffragette City’ and ‘Rebel Rebel’. The unforgettable track ‘Space Oddity’ also features, and it was this song that shot Bowie to mainstream success in the late ‘60s. Following the story of an astronaut travelling through space, the song gradually builds as strums from an acoustic guitar ring out to create the famous sound.

This album holds the first bundle of his legendary hits. If you’ve never heard any of David Bowie’s songs before, this is definitely the album to start with.


The Field - The Follower: [Kompakt Records]

Is techno still techno if there’s no drop? If there’s no cathartic release causing shit to be lost on the dancefloor? The Field’s Axel Willner would like to think so, and he’s built a career around it. There are no explosions of emotion on The Follower, and thank fuck for that.

Minimal techno is a bit of an anachronism, but it’s an occasionally beautiful one; non-ravey rave music, dance music for those who can’t be stuffed dancing. Willner has previously dabbled in the poppier end of the spectrum, with his earlier work occasionally dealing in the language of the half recognisable sample (hello Lionel Richie).

The Follower isn’t that; it’s much darker and contemplative in nature. What remains is the driving nature of the backbeat and sporadic, ornate melodies sitting above it. It’s the most repetitive that The Field has been to date, with drum beats and microloops that seemingly continue forever, waiting and building tension all the time. On ‘Pink Sun’, this tension becomes nearly hypnotic as the song slowly progresses through it’s various cycles.

It takes a deft touch to convey emotion without words, but Willner manages it across the album’s six tracks. Closer ‘Reflecting Lights’ is a fitting climax for the album, serving as an expansive recap of everything before it on the album, slowly progressing from placid to frantic across its 14-minute length.

What The Field has done with The Follower is create an immaculate piece of headphone music – music to get lost in while you get on with your life and the world around it. The Follower is a patient listen, but an extremely rewarding one – an album worth the time it takes to absorb it.


The Drones - Feelin' Kinda Free: [Tropical Fuck Storm]

What’s the old saying? There are only three sure things in life: death, taxes and aging white male music critics fawning over a new Drones album. But like the two former things, there is nothing necessarily wrong with the latter; nor is it anything to be ashamed about (or so I tell myself).

The Drones are arguably the most critically acclaimed band of their generation, and their frontman Gareth Liddiard perhaps its most venerated lyricist (Tim Rogers may want a word). Feelin’ Kinda Free is a definite shift for a band with such a sure and solid identity.

Liddiard’s ‘straylian drawl is perhaps the biggest tie to their previous work, with so much changing around it. Electronic drums and synth pads play as much a part as guitars and drums in part, and Liddiard sheds a fair amount of the vocal load onto others. Avant-garde plays with straight up dance in parts, and the old dogs look like they’ve learnt a trick or two.

The end result is that The Drones sound fresher than they have in the last decade. The shifting staccato guitars of ‘Taman Shud’ are a highlight, with Liddiard’s lyrics no less biting than ever. It’s also a track that would be totally out of place on any other Drones release. The unashamed beauty of ‘To Think That I Once Loved You’ sits at the other end of the same spectrum, a piece of majesty with a soaring chorus that they’ve never sniffed before (thanks to Harmony).

Feelin’ Kinda Free is just that; a band at their loosest, their most relaxed. It’s a band expressing ideas that they’ve hinted at but maybe never explored fully. One can only hope that they continue feeling free.


Various Artists - Day of the Dead: [4AD]

Who do you ask to cover the psychedelia kings of Palo Alto, Grateful Dead? Who is strange, curious, playful enough, and yet also respectful of the musical and cultural heritage of Jerry Garcia and co.? Designed to raise funds for HIV and AIDS support organisation Red Hot, the choice of artists is as eclectic as the genres Grateful Dead mixed and mashed into their own career.

Disclosure: I am not a Grateful Dead fan, but only because I don’t know their music, so I have not reviewed this album with a deep desire to see the original music honoured. I review it with a desire to hear music I want to listen to, whether it’s an homage, a cover or a total 180 degrees on the original. All I know is that Grateful Dead emerged in the hippies’ era, and had a reputation for carrying on jams for very long times. They were also well known for LSD and magic mushroom use and advocacy – fuel for jams, if you like.

Of 59 tracks, every ear will be drawn to a different selection of favourites, but I recommend the following.

‘Dark Star’ by Cass McCombs, Joe Russo & Friends employs eastern instruments a la George Harrison’s solo endeavours in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The hazy, dream-state vocals could come through a cloud of fairy dust and smoke to curl around your head. It’s a little bit eastern, a little bit California psychedelia, a bit hippy, plenty listenable.

Want a bit of Hendrix guitar noodling and harmonising country voices? You got it. Marijuana Deathsquad deliver with ‘Truckin’. Sparse, echoey and a little bit shouty – you know these guys would be immensely good fun live. There’s even handclapping and saxophone.

Bonny Prince Billy contributes ‘Rubin and Cherise’, a folky sing-along toe-tapper. He could be channelling this directly from a ‘60s California studio. His fans will lap this up.

Our own Melbourne girl Courtney Barnett makes a country-bluegrass infused offering in ‘New Speedway Boogie’. It’s a bit of a yawn honestly, but inoffensive.

Skip straight to Anohni doing ‘Black Peter’ for the voice, the lament and the skillful adoption of strings. See if you don’t feel like you’re having a commune with angels.

Lucinda Wiliams brings years of smoking, drinking, living, loving and losing to her gravelly take on ‘Going Down The Road’. You’ll wonder how this wasn’t her song all along.

The War On Drugs do a slightly Gary Numan meets Bruce Springsteen take on ‘Touch Of Grey’. It’s fun, it wouldn’t go astray on an ‘80s dancefloor, and it’s less lamenting and bluesy than the sounds on this album. Fear not though, there’s a harmonica at the 2:35 mark to tie it to the era of the Deadheads.

Jenny Lewis, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Mumford and Sons, Stephen Malkmus, Bill Callahan and Unknown Mortal Orchestra will be names with enough clout to attract curious listeners, and this is an excellent thing. Do you need to be a fan of the Grateful Dead? I can only leave that up to fans to decide, but the quality of acts on this album warrants your hard-earned time and dollars. And hey, it’s for a good cause.


Lavers - Thought I Was King: [Independent Release]

Thought I Was King is the plucky debut album from local Canberra quartet, Lavers. The album launched in October 2015 to an excited crowd of faithful followers and curious music lovers. When I purchased the album I fell into the second category, going into it blind and not knowing what I was going to get. As time goes on however, it seems I am becoming more and more a faithful follower. Thought I Was King is a blend of rock and folk music, taking inspiration from acts like The Cure and The Smiths. Eerie acoustics weave from one song to the next, sewing together a sad and joyful story of love and life.

The album begins with the 5-and-a-half-minute epic, ‘Phoenix Rising’. This is a song that encapsulates the album’s entire feel and its themes. The song starts off soft, building up to a loud, electric finish. The calm introduction lends a feel of a medieval kingdom in which a lonesome vocalist sings about the dreams of a small village boy. The real stand-outs are the acoustic lead melodies ‘Stolen Flowers’ and ‘Our Little Empire’, both of which resonate troubled love and misfortune.

Thought I was King reminds me of Coldplay’s 2008 album Viva La Vida, with its themes of struggle for power and a monarch on the brink of destruction. It is the sort of album I never thought I would enjoy, deserving repeated listening in order to fully understand the meaning behind each song. It is a beautifully, acoustic led album that I recommend to anyone looking for something unique and meaningful.


Olympia - Self Talk: [Universal Music Australia]

Olivia Bartley is Olympia, Melbourne synth pop artist who has been gigging around for a few years now. Self Talk is a stellar debut – polished with the help of producer Burke Reid (ex-Gerling).

Self Talk is understated and mesmerising. After a few start-to-finish listens, I had a different song linger and roll about in my head each day. It was so subtle, I didn’t realise that’s what had been happening for a good week now. I’ve got no complaints about that, though. 

If I had to sum up the album in a few words, it would be “90s Futuristic”. Singles ‘Honey’, ‘Smoke Signals’ and ‘This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things’ are solid electronica with bloody good guitars. In particular, ‘Smoke Signals’ has this mildly frenetic pace that makes me want to gesticulate majestically like a contestant in RuPaul’s Drag Race, singing for their life. Which is fine when I’m listening at home, but not so much when I’ve got my headphones in, walking to and from work. 

Singles aside, there are a few slow burners that are straight up quality. The album’s namesake ‘Self Talk’ is a highlight, and ‘Biscuits’ is a quieter moment that showcases Olympia’s voice beautifully. After all that praise, ‘Fishing Knots/Blood Vessels’ is one track I haven’t been able to really enjoy. There’s an uneasiness to it that’s just not sitting as well as the rest of the album does. 

Self Talk has been noticed by the right people too. Olympia is touring soon with Paul Dempsey (sadly missing Canberra) both as support and as a member of his band. Pretty good endorsement, don’t you think?


Anohni – Hopelessness: [Rough Trade Records]

From the melancholy echoes of keyboard and the familiar restrains of Anohni’s delicate-but-powerful voice on the first track ‘Drone Me’, this album announces itself as big and epic in both its scope and sound.

Is it strange to find yourself nodding along and tapping your fingers to lines like, “Drone bomb me / Blow my head off...”? Maybe. Dare you to see if you don’t find yourself doing it though.

A thoughtful, impassioned and hauntingly beautiful response to the macabre cabaret that is politics in 2016. Anohni expresses fear over climate change and the very real impact on animals, mountains, icecaps, islands and plants in ‘4 degrees’. The masterful use of strings and percussion to build drama and depth makes this one of the stand-out tracks amongst an album of consistently complex and memorable music. 

‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’ is a heart-wrenching admission to a careless lover. The drums beat slowly, crashing like heartbeats or body-shaking sobs (add it to the list of best ever breakup songs). Hopelessness will, doubtless, earn its place in the top ten albums of this year. 

Anohni is an English-born singer, composer and artist best known as the lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons. Having previously referenced Kate Bush, Boy George, Diamanda Galas and Nina Simone as influences, each of these voices and personalities are reflected like fragments of diamond in every song. The drama, the haunting voices, the intense pleas, the political undertones and, above all, the genuine need to make music that matters; music that speaks of time, place and the political, made personal.

Sometimes talk of Anohni’s transgender status can overwhelm any real focus on her talent and music. It would be a shame for any of this talk to overshadow the epic, dream-like and quietly devastating ode to our planet and people that is Hopelessness. Ironically, as long as there are artists such as Anohni creating work like this, it is not hopeless at all.


Tim Crossey and his Adult Contemporaries – Super Agonistes: [Independent Release]

Tim Crossey and his Adult Contemporaries are out to send a message before you can even crank up their CD, eschewing Facebook and similar social networking business enterprises for exploiting their users and promoting ‘divestment’ as a means of protecting the planet. Novocastrian Crossey assembled his backing band from likeminded musos with a mixed parcel of blues, punk and rockabilly backgrounds, to produce a debut disk of smartly turned out alt-country rock.

Opener ‘Just Desserts’ is a fast rural pub ankle flexer, adorned with steel guitar licks from the fingers of Roy Payne. But it’s on track three – with its recording realism of studio chatter and a false start – where the band begins to show real character. More narrative storytelling (country rap?) than singing, this bar room conversation reeks of agro and bravado. Adopting a menacing stance with its fuzzy musical backdrop, it reels off winning lyrics such as “laughed like a worn out two stroke”. ‘Best Years of Your Life’ and ‘All Highways’ shine as slower contemplative tracks. However, good things come in slick packages. So it’s the fast moving pair of ‘You Should’ve Bought Yourself Insurance’ (with its swinging rhythm and dry humour) and ‘Irene’ (with its melancholy, raucous tones of romance gone wrong and the best guitar mix-up in the bridge) that stand erect as album highlights. Full of surprise, ‘We Don’t Make Love, We Just Take it in Turns’ fools you into settling down with its cozy, earworm riff, when a creeping distortion stages a coup, taking over halfway through the eight-minute track and laying it to waste. With a mixture of smooth rolling tunes and rough ‘n’ ready character pieces, Crossey’s outfit sounds best when it plays loose and wild.


Black Stone Cherry – Kentucky: [Mascot Records]

Fittingly, Southern US rock merchants Black Stone Cherry named their latest release after their home state and recording studio location, Kentucky. The fifth album since their 2006 self-titled debut, it unleashes a torrent of hard tunes with a sound and energy in keeping with the band’s previous efforts. In style, Black Stone Cherry skirts the edge of metal while remaining comfortably in a territory that appeals to consumers of mainstream heavy rock, with music that saw them chosen as suitable touring partners for Nickelback.

While the opening pair of tracks is not compelling, the album takes off from ‘Shakin’ The Cage’, with solid riffage and an alluring plucked pattern hiding beneath the guitar storm above. ‘Soul Machine’ succeeds with its vocal hook of an S-O-U-L countdown, backing horns and even some female vocals in support. A drum roll intro leads into a cover of Edwin Starr’s 1969 classic ‘War’, putting some steel behind the Motown funk of the original. There’s a clever chorus to ‘Hangman’ – part soft-sell whisper coupled with a belted-out roar – while ‘Cheaper to Drink Alone (about high maintenance women) is another winner. ‘Rescue Me’ sits apart with its gospel-style intro and softer indie-rock sensibilities, glimpsed through its carapace of pummelling guitars. However, it is the closer ‘The Rambler’ (and strangely enough the softest song on this album) that really stands out. This soft ballad with fiddle accompaniment frames Chris Robertson’s voice well. The lyrics finely express the penalties paid by families of touring bands, including the core line, “Turn the radio up when your heart breaks down”. Overall, while the band’s style has no unique characteristics, the pulling power of bucket loads of muscular riffs is unmistakable.


Mia Dyson – Right There: [MGM]

Australian singer-songwriter Mia Dyson made her mark as a heavy hitter in the blues and roots scene with an ARIA gong for her second album in 2005. Her new EP Right There comes two years after the launch of her fifth long player, Idyllwild. Well known for vibrant guitar work and a unique voice that portrays deep emotion so well, Dyson takes the rock infused exuberance of Idyllwild tracks such as ‘When We’re Older’ and overlays them with a more polished sound and melodies with extra magnetism.

‘Tearing Up the Lawn’ makes a declaration that this is a new Dyson sound – her signature throaty vocal rowed along by harsh guitar slashes and a prominent drum beat, with firecracker bursts of intersecting licks in the bridge. Contrastingly, the more leisurely pace of ‘Talk With Me’ leaves space for the lyrics, with a voice that is more expressive than ever. Showers of thick, blurry plucks resonate until they strike fold upon fold of Dyson’s singing, before the song escapes in a fiery tail of space filling guitar. There’s real swing to the title track, with Dyson’s vocal feinting and lunging as she shadow boxes with the flat slap percussion and steady chug-chug rhythm. The new material was co-written with her husband, with at least one based on his poetry. It’s in ‘The Sad Part of Feeling Good’ that the power of the songwriters comes through best. Every line counts in a track that is one for real song lovers. This is vintage Dyson, harking back to her Cold Water album days, with that slow, powerful vocal projection. The disk ends gently with ‘I Want Honey’ – its dreamy delivery eased along by wisps of pedal steel and bright guitar blips.


The Jelly Jam – Profit: [Mascot Music/Publishing BV]

After 5 years, progressive rock super group Jelly Jam is back with album number four, Profit. Jelly Jam’s previous offering Shall We Descend was a more traditional prog album with a wide range of musical styles, a distinctly angry metal feel and loads of intricate solos. Profit is a significantly more laidback affair, with a more consistent melodic feel and groove across all 12 tracks. Guitarist and vocalist Ty Tabor says that they recorded an excess of music for the album, giving them the freedom to choose a set of 12 tracks that knit together seamlessly.

Profit will appeal to lovers of classic ‘70s metal; the album is full of big, crunchy power riffs provided by King’s ex-guitarist Ty Tabor, phat bass lines by Dream Theater’s John Myung and simple but powerful drum grooves by Rod Morgenstein of Winger and the Dixie Dregs.

The whole album rocks along at a fairly relaxed pace – the perfect soundtrack to a chilled summer afternoon. Stand-out tracks include ‘Perfect Lines (Flyin’)’ with syncopated, almost Tool-like riffs. Then there’s ‘Mr Man’, which is sure to get you moshing in your loungeroom. On the flip side is ‘Permanent Hold’, which just slowly grooves along to what sounds like a largely improvised guitar solo for 3 minutes and 20 seconds. But it’s definitely a slow burner of an album – it might take a couple of listens to get into it, but it’s worth it.

4 out of 5 progressive jam sandwiches.


Metallica – Kill ‘Em All & Ride the Lightning (Remastered): [Blackened Recordings/Universal]

It has been a long time coming, but Metallica’s first two albums have now been properly remastered. This allows for a newly minted appraisal. When I first heard the wild thrash of ‘Hit the Lights’, the opening track on Metallica’s fully formed 1983 debut album Kill ‘Em All, it seemed as if no other piece of music would ever get me going like that. Firstly, the raw power electrifying that song knocked Mötley Crüe and all the other crap hair metal poseurs for dead. I also figured that the staccato rhythms, punk attitude and warp speed lead guitar signalled a step beyond all those great New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) bands like Iron Maiden and Saxon, which had until that moment rocked my world. Metallica came across a lot heavier than those other groups because all the right elements were in place. These included James Hetfield’s killer riffs and pissed off vocals, Cliff Burton’s molten bass, pot smoking hippie Kirk Hammett’s searing guitar leads and propulsive, tough as nails percussion from Lars Ulrich that prevailed as the music became increasingly complex. An added bonus was the manic double kick drumming lifted from Motörhead’s proto-metallic track ‘Overkill’, which no proper mosh could do without.

I was initially excited when I first heard about these reissues, as the first four albums contain the band’s best work, and I was hoping for some mouth-watering bonus material in what has become the norm for newly mastered editions. Instead the band went all out with a super-deluxe vinyl and CD set, with an exorbitant price tag attached that targeted only the most dedicated fans. The budget price remastered versions reviewed here (with no extra material and minimal packaging) were designed for everyone else, and are not definitive editions from a band that has always claimed to be ‘doing it for the fans’. But we’ll leave that as something to consider and return to the music. The remastering job is a good one as the sound is now satisfyingly fleshed out, particularly Cliff Burton’s frenetic bass work. The original mastering on CD suffered the fate of many first generation digital recordings with the sound overly compressed and trebly, particularly on Kill ‘Em All. This has been rectified to some extent and lightning fast tracks like ‘Whiplash’ no longer rush past in a sonic blur. 

The remastering also illuminates how well constructed the songs on the earlier albums are, such as the display of virtuosity in the lengthy ‘Ride The Lightning’ instrumental. ‘The Call of Ktulu’, with its coda achieving total heaviosity, sounds right at home next to unlikely companions like heavy King Crimson album, Red. Suggested prog-rock leanings aside, this earlier material tosses up references to original inspirations Motörhead and the NWOBHM bands, but played harder and faster. ‘Trapped Under Ice’ from Ride the Lightning roars into life with an intensity that assaults the senses and makes for an exhilarating experience. The same could be said for ‘Creeping Death’, also from that album. Old Testament themes aside, this song rocks hard, and close listening reveals the instruments tightly interlocking to make the arrangements airtight and more powerful as a result. In the end, it boils down to those assertive lyrics from ‘Whiplash’, “we will never quit / ‘cause we are Metallica” – enough said.  


Urthboy – The Past Beats Inside of Me Like a Second Heartbeat: [Elefant Traks]

The next big thing for rapper Tim Levinson (a.k.a. Urthboy) was to have been the extended release of five interconnected EPs, focusing on the decades 1950 to 2000. Instead, the project morphed into his fifth solo LP, with themes uniting history with his own extended and immediate family. Straight hip-hop can be stark, especially where an unvaried delivery and unremitting projection of lyrics is as bleak and bleached as faces under klieg lights. In this album, Levinson has artfully stayed far away from any such danger, through an even greater involvement of featured vocalists.

‘Long Loud Hours’ lances the air with slivers of striated bass and compressed female vocalisation, before the smooth Urthboy/Bertie Blackman combo kicks in. He takes a trip through his family’s history in the title track, a bouncy tune with tinkling keys and strong R&B undertones courtesy of both Sampa the Great and Okenyo. Rounded out with horns and one of just two songs Levinson reserves for himself, ‘Hey Juanita’ relates the true story of the unsolved murder of heiress and Kings Cross Green Bans heroine, Juanita Nielsen. The detail woven into the songs impresses, with the research behind ‘Hey Juanita’ very evident. It segues seamlessly into album highlight ‘Rubble of the Past’, with Montaigne dominating the song with her spectacular voice. In ‘Running Into These Flames’, the pace slows to an electronic stick man strut, while the rapping accelerates with words rumbling out, helter skelter. There’s an irresistible undertow to the atmospheric ‘Wolves at Bay’, while singer Timberwolf adds his soulful touch to ‘The Arrow’. 

Urthboy keeps it real, with his skillful mix of alluring musical textures and classy guest vocalists elevating his art from street level to a higher plain.


Meredith – Nostalgia: [Independent Release]

Having moved on far from the style of her cute, acoustic-backed 2014 song ‘Darkness’, Brisbane singer songwriter Meredith has embraced the smooth fluidity of keyboards in her debut EP.

Opener ‘Levels’ comes swaddled in slow synths with faux-temple bell tones. Meredith’s vocals bring an instant comparison with the fragile airs of Gosling, in a track coiled around a funky melody running to sharp beats. There’s a blurred edge to the lyrical delivery, adding a covert component to the song, which invites a closer listen. ‘Jumpin Beds’ advances drowsily to subdued keys, while ‘Running Asleep’ sounds suitably sleepy, with an invitation to climb onto your most convenient cloud and float away. There’s more life in the flickering keys that light the way in ‘How Could You Believe That’, a tale of dismay at the situation of a friend who is being taken advantage of in a relationship. The vocals flow easily, expressing emotion through minor but beguiling turns in inflection or the drawing out of a lyric. Overdubs of her voice provide body to the song, increasing its intensity as it draws to a close. However, the standout EP track has to be ‘Cleanse My Soul’, sailing in at the finish with more momentum behind it, courtesy of some chunky slabs of sound that nicely combine staccato bursts of synth with finger-snapping beats and growling undercurrents.

Strictly low impact, Meredith’s indie-pop debut delights by luxuriating in a bath of atmospheric electronica, with strong chill out sensibilities. However, at times her understated approach does not hold the listener’s attention well, and ‘chill’ can border on ‘numb’.




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