Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Review: Jane Woody - Big Breaths Little Lungs

Mel Ralph has been playing around Brisbane under the moniker of Jane Woody for a few good years now, ever since she left I Heart Hiroshima and DIY-heroes Kicks in the middle of this decade. A few months ago she released her debut album Big Breaths Little Lungs on the local Valve label, and... well, that's about it. I've barely heard anything from her since then (I think she perhaps played a few shows around the time of its release, and her myspace indicates that she has since been out of the city / in Alice Springs?).

The one mention of her I came across was a lukewarm review of the album in a local street press, which essentially said that the record was perhaps overly lo-fi and samey. Because of this I first listened to Big Breaths Little Lungs expecting something consisting mostly of rough acoustic guitars, tape hiss and timid vocals; what I actually found was quite an accomplished sounding indie-pop record featuring drum machines, punk guitars, keyboards... and timid vocals. It's not Sergeant Peppers, but neither is it a Daniel Johnston cassette. The nearest comparison I can come up with is An Horse backed by Baltimore's Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - introspective, lovelorn pop that mixes the ramshackle nature of DIY with something a little bit more tech-savvy.

The album starts out with it's most overtly DIY sounding track in the 47 second long 'Coblers Pegs', which features vaguely out of tune guitars playing a rudimentary 4-note melody over a cheap sounding Casio beat. 'Decide' follows up with something more substantial, all driving Ramones-punk guitars and a simple drum beat. It's a subtly catchy number that finds the middle ground between I Heart Hiroshima and Sekiden (with Ralph's Angie Hart-esque vocals). On the other side of the coin, third track 'Now You've Fucked It Entirely' is a more downbeat, electronic sounding track. From there the album continues with most of the elements introduced in those first three tracks, most songs consisting of various combinations of guitars (sometimes strummed and acoustic, sometimes driving and distorted, sometimes nimble and clean), synth-pop keys and drum machines moving along at a medium tempo plus or minus a few bpm. My personal favourite track would be 'Bruises', a song that starts out as just guitar and vocals but gradually introduces sheets of guitar noise and rhythms, eventually building to something that almost sounds like it could fit on My Bloody Valentine's Isn't Anything. Penultimate track 'City' is notably different from the rest of the album - while it starts out with another Casio drum beat, instead of introducing a pop melody it does away with vocals entirely and places the focus on some slinky synth lines and guitars for the first half, before finishing with some interestingly treated electronic drums. It sounds more like some IDM/post-rock thing than bedroom pop.

The minimalist tendencies of Ralph's previous bands (the aforementioned I Heart Hiroshima and Kicks) are still very evident in Jane Woody Big Breaths Little Lungs, with most of the songs clocking in between 1:30 and 2:30 and rarely consisting of anything more than a verse riff and a chorus riff. Indeed, the album itself is somewhat short, but in a good way - I imagine that if it were any longer its charms could well start wear thin and it may become guilty of the accusations of being somewhat samey. As it is, this certainly isn't an 'exciting' album in any way, it won't get you pumping your metaphorical (or actual) fists, though if you give it the chance it will probably make you do an awkward little dance around your bedroom on a Sunday morning. That's the sort of record this is, it's a charming little piece of pop that's perfect for lazing around at home with on the weekend.


Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Gigs of the Week - September 23rd

My computer was having difficulties last week so there was no gig guide (and there were some good shows on, too). This week I thought I'd put the gig guide up a fraction earlier to make amends.

Wednesday 24th:
Kahl Monticone @ GoMA Cinematheque (12pm) - performing a live score to the movie 'Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks)' as part of the 'Out of the Shadows: German Expressionism and Beyond' exhibition (apologies to Kahl for initially misspelling his name).

Thursday 25th:
Mr Maps, To The North @ Ric's Bar - the best word to describe this night would be 'precise'.
The Quills, Andrew Taylor, The Figures @ The Zoo

Friday 26th:
Rollerball, Sonofabitch, Shelfin, Little Vegas & The Fuzz Parade, The Young Poisoners @ Rosie's
Black Mustang, Wind & Brackets, The Gallant, The Pretty Boys, The Cairos @ Valley Hotel Bar 388
The Medicine Show, The Jim Rockfords, The Working Girls @ Clarance Corner Hotel
Re:Enactment, Toy Balloon, Deux Garcon @ Tongue & Groove

Saturday 27th:
Celibate Rifles (NSW), Community Cervix, Del Toro, Slick 46, The Pints, Black Mustang, Boondall Boys, Neighbourhood Swine, Sonic Porno, The Wayne Keys Show, Lords of Wong @ Jubilee Hotel (4pm) - 4ZzZ fundraiser.
The Gin Club, Tim Steward Band, James Grehan @ QPAC Cascade Court - QPAC's weekly free all-ages show.
Ben Ely's Radio 5 @ Ric's Bar

Sunday 28th:
Live Spark: The Cairos, Fasttrack to Euphoria @ The Powerhouse


Friday, 12 September 2008

Review: Tragic/Athletic - Brakes

I remember seeing Tragic/Athletic starting out as a noisy little three-piece back in the days of 610 and Jamie's carpark. They were like a little version of Turnpike (which is no bad thing). Who would have thought that a few years later, with a couple of releases under their belt, they'd come out with something like their new 10" EP Brakes? While there are certainly still echoes of that past band, their sound has grown to encompass a wider range of instruments and moods, no doubt influenced by Paul Donoghue's country-infused BigStrongBrute and Ollie Mackay's time in the shoegaze-esque The Rational Academy. I mean, who would have thought that an entity like MTV would one day pick them as one of their five favourite up-and-coming Brisbane bands (as they did just recently as part of the MTV Kickstart competition)?

The first thing you'll notice on purchase of the 10" is the packaging (obviously). It must be said, it's a beautiful looking piece of vinyl (and for those of you who prefer your sound in digital formats, it comes with a copy of the EP on CD too). The second thing you'll notice, once you've placed it on you turntable, is that it sounds really good - clear yet warm and dynamic. It's not 'hi-fi' per se (ie: you're not going to mistake it for a Magoo recording, or perhaps not even a Bryce Moorhead recording), but it nails that slightly raw indie-rock sound that albums like Funeral or You Forgot It In People have popularised. I think it's the best thing I've heard from local Recording Engineer Todd Dixon.

But onto the songs (which will collectively be the third thing you'll notice). 'We Set Sail When The Wind Came' is notable in it's opening slot for not containing any of Tragic/Athletic's previous trademark guitars until 35seconds into the song - instead the band have chosen to open the EP with synths, keys and rudimentary drums. A brief four-bar guitar interlude gives way to the full band entering the song in full bombast, with multi-tracked vocals half singing, half chanting the lyrics. The song has a decided sea-shanty feel, helped along by the accordion that drones away through the majority of the song. It's certainly a strong opener, and a definite favourite in the band's discography.

'Three Months At Sea' is next up, starting with some sort of ambient sound effect and a two-chord, single strum guitar progression. Lethargic vocals enter, then bass and drums, the song gradually building in energy before falling back to how it began. Eventually the band breaks into a more rollicking section, still utilising the same two-chord progression. Once more a short breakdown featuring dissonant guitar introduces the final section of the song, where the band picks up speed and finally brings in some new chords, along with a horn section and a truly joyous, celebratory feel. The end effect is a song that is strongly reminiscent of the previously referenced Broken Social Scene, though the recording doesn't quite capture the live power of the song (see the YouTube video at the end of this review to get an idea of that).

'Make For The Hills' is probably the most straight-forward and upbeat of the tracks on Brakes, wasting no time on building up a head of steam. Instead it plunges straight into a tense riff for the first 45 second of the songs, then heads into Tragic/Athletic's version of the disco-punk thing that was ubiquitous a few years back. Another spacey, introspective middle section follows, before the band races to the end of the song with the previously introduced disco rhythm. It's *probably* my least favourite track, but that's not really much of a slight given the consistency of this release.

The final track of the EP, 'Four Decades', initially might seem more akin to the Tragic/Athletic that many may be more familiar with. With its insistently jagged bass riff and rhythm it sounds more like the noise-rock that the band was initially known for. However, even in this song they show progression, with the minimalist feel of the track sounding closer to something My Disco's Paradise album than anything else. And again, the band throws a sudden change into the song when they switch from repetitive post-punk to a woozy reverb-washed guitar 'chorus', before again faking us out by introducing a middle section featuring subdued group chanting over the top of a simplistic drum part. The EP closes out on a decidedly ambiguous note - this definitely isn't the stereotypical 'big rock finish' that most bands opt to end a release with.

I like this release, if for no other reason than it's heartening to see a band like Tragic/Athletic stick around when other bands of their era (eg: Frou Frou Foxes) petered out and died; seeing progression and maturity in a band like this is such a rare thing in Brisbane. It's also heartening to see a band like Tragic/Athletic being unafraid of introducing more 'populist' elements into their music - too often bands in Brisbane seem to think you either have to be as mainstream-courting as Yves Klein Blue or as underground-embracing as On-Oxx (not having a go at either of those bands). There IS a middle ground, which bands like I Heart Hiroshima and Iron On have shown. It also helps that Brakes is a genuinely good collection of songs, one that holds its own surprises and moods and that is as cohesive a release as you'll find in its genre (an aspect that The Rational Academy's A Heart Against Your Own could be criticised for, as much as I love it). That said, as much as the band is making admirable steps toward a more accessible sound while still retaining their original aesthetic, this is still music that requires a pre-existing disposition to raw indie-rock to enjoy. The vocals parts are certainly a lot more melodic and 'catchy' than they were previously, but your average JJJ listener will still probably find them too rough.

Then again, if MTV likes them than I don't see why Richard Kingsmill and his followers can't.

Three Months At Sea @ The Troubadour:


Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Gigs of the Week - September 10th

This is a busy week. There's Valley Fiesta, Big Sound and plenty of other shows. I'm not going to list the shows related to those two events, since you can check them out via the links and there's too many for me to be bothered typing out (although I will make mention of the Ups & Downs show on Saturday night in the Chinatown Mall, I'm definitely going to that since I missed the Pig City Festival - was in Melbourne at the time).

Wednesday 10th:
Idle Cranes, Deux Garcons @ Ric's Bar - The opening of Idle Cranes' own Jon Weber's art exhibition.

Thursday 11th:
Heinz Riegler & Lawrence English @ GoMA Cinematheque (2pm) - Heinz has been invited by GoMA to curate the Contemporary Music Program for their German Expressionist Film Festival. Throughout the next three months various artists will provide improvised soundtracks to the silent films. This first show features Heinz himself and local experimental music king Lawrence English backing the following two films: 'The Life And Death of 9413 - A Hollywood Extra' and 'La Chute de la Maison Usher'. Entry is free.
Qua, The Rational Academy, Panoptique Electrical @ Judith Wright Centre - This will be the last show for Meredith McHugh and Ollie Mackay in tRA.
Blue Carousel, The Soma @ Ric's Bar
The Hungry Kids of Hungary, Steve Grady, Kissy Trouble Company, Joe Barbaro, Benjamin Hooper @ Bar Soma

Friday 12th:
Bastard Experimental Music Festival: Monster Zoku Onsomb!, The Tango Saloon, Silent Partners, The Cunt Offensive, Crab Smasher, Sugar Logic @ The Globe
Mono: Lucas Abela, Robin Fox, Blank Realm, Tim Olive (Japan) @ IMA, Judith Wright Centre (7pm)
Violent Soho, Straight Arrows (NSW), Slug Guts @ Rosie's
Kim Salmon & The Surrealists (WA), Gentle Ben & His Sensitive Side, The Butcher Birds, Kewpie Doll @ Step Inn
Steve Grady & The Wild Pidgeons @ The Hive

Saturday 13th:
Heinz Riegler & Lawrence English, DJ Olive (USA) @ GoMA Cinematheque (11am) - same deal as the Thursday show, except that the film for this show will be 'Warning Shadows'.

Coming in the next few days: reviews of releases by Tragic/Athletic and Jane Woody.


Sunday, 7 September 2008

Review: Little Scout - The Dead Loss EP

Back at the start of the year I posted a list of bands to keep an eye on in 2008. One of those bands was Rooftop Nightwatch, who played a number of excellent gigs last year, but have since slipped beneath the waves. Fortunately, the band lives on in the guise of Little Scout, which features Rooftop Nightwatchers Mel Tickle and Pat Elliott, as well as new additions Kirsty Tickle and a part-time drum machine.

The result of this collaboration is The Dead Loss EP, which features 5 songs, some which are old Rooftop tracks and some that are newer ones. The opening track, 'Festival' is part of the former group. The graceful tale of love and loss at a carnival begins with understated electric guitar and beautifully subtle vocals, before moving into a chorus reminiscent of Broken Social Scene's more upbeat moments. Trombone and backup vocals from Elliott help to give the song a misleading amount of size, with the song segueing between the quieter and louder moments with ease.

The second track, 'Dead Loss' starts of with a minutes worth of Eno-esque synth swirls before the motorik-style drum loop kicks in. Mel Tickle's vocals swerve 'Dead Loss' in a direction other then Berlin, however, and by the time the extra drums appear halfway through (actual drums, not a machine this time) Little Scout have stamped out their own little slice of pop. The result is that the impressive 'Dead Loss' comes off as the perfect middle ground between the twee rave-up of Belle and Sebastian's 'Electronic Renaissance', and Slowdive's shoegaze come down 'Catch The Breeze'.

The last three tracks of the EP come close to reaching the potential of 'Festival' and 'Dead Loss'. 'Train On Time' is the best of the three, with Elliott and Tickle splitting the vocal duties for this wistful ballad full of chimes, glockenspiel, and even a bit of a capella towards the end. 'The Dress' is another duet, but this time with a bit more pace, and is reminiscent of The Lucksmiths (but again with extra glockenspiel!). 'Seven Day Week' works well as a closing song, with the production leading the song to sound somewhat distant, and, combined with Tickle's resigned vocals, the song manages to convey quite a lot of emotion.

It will be interesting to see what future course the band takes. While the majority of the EP sticks to the acoustic twee pop that Rooftop Nightwatch came up with, Little Scout's dip into electronica on 'Dead Loss' results in the strongest song here, and if the bands recent live shows are anything to go by then that might be the direction they are headed in. But in the meantime the Dead Loss EP provides a nice combination of both styles, and any fan of indie pop will certainly enjoy this release.

N.B. You may have noticed that I haven't posted much in recent times. Well that's because I'm now living in China! I plan to continue writing, however, as I have about half a dozen albums I still havent reviewed. This review might also seem a bit disjointed as well. I began writing it a month and a bit a go, but due to the move I had to put it on hold.


Thursday, 4 September 2008

Gigs of the Week - September 4th (Plus Rave's Stranded Review)

You know how we've been promising to have some substantial posts soon? Well we should have a few posts on some relatively new local releases in the near future. Anyway, here are some shows to see over the next few days:

(This will be more useful than this week's Timeoff, which actually has the gig guide for MELBOURNE printed in it. Nice work Street Press Australia.)

Thursday 4th:
MTV Kickstart: Tragic/Athletic, Little Scout, The Rocketsmiths, The Cairos, Villains of Wilhelm @ The Troubadour - You have to go to this page to sign up for entry. It's free, and it starts at 7:30pm. The bands all play two-song sets.
The Art of the State, My Fiction @ Ric's Bar

Friday 5th:
No Anchor, Turnpike, Grasshopper @ Tongue & Groove - recommendation of the week.
Underlapper (NSW), The Rational Academy, Mr Maps @ The Valley Studios - co-recommendation of the week.
The Vegas Kings (Live Album launch), King Automatic (France), DZ @ The Troubadour - co-co-recommendation of the week. It's just a shame that they're all on at the same time.
Nikko, Dos Hell, Une Garcon @ Tabu Nightclub
Neil Young Tribute: Chris Pickering, Dan Parsons, Dextor's Conscience, Steve Grady & The Hillsides, The Wells @ The Globe

Saturday 6th:
Underlapper (NSW), Tragic/Athletic, McKisko @ Lofly Hangar (151 Musgrave Rd, Red Hill) - can I have four recommendations in a week?
The Z-Rays, Nikko
@ Ric's Bar
The Oyster Murders, Idle Cranes, Twist Oliver Twist, Loomer @ The Valley Studios
Pineapples From The Dawn of Time, Kamikaze (SA), Blowhard, Crackwhores (Vic), The Busymen, Chucknee @ Step Inn

Also, Rave reviewed the Stranded Compilation this week. Thanks guys. Here's the review:
"Local music blog releases three discs of awesome.

Reviewing Stranded is rather obvious. Anyone who has an interest in the Brisbane music scene needs to own this. Anyone who claims to represent the Brisbane music scene abroad needs to have this stapled to their forehead. Any band who aren’t represented here, had better hope there’s another one. Personally, my only wish is that they manage to encompass a greater spectrum of genres next time. That would trump anything Brisbane City Council could ever hope to do. But then ... so does this. Bravo.


Remember, you can buy copies of Stranded via credit card or Paypal by clicking on that little button on the right and we'll post one out to you (payment is all done via Paypal, so it's totally secure). You can also buy it from Rockinghorse. Triple CD, 42 bands, all profits to Red Cross Queensland, etc. There's the plug.