[Review] The Antlers- Undersea

It’s been two years since The Antlers released Hospice, a harrowing concept about cancer that was all mechanical whirrs and haunting falsetto. Since then then they’re expanded their sound to include a remix album (Together) and Burst Apart which was a much easier listen than its predecessor.

Undersea, a four track EP sees them evolve even further and like Hospice’s hospital machinery, the underwater theme is strong with haunting synths and enough reverb to make it sound like the entire thing was recorded in a submarine.

Undersea is their most sonically interesting release to date. All four of the songs provide something different and there isn’t a bad track among them.

Drift Dive is nothing short of gorgeous with subtle horns and echoey synths.

Endless Ladder comes in at over eight minutes and while the lyrics don’t offer the emotional punch of previous records the repetitive backing vocals and delicate keys make it perfect late night driving music. Crest is the shortest track and adheres to the theme the least. Not that that’s a complaint as it’s as good as anything on Burst Apart.  

If you’re attracted to the emotional intensity of The Antlers, you may be left disappointed. But for everyone else this is a quality EP that is hopefully a sign of things to come.

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Anton Franc EP

With so many artists mixing folk and electronica, it takes a special kind of band to stand out from the crowd. Western Australia’s Anton Franc are certainly up to the task.

Recorded in basements and bedrooms in the Kimberly, their debut EP balances just the right amount of warmth with haunting isolation, resulting in a rewarding and memorable listen.

Lead single Letting Go came out of a failed fishing adventure. It was nominated for WAM song of the year contest in 2010, as well as featuring in two European advertising campaigns and it’s easy to hear why. The slow build-up and delicate electronics work to create a song that is highly memorable and possibly one of the best tracks of the year.

Other songs such as Jessy combine world music influences with standard indie, resulting in an interesting take on a well-trodden genre. Lady of the Night is atmospheric with unexpected harmonies. Despite the slower tempo it feels much shorter than it really is, which if anything, is a sign of a good song.

EP closer Memo was also nominated for WAM song of the year, in the love category. The song is well and truly bittersweet, with the most noticeable electronic elements on the entire EP. Like Letting Go it shines above most of the current indie fare and deserves plenty more attention.

The one flaw in the EP is opener Oh, Darling which doesn’t sit well with the other tracks. While the instrumentation is interesting and it is undeniably catchy, the tongue in cheek lyrics fall a bit flat compared to the rest of the record. But then again, considering this is a debut EP, it still lives up to even the highest of expectations.

There’s no doubt Jaimie Kuzich and James Bowyer, the pair behind the music have great things ahead of them. The Anton Franc EP could put many more established bands to shame and is a definite must-buy.

9/10

 

Will Sheff @ The Toff 16/10/11

Okkervil River has always been about Will Sheff. Even on their latest release I Am Very Far, the biggest sound record of their career, the music seems to exist only to frame Sheff’s detailed and often dark lyrics. His solo show at The Toff on Saturday gave fans the chance to hear stripped back versions of the band’s songs and the result was absolutely incredible.

A few people turned up early to watch Jimmy Stewart. Although he may not be household name he has toured relentlessly (he once played 51 gigs in two months). Beginning with a cover of Charlie Chaplin’s Smile, his gravelly voice and songs that boarder the country end of the spectrum were a hit with the growing crowd, who remained silent for the entire set, a rare occurrence for a support band. Despite not being familiar with his work before the gig, I left it as a fan.

Mike Noga had the difficult task of opening for Sheff and like the last time I saw him the set came with its own unique charm in the form of a nasty hangover. He greeted the crowd by asking if anyone else was disappointed with the new Gillian Welsh album before launching into a set of dark indie folk. After three nights of playing drums for The Drones at The Corner he was visibly wrecked at spent most of the time in-between tracks rambling about various topics and telling the crowd how nervous he was because of their silence.

The crowd were silent for a reason though, with everyone paying him the attention of a headline act. The wager to guess all four acts referenced in  Piss On a Butterfly went down well, even though nobody could guess correctly. One of the biggest highlights of the set was Irish murder ballad Eileen, its dark subject matter unexpected after hearing Noga talk about his cats for the last five minutes. Not only did Mike Noga make the wait for Will Sheff bearable, he made it thoroughly enjoyable.

Launching straight into Rider , Will Sheff left little time for formalities. Using little more than an acoustic guitar and harmonica, the acoustic setting allowed for the songs’ strength to really shine through. The clever Plus Ones was a highlight of the set, as was B-side I Guess We Lost which I prefer to some of the tracks that eventually made it onto I Am Very Far.

The best part of acoustic gigs like this one is hearing fan favourites that are rarely played during fell-band sets. Happy Hearts was a surprise inclusion and sounded great despite the lack of Daniel Johnson. Nobody expected to hear The President’s Dead or Red live, the latter causing audible gasps among the audience.

Sheff switched to keyboard for a few songs which gave a different take on some of the songs. For Real lost none of its intensity without the full band, while his performance of Your Past Life Was A Blast improved on the studio version by removing all of the noise the plagues the album it comes from.

The biggest highlight of the set for me was A Stone. I discovered Black Sheep Boy as an angsty 16 year old that song in particular sound tracked many of my teenage years. Live it was incredible. Will Sheff has always sung like he is on the verge of a mental breakdown and thanks to the excellent sound of The Toff and the appriciative crowd, it was perfect.

That said, there were a few missteps. Using an iPhone to create a backing for The Valley was out of place, and seemed too much of a contrast to the rest of the set. Anyone else but Sheff would not have been able to pull it off. It was the final song, Our Life Is Not A Move Or Maybe that provided the set’s low point. Having heard some amazing acoustic version floating around the internet, I was particularly excited about hearing it. Instead Will Sheff played it on an electric guitar which didn’t quite mix with the rest of the set. That said, Will Sheff’s average is more than some musicians will achieve in a lifetime.

Overall it was an amazing gig that I am sure I’ll remember for years to come. The combination of the respectful crowd, intimacy of The Toff and the talents of all of the musicians involved made it something truly special.

Glenn Richards @ The Toff 25/08/2011

There is little doubt Glenn Richards is one of this country’s best songwriters. While commercial success may have eluded him (aside from that song) a large crowd gathered at the Toff to watch him play a set of old and new favourites with some help from Drones members Mike Noga and Dan Luscombe.

As someone who is used to seeing Mike Noga behind a drum kit, it was a pleasant surprise to see how competent he is as a solo performer. Walking on with a bourbon and coke in a red wine glass, he dived right into a set of no-nonsense folk. He has the kind of weathered, gravely voice that makes you hang on to his every word and it appeared the mostly silent crowd did just that.

Piss On A Butterfly resulted in a wager with the crowd to guess the musical heroes mentioned in the song but ended up with a few people shouting wildly incorrect guesses, while album opener M’Belle went down a treat.

His set was the first sign of things to come tonight with technical difficulties making their way into the set. Mike’s harmonica rack was all but useless and after fixing it in between songs, he ended up ripping it in half. Luckily Augie March guitarist Adam Donovan stepped in to become a human- harmonica holder.

Glenn Richards and Dan Luscombe looked nervous as they started the set, with Richards commenting on how he was unnerved by the size Melbourne after moving to Hobart. However once they started playing, they seemed more at ease, beginning with Glimjack highlights Apple of My Eye and Paint By Numbers. Glenn Richards was in top vocal form and the crowd were lapping up every minute of the their performance. While he often claimed that they lied about the quality banter in the press release, he did admit to watching Augie March videos on YouTube when he was drunk, leading into a fine rendition of The Cold Acre.

The second half of the set was plagued by technical difficulties. Richards was having trouble tuning which resulted in the crowd losing interest and an awkward impromptu cover of Whitney Huston’s The Greatest Love of All. Luckily things got back on track when the sound teach managed to source a new battery and cable for Richards’ guitar, leading into a run of some of Augie March’s best tracks.Dan Luscombe showed off his ability to play by ear on Lupus which he hadn’t practiced and One Crowded Hour’s appearance in the set was more than welcome. The set finished off with the much requested Sunstroke House and This Train Will Be Taking No Passengers, complete with an appearance from Mike Noga.

While it was let-down by technical issues, the night was a great showcase of some of Australia’s best musicians and song-writers.


Pulp @ Festival Hall 29/07/11

While we didn’t get to meet up in the year 2000, Pulp’s reunion show at Festival Hall was well worth the wait.

Bells Will Ring knew all too well who everyone was there to see and seemed apologetic they were up on stage. While there jangly indie was pleasant it was also largely forgettable. In a smaller venue, in different circumstances they could be fantastic, but it felt like they weren’t trying hard enough to keep the audience’s attention.

This, however was not a problem Pulp had. In fact the moment roadies started to set up, anticipation had began to build within the almost capacity crowd. A sheer curtain did very little to hide the giant neon sign on stage, nor the screen made to look like a fireplace. Green laser writing which varied from the predictable “Hello Melbourne” to the ridiculous and brilliant swimming dolphin was the first sign that we were going to be in for a hell of a show.

From the opening notes of Do You Remember The First Time it was clear this was no ordinary reunion show. The band played as if they had to win the crowd over all over again and there was no sign of the mediocrity we’ve come to associate with this type of tour.

Jarvis Cocker is every bit the unlikely sex symbol he was 13 years ago, with every hip thrust causing the kind of swooning you’d be likely to see at the height of Beatlemania. With the rest of the band hovering towards the back of the stage, he threw chocolate to the audience, passed around champagne and danced like the world’s coolest creepy uncle. Joyriders and Bad Cover Version started things off well but it wasn’t until Disco 2000 provided a mid-set sing along that crowd really got moving. Sorted For Es and Wizz was the perfect comedown song, even if the rave culture it was inspired by was left in nineties.

Pulp have always been the thinking-person’s Britpop band and tracks such as This Is Hardcore and the highly underrated Sunrise hold up as well at they did over a decade ago. The Different Class heavy set still sounded relevant even though most of the crowd were no longer young and poor.

I Spy is still as sinister as it was 13 years ago and we were more than happy to relive the first time Jarvis Cocker encounter a walk-in-wardrobe with Babies. The arrival of Common People signaled the end of the nearly two-hour set and Bridezilla’s Daisy Tully joined the band to play Russel Senior’s violin part (he was the only member not to make the Australian leg of the tour). It felt surreal to hear such an iconic song live and as predicted, it went off.

After a very short break, the band came back on stage to play what could be their final three songs in Melbourne. Party Hard got the crowd moving again and it was great to see This Is Hardcore era tracks get an airing in a Different Class heavy set. The rarely played Like A Friend was a surprise inclusion and pleased many of the die-hard Pulp fans. The moment we all knew had come arrived with Mis-shapes, the perfect closer to a near perfect set.

I can honestly saw it was one of the best, if not the best gig I have ever been to. Although the sound was too bass-heavy and the venue was more of a barn than anything ( Festival Hall really need to get their shit together), Pulp put on the kind of show that puts most young bands to shame. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another 13 years for them to come back.

Owls of the Swamp- Go With River

Owls of the Swamp’s second album “Go With River” is the kind of music you can get lost in.

Owls of the Swamp is actually Pete Uhlenbruch, a singer-songwriter who’s been playing around Melbourne for quite some time. While his debut album “Smokey Bay” focused on his travels to Iceland, on “Go With River” he has his feet firmly on the ground.

The album begins with “43” an instrumental that shows off Uhlenbruch’s intricate guitar playing. While it isn’t the most conventional way to start the album, it’s more than welcome and ends too abruptly.

From the First few bars of “Stones and Bones” it is clear this album is more than the kind of background music that is associated with folk music. “Pyramid’s” melody slowly weaves it’s way into your consciousness before you find it stuck in your head.

While the temp of the album doesn’t shift a great deal, Owls of the Swamp use backing vocals to their advantage. Ellen Kibble, a great musician in her own right, makes “Walking Song” stand out from the rest of the album. Aluka and Myra Ross also lend their voices to the album.

The songs on the album don’t vary all that much, it is impossible to fault the slick production and quality songwriting.

Overall, “Go With River” is an impressive album that stands out from the others in an already overcrowded genre.

8/10

Georgia Fair @ Southbank 19/05/11

Southbank is usually home to seedy footballers, annoying buskers and restaurants that you can only afford if you take out a second mortgage. But on Thursday night, it became an outdoor music venue, with a performance from Georgia Fair to promote Big M’s Weekender on Wheels competition.

Southbank worked surprisingly well as a music venue. The Big M bus was more than noticeable, however instead of being gimmicky, it felt oddly like sitting in someone’s living room, with the small crowd and heaters creating a cosy environment. And free flavoured milk helps.

The one downside to the event’s location was the aforementioned buskers. Being an acoustic duo, it was east for them to get drowned out by a persistent saxophonist but underneath the woodwind, the band sounded great. Their newest single Marianne sounded just as good without Boy and Bear or Lisa Mitchell and Picture Frames held its reputation as the perfect milk-drinking song.

Georgia Fair are playing a free in store at Pure Pop on the 29th May. They’ve also announced a tour with Daniel Lee Kendall, which will be all kinds of amazing.

WEDNESDAY 15 JUNE – OTIS BAR, WOLLONGONG
THURSDAY 16 JUNE – NOTES, SYDNEY
FRIDAY 17 JUNE – BRASS MONKEY, CRONULLA
SATURDAY 18 JUNE – THE LOFT, NEWCASTLE (ALL AGES)
THURSDAY 30 JUNE – RIC’S BAR, BRISBANE
SATURDAY 02 JULY – THE LOFT, GOLD COAST
SUNDAY 03 JULY – RAILWAY FRIENDLY BAR, BYRON BAY
WEDNESDAY 06 JULY – FRONT GALLERY & CAFE, CANBERRA
WEDNESDAY 13 JULY – THE TOFF IN TOWN, MELBOURNE

The Weekender on Wheels competition runs for a few more weeks and the bus can be seen at few Melbourne locations over the next week.
Tuesday 24th May – Swinbourne University – 10am – 4pm
• Friday 27th May – Queensbridge Square – 8am – 2pm
• Sunday 29th May – Southern Cross Station (football) – 12pm – 6pm