Sunday, 27 January 2013

Live Review: A Place To Bury Strangers

Artist: A Place To Bury Strangers:
Supports: Pearls, The Rational Academy
Venue: The Zoo
Date: Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The whole “New York City’s loudest band” tag was always destined to reduce expectation for someone indulging in an A Place To Bury Strangers live show. Although they didn’t tar the band with this brush, the statement is a  typical NMEism and is something the band will always live with, whether it be by people going up to them and stating the fact, or whether it be reading their own press release. I’m not here to state that I’ve have seen louder. That’s beside the point, really. The so called noise terrorism antics take away the real essence of an APTBS’ live show circa 2013.
If I’m honest, my initial thoughts of this band led me to believe they were a bit of a Mary Chain tribute act; however that was just laziness on my part. Their self titled debut is haunting, abrasive and just plain rocking. You’d be hard pressed to find a more solid debut record today. Sure, there’s a Mary Chain/Depeche Mode pastiche, but instead of downer you’re looking more toward upper, which is probably the most obvious contrast here. Nine Inch Nails could’ve used some of APTBS’ panache on their latter albums. It’s no surprise Trent Reznor handpicked the New York trio to support NIN around the States.
From their debut album, Exploding Head, was a subtle variation from its predecessor, tightening up a few loose ends, which result in the album’s title pretty much telling the whole story. Their third album, Worship, is a gem and hints toward the band refining their song-writing quality. This is probably front man, Oliver Ackermann’s finest journey as a song-writer. ‘Fear’ is one of the best songs they’ve written and live it translated brilliantly. Despite the various personnel changes, this latest line-up of Ackermann, bassist, Dion Lunadon, and drummer, Robi Gonzales, seem water tight, even if the latter two look like the bastard children of Richard Hell. In fact, that makes it all the fucking better!

Although live I did expect to have my head pulverized with ear splitting distortion and feedback, I wasn’t disappointed coming out the other side unharmed and empty handed with these preconceptions. APTBS are more than just a feedback drenching experience. Sure, songs such as ‘Drill It Up’ and ‘Revenge’ are rather good representations to those loosely associated with the band, but it’s tracks such as the finely crafted ‘Fear’ and the ethereal ‘Why I Can’t Cry Anymore’ that uncover a new layer previously unheard in the APTBS pantheon. Some songs live seem to lean toward an industrial hybrid that almost feel like chamber rock, which you can’t really gage on record. It’s a place where I expected to be taken to by Nine Inch Nails live, and sadly wasn’t. I’m rather glad APTBS filled the void, albeit surprisingly.
Overall, A Place To Bury Strangers presented a performance that translated into a different experience for me. But different is good and make no mistake, their performance was tight; a proper collective effort. Local support act, The Rational Academy, owned, too, on the back of their new album, Winter Haunts, presenting an experimental psych pop/shoegaze stomp, while Melbourne trio, Pearls, also had their moments. It was a good night for the minority that filled The Zoo’s floor space.
…Which leads me to end this review on a rather acerbic note and one I didn’t really intend to touch on, seeming as though this blog is designed for happy escapism. The attendance numbers were piss poor. Saying there were eighty people in the audience is stretching the truth. Okay, so times aren’t the healthiest, but that doesn’t stop the majority jerking off over the latest IPhone version and paying through the nose to endure such an empty pleasure. Thirty five dollars, people. And yes, you can bring your IPhone and update your Facebook status, I’m pretty sure there’d be reception.
For years Brisbane folk have pissed and moaned about being the ones to miss out on acclaimed touring acts. We are lucky enough Heathen Skulls’ Robert McManus has the vision to quash these notions yet we fail to extend our gratitude to people like him who actually seem to care and continuously bring international bands to Brisbane. Are we a community that isn’t happy unless we’re having a moan? Start showing some love otherwise soon enough there will be nothing to love.
Simon K.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Lost In Translation: Yo La Tengo - Summer Sun

One week after its release, and it appears Yo La Tengo have made the year’s first great album in Fade. However that’s not why I’m here today spruiking. Sure, it’s probably YLT’s best album for a while but today it’s one of their albums that still fails to gain the recognition it deserves as to why I'm here.

Born out of a similar realm, Summer Sun is one of those albums that you go back to after a couple of years and still shake your ahead as to why so many people place it toward the lower end of YLT’s discography.

Sure, personal choice is personal choice; however so many bands would give their right arm to make a Summer Sun. I guess it begs the question: have Yo La Tengo made so many great albums that Summer Sun deserves its place in the lower stratum of their cannon? I’m a Yo La Tengo fan, but even they’ve released some sub-par albums. For a start, Popular Songs, wasn't too popular for me, apart from the two tracks, ‘More Stars Than There Are in Heaven’ and ‘And the Glitter is Gone’, which, although very solid, admittedly play bridesmaids’ to I’m Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass’ ‘The Story of Yo La Tango’ and I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One’s ‘Deeper into Movies’.
Rather than go into further debate, let’s talk about an album most wish to forget.
Summer Sun is meandering. Some associate the term meandering as boring, passé. Almost middle-brow even. One question: what’s wrong with that? You need albums like Summer Sun. Your diet requires them. We can’t always hanker on a slice of pizza or a juicy steak. We need some garlic bread or a side of garden salad from time to time. Summer Sun is that garlic bread and, indeed, that garden salad.
The cover art conveys a peculiar juxtaposition. The picture of the band wearing coats looking awkward and generally elusive, despite the title of the album. This was the first thing that intrigued me when I first bought this album many moons ago.
‘Little Eyes’ is the perfect foil for  opening song, ‘Beach Party Tonight’; an atmosphere is set. It’s a gloomy beginning that sets the tone for the album. Tracks such as ‘Today is the Day’ and ‘Don’t Have to be So Sad’ (personally my favourite Yo La Tengo song) are easily among the best the band has produced. You can feel the darkness ooze from frontman, Ira Kaplan, as he almost struggles to deliver the vocal due to the emotional weight the song carries.
Then there’s ‘Let’s Be Still’. All 10 minutes and 22 seconds of it; the song encapsulates the album. It’s an interlude of noodling, with sprinkles of back alley jazz which in a strange way, is an illustration of Yo La Tengo, not such much by sound but by feel.
‘Take Care’ is one of my favourite covers. The Big Star track was made for Georgia Hubley it seems. It’s a gloomy rendition that finishes the album in the same tone it started.
So there you have it, that’s my two cents worth into why I think it’s an injustice that Summer Sun doesn’t receive the plaudits it deserves. Those of you who abandoned the album all those years ago, simply go back to it. Fade is great, there’s no question about it, but Summer Sun lies pretty close to it in terms of sound and feel. You may just be surprised this time around.
By Simon K.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

In Focus: Labradford

Labradford are the perfect night time band. You need them just like you need a cup of tea before going to bed. Their sound floats, occupying every nook and cranny within your listening space. In the context, they make chamber music in every sense of the term. It’s dark, it’s atmospheric, it floats with serenity.

Labradford are one of the great mysteries in music of the past 25 years. They could almost be the pioneers of coalescing ambience, drone and rock. Over their six album existence, their collage of sound is indicative of exploring different avenues upon each release. Why does that make them a mystery? Doesn't most bands strive to achieve this?

Firstly, their success or lack thereof is nothing short of mind boggling. Bands such as Mogwai and even Godspeed You! Black Emperor could give a subconscious head nod in the direction of the finest act to emerge from Richmond, Virginia. Secondly, they stay in the realm of darkness and misery, but over their career Labradford created such a chasm that so many variations within their large boundaries were honed in on and delivered to full effect. Essentially, they’re a “niche” band; a band for us music geeks to salivate over.

They do say timing is everything. Had Labradford started their musical journey today they would be competing in a totally different landscape. Ambient music has reached far more people in these past six or so years and although they would have good company - plus the fact the Internet is such a customary presence - their exposure would be far greater. Still, considering this, it still amazes me as to the lack of name check action this collective receives from its peers. It’s quite criminal.

Although, not officially disbanded, two thirds of the trio that is Labradford are off doing various things. Frontman Mark Nelson is stilling making music under the moniker of Pan-American (which is also through the Kranky label), while Robert Donne is currently a touring member of the slowcore collective, Gregor Samsa.

Below is a little something in regards to each of their releases, starting from the band’s inception up until their final release in 2001:

Album: Prazision LP
Released: 1993
Label: Kranky

Prazision LP is like taking a plunge into the unknown. Retrospectively, it’s probably the album that best represents Labradford and their various qualities. The drone sequences break up the album making the whole experience eerie and quite uncomfortable just how good art should shift one’s soul. In saying that, ‘Soft Return’ is probably the most beautiful song the band penned, with a gorgeous guitar sequence taking centre piece over Nelson’s soft vocal delivery, as the paranoid narrative of “stepping back inside a wall” takes you into another stratosphere.

Favourite Tracks: Accelerating on a Smoother Road, Soft Return, C of People.

Album: A Stable Reference
Released: 1995
Label: Kranky

Collectively, ASR is arguably Labradford’s darkest moment. Opening track, ‘Mas’ is 4.32 of dark ambience that sounds like you’re in an aeroplane at high altitude with the window open. ‘El Lago’ follows with creepy organs that one associates with a funeral plan commercial. From front to back, it’s not the finest works from the band; I feel it’s almost a little too stark and gets lost in its own bubble of gloom. It’s an interesting projection as to where they go to next.

Favourite Tracks: Mas, El Lago, Star City, Russia.

Album: Labradford
Released: 1996
Label: Kranky

The self-titled affair is vintage Labradford. The opening track, ‘Phantom Channel Crossing’ has similar qualities to A Stable Reference’s opener, ‘Mas’. This time envisioning a lamb to a slaughter wouldn’t be too far from the mind. ‘Mid Range’ follows and with it, you can just feel a more focused energy. The violins are a welcome addition to a song that would easily stack up on a Labradford best of opus.  ‘Pico’ and ‘The Cipher’ follow with more solidarity while closing track ‘Battered’ is personally in my top three Labradford numbers. It’s debatable whether Labradford is the band’s finest effort. I’d say top two.

Favourite Tracks: Mid-Range, The Cipher, Battered.

Album: Mi Media Naranja
Released: 1997
Label: Kranky

 On the back of their finest album to date, Labradford followed up with – in my opinion, their finest work. It’s the perfect night time album. The funny thing is apart from closing track, ‘P’ there’s no real stand out here. It’s seven tracks clocking in at 43.14. It’s a proper “record”. Each song bleeds into another. ‘P’ finishes the album with a beautiful piano loop with a sliding guitar that has an effect that just hangs in the air waiting for the next piano note; stunning. Without sounding like a pretentious bell-end, close your eyes and imagine.  It really is that great.

Favourite Tracks: The whole 7 tracks on this album.
Album: E Lux So
Released: 1999
Label: Kranky

E Lux So is one of the few (and maybe the only one?) in the history to have recording and production credits listed as the song titles. Yes, seriously. Just to give you an example, so you think I haven’t totally lost the plot, the first track is call “Recorded and Mixed at Sound of Music, Richmond, Va”. And so on. The first track (mentioned above) is a post-rock meander that you would expect Mogwai to have produced during their Rock Action phase. The remainder of the album holds a compositional aura, as piano takes the lead, with drone and guitar playing more of a peripheral part. Guitar has one last hurrah, however, with ‘Let O’Steen Assisted by John Piper’ capping off the band’s “black sheep” album. If a Labradford album was destined for a film score, then E Lux So would fly the flag well.

Favourite Tracks: 'With John Morand Assisted by Brian Hoffa', ‘And Jonathan Morken’.

Album: Fixed Content
Released: 2001
Label: Kranky

Fixed Content is the final instalment in which the band drafted Steve Albini in to the recording helm. His presence is felt, as is often the case, as a scratchier more raw production graces our ears throughout this opus. The bulk of this album is taken up with opening track, ‘Twenty’ clocking in at 18.27. Final track ‘Wien’ almost feels like the end of a chapter for Labradford. Certain finality exists as a continuous sombre riff pulls this track into a murky realm. If ever there was a perfect candidate to nominate for your primary funeral song, then ‘Wien’ would be it.

Favourite Tracks: ‘Twenty’, ‘Wien’

Associated Acts:
Pan-American - Mark Nelson's side project
Gregor Samsa - Robert Donne's current band (touring member)
Spokane - Robert Donne's previous band
By Simon K.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

All Tomorrow's Parties 2012 - I'll Be Your Mirror Melbourne: Second Announcement

Melbourne, Australia’s inaugural All Tomorrow’s Parties I'll Be Your Mirror weekend is shaping up to be quite something. If My Bloody Valentine, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Swans and the Beasts Of Bourbon failed to entice the collective ear, then the second wave of acts is more than enough to have one pitch the proverbial tent in their pants. The final announcement is the perfect foil for the above listed acts, in my opinion. I mean, c'mon The Beasts.. and Crime & The City Solution on the same bill? It's all been said! 
The second wave of acts to play ATP, which takes place next month on the February 15 and 16, is as follows:
Pere Ubu (performing The Modern Dance)
Crime & The City Solution
Kev Carmody
The Stickmen
My Disco
Oren Ambarchi
Ben Frost
Dan Kelly Dream Band
Ben Frost
Civil Civic
New War
Don Walker
Strangers From Now On

Full Line-Up Below:

Those of you interested in reading some first class fan-boy action (seriously) then look no further than the below article on Hobart collective, The Stickmen. As a listener, this article encapsulates what embracing an artist and its music is all about. The piece will make you want to listen to this band within the first two paragraphs, trust me.

See in you Melbourne!

By Simon K.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Book Review: Keith Richards - Life

Author: Keith Richards (with James Fox)
Titled: Life
Publisher: Phoenix
Released: 2010

I’m more of a fiction man myself, however at this time of the year I like to reflect on the year that’s past in a more relaxed environment. This usually coincides with delving into some non-fiction; namely biographies. Keith Richards’s Life is probably one of the finest I’ve read, to be honest.
Okay, so “Keef” had some help from British journalist, James Fox, (who hasn’t?), however the manner of the “ghost writer” fails to hinder the tone that Keith has spawned for 613 pages. The plucky - and almost poetic – witticism almost drips off the pages, as the world’s greatest stalwart of rock ‘n’ roll reveals his love and passion of music and all things relating to it. Let’s be honest, Keith pretty much created the rock ‘n’ roll sub culture, did he not? It all lies within the patchwork of Life.
Not only is there some great yarns throughout this page turner, however it’s also a good opportunity for the younger generation of listeners who aren’t familiar with The Rolling Stones cannon to start delving. Also, for those who know bits and bobs, like myself, Life is the nudge needed in order to continue the quest of hunting down some unheard gems. There's something here for everyone.
By Simon K.