Album Review: Freedom’s Goblin by Ty Segall

by rory mcarthur (@rorymeep)rating 9

Last January, Ty Segall quietly delivered one of the finest records of 2017. That is, of course, quiet as in it was met with little fanfare. The music, on the other hand, was a short, sharp shot of frenetic energy that blew the new year’s blues away with consummate ease. And now, almost a year to the day, a new project, entitled Freedom’s Goblin, has been unleashed upon the world to do the same. A double album of 19 tracks, the record sees Segall at his most dynamic, hopping nimbly from futuristic disco to some of the fuzziest rock seen since Dwayne Johnson grew out his beard last year. In lesser hands, this sort of smashing together of styles could have resulted in a disjointed mess of a record, but instead, the constant variation creates an exhilaratingly sprawling joyride of ups and downs that at the very least, will leave you with a gigantic ear-to-ear smile.

Straight from the Conan road-tested opener Fanny Dog, Segall manages to whip up a palpable sense of almost giddy excitement. Riding a cacophonous wave of uplifting horns, rock ’n’ roll piano lines, and of course a few hard-hitting guitar riffs, you can almost visualise the cheeky grins of those involved as they pound out the track dedicated to the Californian’s pet pooch. It’s amongst the catchiest and most infectious rock songs you’re likely to hear all year and lingers in the memory long after the album’s one-hour 14-minute runtime is up.

After a brief flirtation with piano-driven balladry on Rain, the energy picks right back up again with an all expenses paid trip to disco-land. A fuzzed-up cover of Hot Chocolate’s Every 1’s a Winner followed by an original composition of the funky disposition, Despoiler of Cadaver, provide a welcome deviation from the usual garage rock formula, providing some genuinely unexpected high points from the whole album. This trip into unfamiliar genres continues later on with the Black Sabbath influenced crunch of She. Previous records have often sounded heavy of course, but never quite with this much force behind them. The track crackles with metallic sludge, shot through with some Ozzy-esque yowling to complete the picture. It’s one of the longer tracks on the album, and it’s all the better for it, providing a centrepiece that’s sure to go down as a live favourite, in addition, to probably the highlight of the album itself.

With all this in mind then, it’s perhaps not surprising that the album ends on a rather ambitious note. The 12-minute And, Goodnight begins as a pleasant sounding jam but soon reveals itself as an electric reworking of the title track from the 2013 acoustic project Sleeper. For long-time fans of the artist, this is a real treat, to hear such a fantastic song reimagined so well serves as a reminder of why they fell in love with this artist in the first place, while simultaneously feeling right at home capping off a new set of songs.

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Aside from this, there are of course some other classic Segall hallmarks to be found lurking throughout the tracklist. The artist’s tendency to shove instruments through waste disposal units, or at least that’s what it sounds like, crops up a few times, and it sounds just as good as it did on 2016’s wonderfully distorted Emotional Mugger. The horns that lift so many of these tracks to greatness get the full treatment on The Main Pretender, sounding about as sleazy as is allowed by law. And even before that, When Mommy Kills You showcases some terrifically disgusting guitar tones that somehow manage to fit perfectly alongside some of the more subdued material. But that’s just the beauty of this album. It’s the sound of an artist not afraid to experiment, but equally not afraid to revisit some old sounds and give them another spin.

According to the man himself, the concept of the album was to effectively eschew one altogether, and it undoubtedly has been a resounding success. Not all of the tracks work, Shoot You Up, for example, sounds a little too similar to last years Break a Guitar to really satisfy, but the general level of consistency across such a mammoth and diverse tracklist is nothing short of astounding. Segall tips his toes into disco, metal, and a whole host of other styles and comes out of the other side a bona-fide genre-hopping hero.

This may well be the musician’s finest release yet, at the very least standing toe to toe with some of his previous classics. It’s a treasure trove that demands multiple listens to uncover its hidden gems, of which there are a great many, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone begrudging a few extra listens to really get to grips with it when the music is this good.

At the end of it all, it seems that Segall’s Freedom Band chose their name wisely.

 

 

Album Review: Together Pangea – Bulls and Roosters

By Rory McArthur (@RoryMeep)

Together Pangea have never quite received as much appreciation as they deserve. Despite touring alongside the likes of FIDLAR and Ty Segall over the years, the Californians haven’t quite reached the levels of success enjoyed by their better known contemporaries, flying relatively under the radar for the majority of audiences. Whatever the reason for this though, it certainly doesn’t concern the quality of their output. From the screeching punk of 2011’s Living Dummy to the frenetic, shout-a-long anthems of 2014’s Badillac, the band are responsible for some of the most underrated garage rock music of the last few years. Specialising in tracks seemingly tailor-made for teenagers to crowdsurf at house shows to, there’s always been a certain charm to their refreshingly simple approach to songwriting.

So the question is, does their latest offering, Bulls and Roosters, hold up to what’s come before? The answer, unfortunately, is not the resounding yes we were hoping for. Rather a lukewarm, ‘kind of’.

Right off the bat, it’s clear that this album is not a continuation of the sound TP have previously dealt in. Gone are the big, deafening guitar squalls and the vocal cord shredding shrieks; in their place is a much sunnier, more restrained style. And for the first half of the album at least, it’s a stylistic shift that works wonders. With a newfound focus on melody, about 6 or so of these tracks are gems. On the joyous opener, Sippy Cup, the foursome show that they’re fully capable of retaining the endearing energy that made their previous releases so enjoyable, while also moving in a new direction. The track revels in a refusal to grow up, with vocalist William Keegan gleefully crying, “I got my sippy cup, you got your wedding gown” without any degree of cynicism. While keeping up a brisk pace, the song trades distortion and frenetic guitars for something palpably less abrasive, with the pogoing lead line sure to get crowds jumping along in unison. It’s a truly great track, and one that sets hopes high from the second you hit play.

And for a while such hopes come to fruition. The album subsequently keeps up a steady run of similarly feeling tracks, running through a whistling solo on The Cold, some shaky lead guitar on Kenmore Ave and some delightfully sun-kissed solos on Money on It. But it’s the slick, almost classic rock-esque vibe of Gold Moon that serves as the centrepiece and highlight of the record. Easily the most immediately satisfying of these 13 songs, the track breaks the established tone with a 2-minute shot of bubbling intensity that easily holds up to the best of the bands discography. It’s new territory for the band but it’s handled deftly, and it caps off a genuine belter of a first half.

Unfortunately, the album loses its way on the second half and it loses it badly. In fact, it’s actually quite difficult to describe why the latter tracks don’t work as the majority are so nondescript they don’t stick in the brain enough to produce a reaction. Only a few have the distinction of being notably bad, but the rest just go in one ear and right out the other. The twangy guitar line from Blue Mirror (a highlight of 2015 EP, The Phage) is recycled on the, presumably, sequel song Peach Mirror. And to be frank, it falls totally flat. A great riff is consigned to the background for most of the song and just makes you pine for the original, rather than providing a fresh spin. The whiny chorus refrain of, “lost, lonely and high / lost, lonely and high” is equally irritating, succeeding only in being cringe inducing rather than melancholic.

Stare at the Sun similarly fails to impress, with its bouncing riffs coming off as a cheap knock of The Cure, ultimately just feeling uninspired. Thankfully the buzzing blues of Alison end the album on a high note, but sadly that one final spark of quality isn’t quite enough to make up for half a record’s worth of forgettable tunes.

And that’s just the way to describe Bulls and Roosters: a true album of two halves. While the first half succeeds as a fun, summery, slight shake up of the band’s sound, the other just fades into the background. It’s an incredibly frustrating verdict to have to give, but sadly it’s an unavoidable one as well. Certain tracks show glimpses of the band who wrote such fantastic songs like Snakedog and Offer, but they’re all too rare for this album to be considered a real success. It’s with sadness, then, that it must be said this album is a disappointment. There’s plenty to enjoy here, and a fair few tracks deserve generous praise, but the sheer amount of filler makes it likely they’ll be lost in the murk as soon as the curtain falls. So not quite the super-continent sized success we’d hoped for, not by a long shot.

6/10

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Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Murder of the Universe

By Rory McArthur (@RoryMeep)

Where to begin with this one? Coming hot on the heels of their impressive exploration into microtonal tuning, Flying Microtonal Banana, Australia’s longest band name have only gone and released their most ambitious, totally insane record yet – if you’re familiar with King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, you’ll know that that statement is not one to be taken lightly. Across the 10 albums of the bands ever-expanding discography, alongside the aforementioned micro-tonal experiment, you’ll find infinitely looping psych punk, blissed out jazz influenced projects, a narrated western themed album, surf rock, flute led folk, and even a song dedicated to Vegemite. Somehow not content with covering all this ground in little over 5 years, Murder of the Universe, Gizzard’s second 2017 release, sees them add 3 chapters and 21 tracks worth of apocalyptic doom psych to the mix. Colossal sounding, and more conceptual than ever before, the Aussies have concocted a truly unique addition to not just their own discography, but to the current music scene in general.

‘The Tale of the Altered Beast’ serves as our opening chapter, kicking the album off as it means to go on, with 20 minutes of frenetic fantasy punk. Some of the heaviest music the band have recorded to date curls around ominous narration from Melbourne singer-songwriter Leah Senior, working in tandem to tell the tale of the titular beast and his victims. The story is an unsettling one, weaving themes of temptation with outright sci-fi bombast to craft something truly menacing. Suitably, the instrumentation gives off a twisted vibe as well, lending the classic Gizzard freak-outs some added heft: synths sound chunkier, bass lines shimmer with pure electricity, and vocals from Stu Mackenzie stutter with arpeggiated intensity. The narration does occasionally get in the way of the music, but more often than not, this particular creative risk pays off handsomely.

Ramping up the fantasy a little, on chapter II the record takes a sharp and strange turn. Perhaps out doing the first chapter in terms of instrumental heft, the medieval chug of The Lord of Lightning provides MOTU with its undisputed centrepiece. A true ‘turn-the-speakers-up-to-11’ moment, the track is easily the most immediately arresting thing on the record, with usual Gizzard hallmarks wading through sonic swamps, slowing everything down occasionally to provide a truly devastating impact. The rest of the chapter is admittedly more of a slow burn though. Although not necessarily a criticism, the remainder of the tracks definitely require multiple listens, to really strip away the layers upon layers of sludge and appreciate the twisted fun of the narrative. Perhaps an extra track would not go amiss either, but the immersive darkness of the soundscapes created make for an enthralling listen regardless of faults. Plus there’s throat singing, and that’s just cool isn’t it?

By the time the third and final chapter rolls around, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the peak of the weirdness is behind you. But ‘Han-Tyumi and the Murder of the Universe’ has other ideas. Sounding like the robot from Radiohead’s Fitter Happier joined a metal band, the chapter is sheer madness from start to finish. The sludgy sci-fi punk of Digital Black and Vomit Coffin play like tectonic plate movements given melody, cracking around the synthesised tones of the titular confused cyborg. Han-Tyumi, (an anagram of humanity, make of that what you will), is a little bit lost in the world, bless him, and soon enough decides that vomiting is the only way to regain his humanity. The result is an oddly gripping experience, likely to alienate some listeners, but equally as likely to inspire declarations of genius from fans. It brings the album to a close in appropriately dramatic fashion, leaving quite the impression long after Han-Tyumi sputters out his final ‘life and death / murder of the universe’, as he’s slowly swallowed up by the cacophony of sound.

So far so good then for Gizzard’s audacious five albums in a year plan; two albums down, two downright triumphs. MOTU is far from problem free, but all in all the sheer madness of the project makes it impossible not to admire. Each listen reveals hidden treats buried in the lo-fi production, dragging you back in every time you think you’re done. That said, it is certainly not an album for everyone. Some will undoubtedly feel a little short-changed, due to a lack of ‘proper’ songs and some of the more ambitious musical choices, but you really do get the impression that the people who dig this record will dig it, a lot. It’s really not difficult to picture particularly dedicated fans shooting homemade movies based on The Lord of Lightning vs. Balrog, and holding listening parties all dressed in wizards robes.

One can only guess at what lies ahead in the apparently jazz influenced follow-up release, Sketches of Brunswick East, but if it’s as unique and self-assured as this, we’ll be in for another treat of an album.

8/10


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ALBUM REVIEW: Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?

By Ethian Woodford (@human_dis4ster)

Royal Blood were the surprise stars of 2014. Exploding into the limelight with an electric live show that was the highlight of several festivals and a debut album that sold more copies in its first week than any other debut rock album since Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds three years prior. Their sound was both familiar yet forgotten, and for many was a reminder that rock music could still be relevant. However, with only two members and a very specific set-up of a bassist/vocalist and a drummer, many were also sceptical of where the Brighton duo could go next.

Fast-forward three long years and the boys have finally returned with a follow-up to their Mercury Prize nominated debut album. Since 2014, it was obvious the band could could go two ways: re-invent themselves and continue to find ways to innovate rock music and impress fans and critics alike or to assume the loyalty of their newly amassed fan base and essentially make the same thing over again. Unfortunately, they went with the latter option and even more disappointingly, it feels as if they did so intentionally.

The album opens with the eponymous title track which ventures into familiar territory, as if it could have been a b-side to a single they released three years ago. The track however does end on a more interesting note with some haunting backing vocals that lead into a final barrage that actually serves as a decent pay-off. This pattern continues for most of the album, bar the next two tracks which are plain dull, mostly predictable Royal Blood songs with the occasional interesting production choice or variation in vocal delivery. An example of this is the falsetto Mike Kerr adopts in She’s Creeping which is evidently influenced by AM-era Arctic Monkeys.

These occasional changes in pace are welcome but perhaps only more evident because of how painfully safe the rest of the album is. Their sound which was so exciting and volatile in 2014 feels so tried and tested and it feels as if the band have made little attempt to alter themselves. As with the sophomore album of Catfish and the Bottlemen last year, it seems as if Royal Blood are content with the level of success they have attained and are happy to cash in on it rather than evolve as a band and remain relevant in the long-run. This is incredibly disappointing to see from one of the most exciting bands of a few years ago.

Another source of disappointment in How Did We Get So Dark? is the lyrical content. Very similar to their debut, there is little here that is memorable or new and sticks to familiar themes explored on their self-titled album and by the end of the album the repetitiveness really starts to become irritating. Unsurprisingly, singing about the same thing over and over again exhausts the options for lyrics and this leads to some almost laughably bad lyricisms such as “She’s got the devil on one shoulder and my other is getting colder” on Hook, Line and Sinker. This track is also hampered by Kerr’s attempt at a more talkative delivery which is just a bit embarrassing.

Not all is lost with Royal Blood, they could maybe be capable of creating another credible album, but they need to dig deeper and look at ways of developing their sound instead of exhausting the products of the sound that propelled them to fame. Easily the biggest letdown here is the band’s clear decision to rest on their laurels and not make much of an effort to do anything new. Of course, since the first album was good, there is still some enjoyment to gain from an album that is essentially the same, but by the thousandth identical tinny riff from Kerr’s bass, it becomes tiring.

So let’s hope that next time we hear from Royal Blood they are able to redeem themselves but for now they have delivered one of the most underwhelming follow-up albums in recent memory.

3/10


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TRACK REVIEW: The Vanities – Codeine

The Vanities, hailing from the music haven that is Glasgow, are a garage rock outfit that have hit out with their debut track Codeine, a raw demo that establishes their intentions and will no doubt resonate with fans of The Libertines.

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Packing the same luscious rhythm that The Strokes built their foundations on, the track shines with a classic indie rock aesthetic though without the slick production values that has resulted in a lot of acts in the genre merging into this leather jacket wearing blob. The Vanities on the other hand are in their prime when their music is stripped to the bare bones, meaning that the same energy felt on Codeine will no doubt transition seamlessly into their live performances.

There’s the undeniable vocal resemblance and delivery of fellow Scot Kyle Falconer of The View fame which seems inevitable considering their both indie rock bands that originate from Scotland. While the band are at their most interesting when they provide raw content, it does make you wonder what they’d be capable of given the appropriate utilities to go from raw to fully fleshed.

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The Vanities

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ALBUM REVIEW: TURN BLUE – THE BLACK KEYS

The Black Keys aren’t exactly new to the music scene. In their career that has spanned 13 years, Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney have released 7 albums that have gathered praise from critics and rock fans alike, most notably their 2010 release Brothers which brought the duo a lot of commercial success as they were now a grammy winning household name. Have the Ohio boys managed to continue their golden run with Turn Blue or has the success finally came to a halt?

One thing that you can rely the Black Keys delivering the goods on is production values and Turn Blue isn’t any different. Co-Producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton returns to lend a helping hand after assisting on El Camino and Brothers and his involvement really shows, managing to use the band’s blues rock canvas and fine stroking every detail that adds to the artistic brilliance of this album. This isn’t just a one man effort like it may have been back when the band started off as Auerbach and Carney are well regarded producers themselves with Dan assisting the likes of Lana Del Rey while Patrick has helped with lower profile bands like The Sheepdogs. You’d expect too many producers meddling with the sound to spoilt it but it does just the opposite.

After 8 albums, you’d expect Auerbach and Carney’s quality song-writing and talent to slip somewhat but you’d be wrong. The title track manages to highlight Auerbach’s falsetto voice’s finesse which prowls after Carney’s pitter patter drums which help to create a song that’s large in scale and one that needs to be listened through earphones, as advised by the duo, to really experience every fine detail that it captivates. Fever, the record’s first single, has an almost cyborg sounding background noise at the start and the rest of the track is just as interesting, showing the duo’s funkiness and an organ melody that once you’ve heard, you’ll fall in love with instantly. In Time features some ghostly vocals that are weirdly seductive sounding at the same time, as if Patrick Swayze somehow made his way onto the track. One of Turn Blue’s highlights has to be opening track Weight Of Love that has an intro so reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Speak To Me/ Breathe that you can see the 70’s influence escaping from your earphones. At 7 minutes long, it ‘s dangerously close to overstaying it’s welcome but its absence would definitely be one that would be missed.

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Other critics, I’m looking at you NME, might complain that Turn Blue isn’t like the band’s previous outings but when an alteration of the formula sounds as funky, psychedelic and overall amazing as Black Key’s latest record is, is that really a bad thing? The duo’s golden run is still continuing and at this rate, it’ll be one to make Dorothy herself jealous.