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A far cry from the rapper/hip-hop artist cliché that goes on and on about drugs, homies, “bootylicious babes at da club” and rising up against the odds, Pigeon John sings and raps about topics that are much more relatable and down-to-earth; the importance of family, feeling betrayed and learning how to be comfortable in your own skin.

Pigeon John’s seventh studio album, Dragon Slayer, opens up with the fun, high-energy track The Bomb. Although he is categorised as predominantly a hip-hop artist, this western-tinged song — featuring tambourine and hand-claps — is more pop than hip-hop. The same can be said of the whole album; among the rap verses, catchy pop melodies are aplenty. While The Bomb makes for a good opening track, it doesn’t particularly stand out as a highlight of the album.

Speaking of ‘highlights’, there are very few. You can spot them easily because the rest of the songs just fade into the background upon comparison with them. One such standout track is Dude, It’s On; slower and more laidback than most other tracks on the album, with a chilled, harmonised verse and groove-inducing chorus, it manages to achieve cohesiveness while keeping the listener interested (which is where some of the other tracks fail). With its staccato bass, glitchy keyboard sounds, sparkly xylophone, and brass that lifted the conclusion of the song wonderfully, Dude, It’s On is the essential feel-good, lazy summer Sunday anthem.

Read the rest of my review on NewsHit.

No matter where you are, listening to Warpaint’s debut album, The Fool, will create the illusion that you are boxed inside an echoic chamber. Haunting vocals, sensual basslines, sultry drum beats and creeping, overlapping guitar riffs combine to form a dreamy, atmospheric haze.

The experimental art rock quartet hailing from Los Angeles also weaves together lush harmonies, courtesy of three female vocalists. The instrumentation is often sparse, getting fuller as the song progresses. The juxtaposition of soft vocals against the harsher bass and guitar tones results in a darker, brooding vibe, as can be heard in Majesty.

Official music video for Undertow.

The first single off the album, Undertow, demonstrates Warpaint’s ability to create different textures within a single song; from its chillwave-tinged beginning, it gradually builds until vocalist Emily Kokal’s crooning erupts into wailing, and the song becomes an almost ethereal experience.

While many of Warpaint’s songs flirt with sounds of dischord, the beautiful and raw Baby stands out as a lullaby, consisting of only gorgeous layered vocals that rise and fall in rounds and a gently-plucked acoustic guitar. The lyrics are as intimate as the music that supports them: “Don’t you call anybody else baby, ’cause I’m your baby still. / … You speak your fears, thinking in circles and checking what mirrors don’t see. / You live your life like a page from the book of my fantasy.”

If you fancy psychedelic, rhythmic, slightly syncopated music that is sometimes animalistic and other times softly hypnotic, with honest yet vaguely cryptic lyrics, then Warpaint’s stunning debut will have you captivated from the first listen.

8/10

(link to News Hit article) 

Sufjan Stevens’ new EP All Delighted People is not like most EPs.

Firstly, it features eight songs, and runs for about an hour. Secondly, it has two vastly different versions of the same song, the title track (the Original Version and the Classic Rock Version). According to the official release, the epic ballad is “a dramatic homage to the Apocalypse, existential ennui, and Paul Simon’s Sounds of Silence”.

The EP opens with the original version of All Delighted People. Joined by the sweet, almost heavenly backing vocals of a choir, Stevens takes us on a twelve-minute-long journey through a multitude of emotions: hope, as the song begins with only the choir accompanying Stevens’ gentle crooning, and builds as strings are introduced; a quiet, repressed desperation as a brass section provides a slow, gloomy timbre; discordant sounds signifying dissatisfaction and loneliness; tenderness and a yearning for human connection (“And what difference does it make? / I love you so much anyway. / And on your breast I gently laid. / Your arms surround me in the lake, / I am joined with you forever”) through the soft fall and climb of the melody, Stevens’ breathy falsetto and the echoes of the choir; disillusionment through the repetition of “All delighted people raise their hands”; until finally, we feel a paradoxical mixture of apathy and anguish as Stevens wails, “I tried to save the things I made / Oh, but the world is a mess. / And what difference does it make if the world is a mess? / I tried my best, I tried in vain” and the song concludes with a somewhat unsettling screeching of violin cutting through the choir’s exclamation of “Suffer not the child among you or shall you die young”. Existential ennui indeed. The classic rock version of the song is commendable, but is largely overshadowed by the original version.

Stevens explores electronic effects and sounds more on this EP than on his previous releases. However, he has still managed to retain the whimsical, acoustic-folk charm that his fans adore about him. From the Mouth of Gabriel subtly exemplifies how Stevens is branching out from his classic style to incorporate eccentric electro noises into his arrangements. Among the nostalgic, tinkling toy piano, bird-like flute, and percussion reminiscent of children’s instruments, there are a few surprising synth sounds that are used sparingly but effectively. The lullaby-esque tone of the song contrasts with the lyrics, which suggest a kind of lost innocence or regret over the past: “Your face has changed, / I hardly know who you are this time. / And what a mess I’ve made of you. / You probably would but I won’t let you run away.”

The All Delighted People EP ends with the epic 17-minute-long jam Djohariah. During the first third of the song, an erratic guitar line is used as a character instead of a lead vocal line, which seems to get more and more frantic until the rhythm and feel of the song changes somewhat abruptly, before a reprise of the initial third, with added instruments. The verses begin at around the 12-minute mark, and Stevens’ incredible tone and control as he coos “Go on, little sister! Go on! / For the world is yours, the world is yours / All the wilderness of the world is yours to enjoy” is worth waiting for. Djohariah is another good example of how Stevens is mixing his well-loved signature indie-pop arrangements with a fresh, electronic edge.

Only three of the eight tracks on the EP are at or under four minutes long. However, Stevens’ song-writing renders length an irrelevant detail (for example, with Djohariah); the magic of his compositions is vastly due to the way he cleverly crafts and fits together the pieces and details to create a story. His lyrics read like poetry and the melodies in his songs work with each other; at times the instrumentation is bare or subtle, to emphasise the purity of Stevens’ vocals, and at times builds up to an almost overwhelming hurricane of sound. The thing with many of Stevens’ songs is that they sound simple on the surface, because of recurring main melody lines, but when you deconstruct the elements, the complexity of the song-writing is apparent. That’s what makes this EP, and indeed Stevens’ work in general, such a joy to listen to; each time you listen to a song, you are surprised by something you hadn’t noticed previously.

10/10

You can download All Delighted People EP off Sufjan Steven’s bandcamp page here, for US$5.

You can also click here to download a couple of free tracks (Too Much and I Walked) that are featured on Sufjan Steven’s highly anticipated upcoming album, The Age of Adz.

(Published on News Hit 19/09/10)

(Published on News Hit 8/8/10)

After the shocking realisation that it would be completely impossible for me to go to this year’s Splendour in the Grass festival, I took solace in the fact that many of the bands I was keen to see there would be performing sideshows in Melbourne. Keeping my bank balance in mind, I painstakingly wheedled down a long wish-list and chose carefully betweens those shows which clashed. In the end, I decided on four shows: Mumford and Sons, School of Seven Bells, Two Door Cinema Club and Jónsi. I also happened to score a last-minute free ticket to Florence + the Machine, as someone I knew had a spare. Here’s a brief recap of all the sideshows I attended!

MUMFORD AND SONS

To kick off my string of sideshows was Mumford and Sons on August 28 at the Palace Theatre. I had seen them previously at Laneway Festival at the beginning of the year, but I was in a bad spot at that time and one of the main speakers malfunctioned, which noticeably decreased the sound quality. Remembering their set as the sideshow date approached didn’t make me feel excited to see them. However, after the show, I was extremely glad that I bought a ticket; Mumford and Sons blew me away.

The execution of all their songs was flawless, and thanks in part to the great venue, the sound was incredible. The band members themselves played their instruments (which included accordion, banjo, mandolin and double bass) with energy and emotion, and were also entertaining in between songs with their witty banter. All four members of the band can sing, and I just couldn’t fault their moving four-part harmonies. The crowd was also highly responsive, constantly moving and cheering, without being too rowdy.


Mumford & Sons performing ‘Winter Winds’ at The Palace in Melbourne.

SCHOOL OF SEVEN BELLS

This three-piece psychedelic pop band from America played at Northcote Social Club on August 1. Because I stood right at the front, I wasn’t able to experience the full sound due to the speakers being located on the sides of the stage, projecting outwards. However, from what I could hear, the band performed really well; the audience was drenched in a wave of other-worldly synth sounds, bright guitar, floor-moving bass, catchy, clever dance beats, and the beautiful harmonies of twin vocalists Alejandra and Claudia Deheza.

FLORENCE + THE MACHINE

Florence Welch and her band played at Festival Hall on August 2. I had heard only bad things about the Festival Hall, and my worst fears were confirmed when I got there. The seats were uncomfortable, and the sound was horrible. So horrible. However, because Florence is such an amazing performer, she made the venue’s flaws almost disappear altogether as soon as she opened her mouth to sing. Her stage presence is second to none; how she manages to run from one end of the stage to the other, jump up and down and spin around in circles without getting the slightest bit out of breath and still maintaining perfect pitch, I’ll never know. One highlight of Festival Hall was the stage aesthetics: the lights worked harmoniously with the music to produce a breathtaking display of flashing colours. The lights and smoke machines really contributed to Florence’s already haunting performance. She really allows herself to become completely absorbed in her craft, which encourages her audience to do the same.

TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB

Two Door Cinema Club @ Billboard, Melbourne, 3/8/10

This show was initially held at East Brunswick Club on August 3, but after tickets sold out in such a short amount of time, it was moved to Billboard. While the sound quality wasn’t the best that night, the crowd was more than enthusiastic. Two Door Cinema Club — while not the most entertaining or engaging band to watch — performed well, and their catchy songs spoke for themselves; it seemed like no one in the venue could help but move to their music. Overall, it was a very enjoyable show.

JÓNSI

Jónsi and his band singing 'Happy Birthday' to a fan in Icelandic. (@ The Palace, Melbourne, 4/8/10)

Sigur Ros’ frontman Jónsi performed at the Palace Theatre on August 4 to an audience with high expectations; expectations that were met from the very start of the first song, which consisted only of Jónsi’s vocals and acoustic guitar. His soft, angelic falsetto cast an eerie silence over the entire theatre; it was like every single person there was holding their breath in awe. Jónsi and his band’s eccentric style, combined with an assortment of unconventional instruments (among them: an electronic drum-pad, glockenspiel and ukulele), made for a wondrous, magical performance. That may sound clichéd, but if you have listened to Jónsi’s album, you will be well aware that his music sounds like rainbows and sunsets. To top it all off, they all sang “Happy Birthday” to a fan in Icelandic, thus melting everyone’s hearts.

(Published on News Hit 27/7/10)

The Five Ghosts is the fifth studio album from Canadian indie pop band Stars. It opens with what is arguably the standout track of the album, Dead Hearts; setting the scene for what we expect to be a journey through lush synth sounds, poetic lyrics and the soothing male-female shared and harmonised vocals of Torquil Campbell and Amy Millan. Dead Hearts is one of those songs that immediately captures your full attention and gives you shivers upon the very first listen. Even the lyrics evoke intrigue and mystery from the first verse: “Tell me everything that happened / Tell me everything you saw / They had lights inside their eyes / They had lights inside their eyes.” The song makes you feel like you’re floating underwater, and as it progresses and more layers are added, you drift closer to the surface, until all the instruments swell together in a soaring conclusion that pushes your head out of the water, and you are able to breathe again. It’s the kind of song that you become fully immersed in.


(Audio and album image only)

The second track is the Postal Service-esque Wasted Daylight, which, while not making quite as much of an impact as the opening track, is still commendable; more upbeat, more synthetic instrumentation, catchy, and its lyrics paint a portrait of indifferent youth. Changes is another track on the album reminiscent of Stars’ previous work with its dynamics that rise and fall to dance alongside the enigmatic yet poignant lyrics (“It’s dull, this dusk, this desk, this dust / My eyes adjust / I’ll blow out the flame / Can you and me remain?”), the nostalgic, clock-like ticking of the drumbeat, the swaying lull of Millan’s crooning and the slow build-up to the final crescendo.

Going by the first two tracks, it seemed like Stars had taken their reputation for making beautiful, moving music and adapted it slightly: there were more electronic effects present, yet songs were handled with the same old charm and poignancy as in their previous albums. However, Dead Hearts set the bar much too high. Most of the tracks on The Five Ghosts are unoriginal, forgettable and lacking in all the elements that made the opening track so fantastic.

I Died So I Could Haunt You is an example of where Stars went wrong with this album. The arrangement is cluttered, and the atmosphere of the song clashes with the lyrics: “Thousands of ghosts in the darkness / Lost in a strange neighborhood / The lights from the warm houses haunt them / They forgot what they lost but they know it was good.” Whatever message the song is trying to convey is drowned out by the distracting off-beat drums competing with a bland melody line, not to mention non-existent transitions between verse and chorus. This results in a mish-mash of sounds that do not gel together to make a good song: what we hear is a jumble of synths, drums and vocals that the band tried to stitch to one another but failed at closing the seams. It just doesn’t flow, and the same can be said of the album as a whole.

The only consistency about The Five Ghosts is the recurring themes within the lyrics. All the songs are about “ghosts”; whether that implies literal ghosts, references to the past, shadows and shells of people, emptiness or nothingness. The great thing about Stars’ lyrics is how open to interpretation they are. Unfortunately, the lyrics in this album are tainted by accompanying music that is generic and lacking in dynamics and expression; this is not to say that the songs are awful, as most of them are catchy and have the potential to be good songs. Overall, however, The Five Ghosts just doesn’t quite match up to some of Stars’ previous albums, such as Set Yourself on Fire and In Our Bedroom After the War. The songs on these albums were more intricate, well-formed, carefully layered, distinct, and they felt authentic; in contrast, The Five Ghosts feels too forced.

6.5/10

Label: Vagrant

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