Album Review: Brad Couture – Lower Tones

Brad Couture Lower Tones
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Lower Tones is the first full length album from New Hampshire-based composer Brad Couture (his sixth release if you count his earlier works under the name Sleevenotes).

Couture’s serene cinematic tunes are perfect for relaxing to. I’ve played it often in the evenings lately, and find Lower Tones helps me to unwind brilliantly at the end of a busy day. It’s the soundtrack to sitting curled up in a warm blanket with a steaming mug clasped between your hands.

Well, it could be the soundtrack to whatever you choose really. Herein lies the appeal of instrumental music – the interpretation sits with the listener. Couture has licensed music to clients including The History Channel, ESPN, and Monster Energy, so his abilities clearly transcend mere playing around for a hobby.

Like all the solo instrumentalists who submit their work to me, Couture possesses an unfair amount of talent. Mastering one instrument is hard enough. Being able to play a variety of instruments, arrange them in a compelling way, and record them in a home studio is just showing off.

The music is predominantly soft and subtle, as one would expect from an ambient cinematic project. Couture relies heavily on piano and synths to weave an aural tapestry, before employing other instruments to enhance the music.

Cello offers a rich bass sound that synth or bass guitar cannot replicate the same way. Acoustic and electric guitars also help to colour the music, with the distant scorching guitar solo featuring in “Driving Through The Golden Hour” taking the cake for one of the finer moments of the album.

“Restland” is my album highlight, purely due to how evocative I find it. A deep warm hum sounds replicates a conch shell. Violin sets a solemn scene, with light pads and percussion adding gravitas before making space for sparse piano notes. I can picture viking warships setting out on a voyage to distant lands far across the ocean.

If well crafted ambient music for relaxation sounds like you then look no further than Brad Couture. He has done a stellar job with this release and you owe it to yourself to unwind to his music.


Brad Couture links:

Bandcamp: https://bradcouture.bandcamp.com/

Website: http://www.bcouturemusic.com/

Facebook: facebook.com/bcouturemusic

Twitter: twitter.com/bcouturemusic

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Rise Against – Wolves

Rise Against Wolves
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The classification of punk music is totally subjective. What do The Ramones, The Clash and The Sex Pistols share in common? Who’s more punk out of Blink 182 or the Rage Against The Machine? To me, the two essential elements of good punk music are speed and political content.

Rise Against have both. Since discovering them in my early teens, they have long been one of my favourite bands. I’ve seen them more than any other international act (Powerstation 2009, Big Day Out 2010, Logan Campbell Centre 2011, and opening for Foo Fighters 2015), and they also take up the most space in my record collection (alongside Biffy Clyro).

But to be honest, I wasn’t so keen on their latest album. I won’t go so far as to say they sold-out, but Appeal To Reason signaled a tipping point for the band once they had signed to a major label, and since then their sound became steadily more accessible. This culminated in their last release, The Black Market, lacking the edge that the band once had.

Thankfully, album number eight, Wolves, feels more raw than the polished radio-rock that the band had churned out over the past few releases. I doubt we will ever hear a true return to their hardcore roots, but the pop sheen on this record is thankfully less noticeable. I didn’t have high hopes on first listen, having not thought much of their previous record, but thankfully Wolves proved instantly likable.

It’s the same familiar Rise Against. They’ve transcended their underground roots to create a melodic-hardcore-come-arena-rock style that has boosted them to prominence. And I do not begrudge them for their success. But I do feel that a special connection to the band has been lost since they started gaining more dominance on the airwaves.

I stated before that I think political content is a vital aspect of good punk music. Rise Against have always toed the line well in this regard – writing lyrics that allude to their personal and political values without being overt enough to ostracize their increasingly mainstream fan base. Just a handful of topics they’ve touched on in the past include treatment of animals (many of the band members are vegan), people (refugees, the LGBT community) and the fallout of war (including the impacts on both soldiers and civilians involved).

In his typical fashion, on Wolves singer Tim McIlrath cries out against injustice with a fervent fire. One could attribute inspiration to a certain orange-tinted world leader, but in reality corruption and oppression will always exist, regardless of who runs the government. Wolves features a theme of rallying the people to stand as one against ambiguous powers-that-be. Both relevant and vague enough for most people to relate to. And how can one not be drawn to that call to humanity that all of us possess?

Plus they have lots of “whoas”. “Whoas” are freaking awesome, and the perfect invitation from a band to have you sing along. Just ask The Casualties.

I find it hard to define my overall verdict. Wolves is actually great. I love Rise Against, and will always hold them dear as an important building block in my musical education. But I’m not sure that I needed another album from them. I like Wolves, but chances are high that  if I’m hoping for my Rise Against fix I will overlook it and reach for one of their older records.

 

Joseph James

Ten Years On: Discovering Biffy Clyro’s breakthrough album Puzzle

Biffy Clyro Puzzle Cover Art
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Ten Years On: Biffy Clyro – Puzzle

Isolated on the other end of the planet

The internet existed ten years ago, but it was a completely different animal.  My family still had a dial-up connection, so good luck trying to load a video. Not that there were many music videos on YouTube anyway. A few of my slightly older mates tell me about how they left the computer running all night just trying to load a new four-minute Blink 182 video when it was released.

Can you remember the ghastly screeching sound that the computer made when making a connection on dial-up? I can certainly remember my dad shouting at me to disconnect when he wanted to make a phone call. And to think that today we use our phones to connect to the internet!

Biffy Clyro Luke Gilford

Biffy Clyro. Image: Luke Gilford

Youtube was a fledgling, Spotify and other such streaming sites were the speculative talk of some sci-fi future. Facebook existed, but didn’t become popular within my peer group until around 2009. We were all on Bebo [remember that???], with some of the more alty scene kids also having a Myspace account. Nobody really bothered with Facebook messenger anyway, because everyone used MSN.

Which gives you some rough context to why I was my best friend’s house trying to listen to a song called “Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies” using a program called Limewire. I’d read about this Scottish band called Biffy Clyro who had just released an album called Puzzle. They were on the front cover of Rock Sound magazine and they sounded interesting, so I was trying to find some of their music to listen to.

Like I said, my family had a dial-up connection, so no point trying to find anything online at home. Streaming sites didn’t exist and sites like Youtube offered little music content. The record stores in my small hometown of Nelson weren’t going to import music by an unheard of [ha!] band like Biffy Clyro unless I was willing to shell out at least $40 – almost as much as I earned in a week working part-time at a supermarket. So I decided to use Tom’s computer to try to listen to this band.

Limewire was notoriously bad for containing poor quality content. Viruses were abundant and most tracks were mislabeled and poorly spelled. So when I started listening to this song that I’d tried to download – “Living Is A Problem…” – it was of little surprise that the track sounded corrupted. I listened to the jarring, stabbing sounds at random intervals for about a minute before I stopped listening and gave up. There’s no way that this file was the single I had read about!

[This video clip cuts roughly 90 seconds off the album version of the song]

Hearing more material

It was a few months later that I bought a Kerrang! Magazine which featured a best of 2007 sampler. That CD featured a Biffy song called “A Whole Child Ago”.  It had a crazy riff that sounded like a polyphonic ringtone [yes, this was 2007 remember!], weird drumming that had a looping pattern [or did it?] and nonsensical lyrics. And I loved it!

This track – along with “Get Fucked Stud”, from the Rock Sound sampler that I’d got when I first read about Biffy – made me want to track down this elusive Puzzle album again.

Tom pulled through for me. A true best friend, he had heard me go on and on about wanting to listen to that album so somehow managed to buy a copy of Puzzle on CD for my birthday.

I remember being so excited. I finally had it! I put it into my crappy discman that was hooked up to criminally bad speakers [so tinny they should have come with a gram of bud!] and sat down to listen to the album. It had a bright orange sticker on the cover with a quote from NME: “This album will change your life!” Yeah… right… I doubted the claim, but still had high expectations.

The first track was “Living Is A Problem…”. Wait… What the hell? The same stabbing sounds for almost two minutes! So that file from Limewire wasn’t corrupted? And this was a single???

Upon closer listen, I figured that the song showcased some incredible musicianship. Certainly not easy to listen to, but bloody impressive that the three musicians could play something with such odd timing and play as a tight unit. The song got really aggressive, but oddly enough had choral sections and string arrangements juxtaposed again the heavy rocking.

Listening through the rest of the album was an interesting ride. It was weird, that’s for sure. Clearly they were on drugs when they came up with most of the lyrics. And there are so many quirky elements and odd time signatures, which were actually tame compared to their previous three albums – not that I knew it at the time.

I think it is impossible to listen to the infuriatingly catchy “Who’s Got A Match?” and stay still. The triplet groove compels the listener to nod their head, tap their foot… something!

In fact, Biffy may well lay claim to my first exposure to math elements in rock. It’s either them or Tool. They took my listening experiences beyond the standard 4/4 or 6/8 time signatures that most songs we listen to are written in. “Now I’m Everyone” contains a 5/4 passage that used to annoy me so much, but I now love it.

I wasn’t sure what to make of the lyrics for most of this album. Plenty are simply nonsense. However, there is a coherent theme of mourning throughout. Simon’s mother had passed away shortly before the album was written, and glimpses into his grieving can be found throughout. I couldn’t tell you why a man is on the corner selling dozens of bones, but when Simon cries “Eleanor, I would do anything for another minute with you” the message to his late mother is clear.

And, just like that, I became a Biffy Clyro fanatic. I started trying to push it on all my mates, spreading the good word of the Biff. It became a bit of a running joke among my mates – “yeah, yeah, Joseph. We know – another weird rock band. Stop going on about it would ya?” Took a photo of the Puzzle album cover with my phone to use as the phone wallpaper, but after a while switched it for something else after a few too many people had asked me why I had the photo of a naked man on my phone.

I did manage to convert a few mates. I was in a band with my best friend Tom [who had gifted me the CD] and another friend Harry, and we chose to add “A Whole Child Ago” to our repertoire, alongside other obligatory teenage covers band numbers: Nirvana, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, System Of A Down, Incubus, Rage Against The Machine etc… I actually sat down to try to drum along to the track a few days ago and realised that I never did figure out how to play it properly, and just managed to come up with something similar that seemed to work. It’s a tricky linear beat that swaps between the hi-hat, snare and kick, and changes ever so slightly every few bars. I think I was more suited to playing something more simple and aggressive like Nirvana’s “Breed”.

It’s crazy that no-one had heard of Biffy in New Zealand. At the time, the band was busy headlining major festivals and touring with the biggest rock bands over in the UK. I guess that shows how important radio play was for entering the public consciousness, back in the days before music was so easy to find online.

I’ve since dug through the band’s catalogue, and own all of their albums and on CD or vinyl (I have most in both formats, because I’m a loser fanboy) as well as a few b-sides collections. I saw Biffy the one time they played in New Zealand and it was everything that I’d hoped for and more. I used that review to launch this music blog (and probably got a meagre 10 views – whoo!).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that NME was right. On that little orange sticker, stuck to the front on the album near the parent advisory box, they told me that the album would change my life.

It did.

Mon the Biff!

Joseph James

Album Review: Nihiling – Batteri

Nihiling Batteri cover
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Are you the type of person who believes in the album as a whole? Do you listen to music on shuffle and make playlists from the singles, or listen to entire albums as the artists intended it?

The reason I ask is because for the past few weeks I’ve been listening to Nihiling’s new album Batteri out of sequence. When I downloaded the album the tracks arranged in alphabetical order, and not according to designated track listing, and I feel that somehow I’ve ruined the listening experience.

Not that the experience is bad by any means. But I’ve had to reflect on whether listening to the correct track ordering enhances the album listening experience, or if the tracks need be good enough to stand on their own.


I was taken by “Cellardoor”, the first track I listened to. For first impressions, it certainly had me intrigued. It begins with clicking noises (someone playing the spoons?), and drawn out cello notes. As this progresses the music grows more complex, with multiple poly rhythms that don’t fit work in well together. Despite this, it works. I found myself thinking back to Biffy Clyro’s “Living Is A Problem…”. seeing as both tracks are odd, but undeniably technically proficient.

The real first track of the album, “Ottersong” commences with a minimalist beat and singing that reminds me of Bedouin Soundclash’s Jay Malinowski. Slowly other elements come into the foray – toms and tambourines, more singers, weird glitches. Everyone has their chance to shine, with no shortage of talent fond.The guitars are especially great later in the piece , transitioning from effect laden underwater sounds to searing solos.

But like I said, there is no shortage of talent here. As biased as I am, I find the drums outstanding throughout the album – Rhythmically hypnotizing and dynamically diverse. Not to mention the singing. I’m a sucker for good vocal harmonies and Batteri offers this in spades.


But if you want my recommendation for the first track to start on, try “Power Rangers”. THIS. TRACK. RULES. Honestly, even if my review isn’t going to sell you on the album, at least take the time to listen to this one song. I’ve embedded it in the review here for convenience. The song has two  sublime elements: groove and harmonies. Just give it a listen. Please.


That’s another thing that threw me – the singing is incredible. .Not only was I listening to this album with the songs in the wrong order, but I went in with incorrect assumptions. The press release called it post-rock, but the best songs don’t fit within this description.

I’d class Batteri as eclectic math-rock. As a general rule, the post-rock genre lacks singing. Whereas Nihiling give us layered vocal harmonies to die for. Odd indie Glitches and effects. You can call it post-rock if you must, because I can’t think of any accurate genre classification.

Upon listening to the band’s earlier releases I can understand the post-rock label better. But the band have evolved and embarked into new territory with Batteri. The first half of the album offers experimental prog-rock, and the latter half gives us the post-rock that was advertised.

“Rope” lurks into trip-hop territory. I’ll give the band kudos for atmospherics. Despite the simplicity of it, there is an off-vibe permeating the track, slowly becoming more unhinged as it progresses. The messiness worsens when a chaotic programmed synth à la The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” comes into play towards the end of the song.

“Idiot” goes heavier, with doomy sludge metal that loses intensity half way through, only to be replaced by a snare drum tattoo and less saturated guitar tones.

I highly recommend that you give Batteri a listen. If you do, you’ll hear brilliant musicianship, interesting experimental sounds, great groove, mathy dynamics and vocal harmonies to die for. The first half of the album stands stronger than the reserved post-rock of the second half, but don’t let that stop you checking out this stunning release.

 


Nihiling’s fourth album Batteri came out on Kapitän Platte on May 5, 2017.

Nihiling links:

Joseph James

Album Review: David Dallas – Hood Country Club

Hood Country Club David Dallas
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David Dallas: From South Auckland to the world

Hip hop artists often follow the same narrative arc. You’ll recognise it: the rise from living in the projects to a bling adorned superstar. 50 Cent summed it up: Get rich or die trying. Extra gangsta kudos if you served jail time, got shot, or dealt drugs along the way.

I feel that Auckland rapper David Dallas has followed a similar, albeit more realistic path. The term “rags to riches” is an exaggeration, but DDot is undoubtedly an underdog. In the past he has discussed growing up in South Auckland, trying to pick up girls, please his dad, getting told off by mum. He has always foretold that he would make it big, but in the meantime he’s just a regular South Auckland Pasifika Kiwi trying to get by.

Dallas arguably has made it. Scribe tapped him on the shoulder to feature in  the “Not Many Remix” back in 2004, and things have been on the rise ever since. He signed to US record label Duck Down, toured the world, and befriended rap heavyweights like Freddie Gangsta Gibbs. Eminem and Run The Jewels.. His last album, Falling Into Place won two Tuis at the NZ Music awards, with lead single “Runnin” going platinum. And after a long wait, we now have a new album, Hood Country Club.


Don’t Rate That

I’ll give Dallas top points for lead single “Don’t Rate That” based on the topic alone. The song tackles racist discourse and rips into loan sharks that prey on people from low socio economic backgrounds – the likes you may find in an area like Dallas’ home of South Auckland.

The dude has balls for calling out Rugby League players who would likely flatten him in a second. Maybe that’s why the song resonates so well with me – because he’s flipping the power balance and attacking those who use intimidation tactics. In this Spinoff interview Dallas boasts that one such lending company pulled their ads from an RnB radio station Mai FM that cater to largely the same target demographic as the loan shark parasites. And that’s why Dallas is such a hero in this underdog narrative – because he worked his way up from a nobody to being a somebody using his influence to fight evil.


Fit In

Follow up single “Fit In” dropped almost an entire year after “Don’t Rate That”. Musically, I love it. The hook roots itself in my head like a stubborn earworm, and I often catch myself humming the tune throughout the day. The message of the track seems redundant, with Dallas trying to prove how little he cares about fitting into the scene. If you don’t care, then why dedicate the effort to writing a song about it? However, despite this, the track is a banger.


Musical evolution

I first discovered Dallas in 2011, with his album The Rose Tint. The key reasons that it stood out to me were the laid back style and the musical tracks. I’m not a huge fan of hip-hop based around rigid DJ beats but this really ticked the right boxes for me. The music found on The Rose Tint featured Dallas’ backing band The Daylight Robbery, which added that extra element that elevated it above the rest. The following release, Buffalo Man EP , featured remixed Jamiroquai songs, which continued the trend of using great music to rap over.

2013’s Falling Into Place stepped away from the full band sound, but still achieved great success due in part to the beatmakers Fire & Ice helping with production. The more musical tracks were the ones that sold. Pop singer Ruby Frost lent her voice to two hit tracks, and “Runnin” dominated the airways due to gospel sample of a nun singing.

On first impressions I’m less enthusiastic about Hood Country Club . Dallas still has mad talent as a rapper, but without the band or vibrant backing beats his sound has lost a huge boost. He even re-appropriates Supergroove’s “Can’t Get Enough”, but manages to lose the vibrancy of the song he’s name checking. “Fit In” stands as my album highlight for the time being, purely because of the catchy vocal hook.

Hood Country Club

David Dallas Hood Country Club Back Cover

I saw Dallas play an O-week event at Victoria University last year, where he previewed a few of these tracks live. I especially remember “Get Off” for it’s venomous content. It’s caustic, direct and PNC’s guest verse on the studio track is downright vulgar – worlds away from the laid back Dallas from a few albums ago.

I’m not saying the aggression is necessarily bad. As you read above, I applaud the righteous anger of “Don’t Rate That”. The way I read it, Dallas has come to a point where he wants to address issues head-on, paving the way to this more urgent tone found on some of these tracks.

He challenges the glorification of materialism and celebrity. He rips through peer pressure and mob mentality. “Don’t Flinch” explores the ingrained Kiwi mindset of “harden up and be a man”. David Dallas no longer has any time for your shit and he’s gonna call it as it is.

Wealth and status are major themes that threads through Hood Country Club. Years ago we heard Dallas rap “My mentality is money orientated”. Now he is batting his ego down and re-evaluating what is important in life. Money lenders and financial élite come under fire, suggesting that Dallas no longer subscribes to the goal of getting rich and famous to fit a stereotype.

The verdict

If Falling Into Place was a teenager, then Hood Country Club is the adult – more serious and not as fun, but still a progression. Dallas is more informed, experienced and confident now. These days he raps about life realities, rather than wishful dreams.

My criticisms about the backing tracks and aggression don’t apply to the entire album. Many do use samples to keep the songs musical and we still hear Dallas’ trademark chilled out flow, it’s just not as prevalent as found in his previous works. Musically, I don’t enjoy it as much. But lyrically and thematically Dallas is at his prime.

David Dallas made global but realised that the value lies in taking it local and keeping his content relatable. He is a hero for becoming a success without selling out. And his music, as always, is outstanding. Lyrically and thematically, Dallas still shines. Hood Country Club won’t receive regular play on my stereo to the same degree as his earlier albums, but it’s still a worthwhile addition to my collection.


David Dallas links:

Buy or stream Hood Country Club: https://umusicnz.lnk.to/HCCFP

Website: http://www.daviddallas.co.nz/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DavidDallasMusic/

Twitter:https://twitter.com/DdotDallas

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/ddotdallas

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/davidkdallas

 

Joseph James

EP Review: Moon Gravity – Antarctica

Moon Gravity Antarctica
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It’s late afternoon, before a long weekend. I’ve spent most of my work day switching between Idle Thumbs podcasts and the Rage Against the Machine discography, deciding to listen to both from the start.

Antarctica, a three track EP by Moon Gravity is the perfect antithesis to that. 20 plus minutes of music spread across three tracks, predominantly comprised of drones and soundscapes.
The modulated bass and multi-tracked, almost chant-like vocals on “Nightfall” provides a psychedelic vibe. Repeated bass motifs with a constant rhythm fill in the role normally taken by drums, pushing the song forward at a slow, thoughtful feeling pace.

Track 2, “Snowstorm starts with delayed guitar over some repeated drones and builds from there. Motifs are explored, they mutate and are built on, either with different instruments or a new textural element. “Snowstorm is evocative of a faraway landscape, like the one pictured on the album artwork. One could easily picture this music being put over time-lapse footage of Aurora Australis or Borealis and being a perfect fit.

The reverberate vocals provide nice additional elements missing from much post-rock music, particularly when used with restraint as they have been here. “Snowstorm evolves over its twelve-minute length, the drones make way for drum machines as backing for the guitar motif. The electronic drums feels jarring when first introduced, but quickly feels like an expected part of the toolkit when the bass guitar becomes more prevalent in the mix.

The staples of this genre are all here; plenty of reverb and delay on clean guitars, a really rich and clear bass tone and solid playing. “Purpling” is an example of all of those elements put together quite nicely.

Overall, Antarctica is a solid EP which doesn’t overstay its welcome. The lack of acoustic drums and sparingly used vocals make for an interesting post-rock release that for $3USD there is no reason not to check it out.


Moon Gravity links:

Bandcamp link for Antarctica: https://silbermedia.bandcamp.com/album/antarctica

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/moongravitymusic/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPDNEHSaXYMnAquLVdVgN9w


This review was originally posted by Murray Stace at his site Relative Silence