Album Review: Broods – Conscious

Broods Conscious
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Sibling pop duo Broods hail from my hometown of Nelson. I’ve seen them play once, opening for Ellie Goulding in Wellington. They showed promise at the time, but their sound seemed incomplete. Not bad, but just needing a bit more to boost their sound.

Broods rose of fame on the strength of their debut song “Bridges”, which seemingly garnered international attention overnight. When news broke that the pair had teamed up with Joel Little, the producer behind Lorde, it seemed inevitable that Broods would go far.

While the debut eponymous EP, and following album Evergreen were strong, the solemn and ethereal feel didn’t always grab the listeners attention. Conscious, by contrast, has some stronger tracks that get in your face.

Take, for example, lead single “Free”. Georgia draws us in with a strong acapella, before the industrial beat and the haunting wail solidify the song. It’s edgier and more anthemic than their previous material, signifying a stronger new sound for Broods.

Whether darker, punchier, or more upbeat, most of the songs on this album sound like a musical step up from previous works. “Are You Home” sounds reminiscent of Naked and Famous, with a very “Punching In A Dream” sounding intro, and an overall feel that would sit well on a pulsating dancefloor. Likewise, “We Have Everything”, “Full Blown Love” and “Hold The Line” are infectious and fun.

There are some big players of the pop world adding their touches to the album. “Heartlines” will draw the inevitable Lorde comparisons, seeing as Yelich-O’Connor herself helped to co-write this track. It features one of the more memorable choruses of the album, although with all the radio play it receives, of course it’s more likely to remain in your head. Tove Lo also makes an appearance in “Freak Of Nature”, a tender ballad more reminiscent of the older Broods sound.

As Broods have blown up, they have needed to step up their game to justify their popularity. Conscious ushers in a fuller sound, with multiple layers of production really fleshing out mix to make for a more gratifying listen. Gone is the bare synth/vocals combo, with the industrial style drumming and gorgeous multi-level sung harmonies making a welcome impact. The closing title track showcases this best, with Kanye-esque synths, and a chanting choir making the song sound immense.

This second Broods album is bigger, bolder, more deliberate sounding, and more, well… Conscious.

Joseph James

Live Review: Drax Project at San Fran, Wellington

drax project ep release tour
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Drax Project

San Fran, Wellington

Friday 20 May 2016

Drax Project (the word drax being made by combining the words drums and sax) is the latest up-and-coming band from Wellington. They formed when some students from the School of Music began busking and playing covers in town on busy nights to earn a bit of coin. After gaining some attention they started playing the pub circuit and writing their own material. In 2014 they  dropped their debut EP, and armed with some new original material, started making more waves.

This rise from a busking covers act to bonafide band has culminated with them signing to Universal to release second EP, T/W/OO.  They have a hybrid sound drawing from many other genres to create smooth soulful pop tunes.

This gig at San Fran was indicative of their seemingly sudden rise in fame. In some ways it was fairly professional – this was the only time I’d ever seen a curtain used to cover the stage between sets at this venue, and they had images projected on the back of stage throughout the night – but fell short telling in other ways – namely the sound levels. This is not a reflection on the band, but rather people manning the sound desk.

Volume and sound mixing is hard to get right. I am not advocating for having it excessively loud (like at the Mogwai gig last year), and I always wear special earplugs at shows.  But the band needs to be loud enough to hear clearly. And I can understand that it isn’t always easy to perfect. I’ve seen Rise Against – one of my favourite bands – play four times at different venues, and their mix has been fairly bad every time.

The first set was surprisingly different. It’s not often that I’ll see a band that uses either cajon (a percussive box that the drummer sits on and slaps) or upright bass, let alone both. The four musos sat aligned at the front of stage, treating the crowd to a set of unplugged numbers. The distinctive pitter-patter of the drumsticks on the cajon, the rhythmic strumming of the two guitars, and the deep regular hum of the bass was crowned by the gorgeous vocal harmonies.  It’s just a shame that I could barely hear all of these elements together at any given time, seeing as everyone in the bar was having a conversation.

The second set fared better, possibly because the electric instruments were amplified more, meaning that we could hear more elements of the band. I’ll give them this – they can play! I guess that’s what you should expect from music students, but they really were impressive. I liked that the drums had trigger pads to bring in new sounds. But the best parts were when singer Shaan Singh ripped loose on saxophone between verses. The solo material was well received, obviously familiar to the audience, despite being so new. The audience sang along to the popular songs, prompting Singh to say “wow, you guys are louder than us!” The band also played plenty of covers to extend the set time, drawing from their wealth of experience playing these covers hundreds of times together back in their busking days. Two big hits that went down especially well were reimagined versions of Ginuwine’s “Pony”, and Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River”.

They have the talent, they have the songs, they have the popularity, and they have a big label backing them. This was a sold out show, and if they get their sound mixing sorted out I expect that they’ll sell out many more to come.

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Tancred – Out Of The Garden

Tancred Out Of The Garden
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Kooky, folky and poppy: Now, Now is a delightful listen, somehow being both calm and upbeat in one. Take the cute and quirky Kimya Dawson and add a shoegaze feel and you may land on something similar sounding. Odd drone bits and some deadpan singing create an indie feel that simultaneously offsets and complements the powerpop songs.

Jess Abbott is one third of Now, Now, sharing duties as guitarist and singer. This review is about her side project, Tancred. Out Of The Garden is the follow up to 2011’s Capes and 2013’s self-titled album.

Despite being the third full studio Tancred album, this is the first that feels fully formed and cohesive. It was written over a two year period outside of Now, Now’s touring schedule, when Abbott found alternative work at a liquor shop in a rough part of town. Abbott used the writing process to make sense of her feelings, at first feeling vulnerable, and then defiant as she walked home alone at night in less desirable areas.

Abbott hired two producers for this album, the first being That Dog vocalist/guitarist Anna Waronker – whose influence is unmistakable. The second producer is OFF! bassist Steven McDonald. I saw OFF! open for the Red Hot Chili Peppers several years ago, and I’d wager that they are as close to a modern day Black Flag as you’re going to find. For her band, Abbott recruited Walking Oceans sticksman Terrence Vitali to lay down beats, and Terrence Vitali to round out the trio on bass. Between them, these five capable musicians have enough attitude, skills and experience to make one very exciting record. (They all have vocal parts on the album as well).

The crunchy guitar riff hook that starts off album opener “Bed Case” foreshadows a fun listen ahead. The distorted guitar – coupled with the catchy hand clap styled chorus – makes for a perfect pop number.

 

I must say that the album seems a bit formulaic. And although somewhat predictable, don’t confuse formulaic for bad. The structure seems to involve lots of palm-muted strumming to build tension, before launching into a chorus that reminds you why Tancred is so worth listening to. Next we hear plenty a guitar solo in the bridge that dies down just before a triumphant end chorus.

This is not to say it all sounds the same. Trashy drum tones and aggressive grungy distortion give attack and attitude to an otherwise quite sweet sound. “Hang Me” stands out from the rest of the album, with a stripped back melancholy feel, with “Sell My Head” bringing the mood back up at ripping pace with a cutesy disjointed guitar solo. I also love how “Pretty Girls” channels the same sound as the rest of the album, but seems stripped back, with acoustic sounding bass, and drumsticks tapping on drum rims in a linear pattern.

 

Tancred by-Chloe-AftelLyrically, Abbott sounds unsure of herself and where she fits in, with lines like “I’ll just never be cool/ I’ll never be one of you”, and “I would kill to be one of the boys”. However she certainly sounds bolder, with more exciting playing, and stronger vocals than I’ve heard from her previously, verging on showing off with plenty of gorgeous “ooh’s” and “ahh’s”. It’s a bit of a dichotomy, with self-assured music disguising underlying insecurities. It is as Abbott says, “sugary, but when listening closely, unsettling.”

Out Of The Garden is a tale of finding confidence, or at the very least, projecting it. Abbott selected some great collaborators to help her create this record, and this is her best work to date. Go ahead and listen to Tancred, and you’ll be rewarded with half an hour of deliciously fun indie powerpop.

Live Review: Sufjan Stevens at Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Sufjan Stevens Wellington Michael Fowler Centre
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Sufjan Stevens

w/ Dawn Landes

Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington

Monday 7 March 2016

 

The night commenced with Dawn Landes playing her first of three sets. A member of Stevens’ band, Landes previewed some of the talent that would follow by starting us off on her own material. She had a great voice, and proved adept on many different stringed instruments, chiefly guitar and piano. The highlight of the set was her song “Bodyguard”, which proved livelier than many of her other sweet sleepy songs.

A short break between acts allowed me to marvel at the Michael Fowler Centre. In these fickle times, more and more venues are closing, which isn’t helped by many building being deemed earthquake risks. This makes me question why the Michael Fowler Centre is underutilised as a live music venue, with its striking wooden panelling and great acoustics. It was certainly the perfect venue for this show.

Sufjan Stevens and his band put on one of the most impressive stage shows that I’ve seen in a while. The lights were brilliant, thoughtfully planned out to synchronise with parts of the set. From dazzling spotlights, to coloured beams, to the use of two disco balls, they really added to the mood, made obvious from the stage fog and smoke from the incense sticks onstage. Behind the band were 12 vertical screens, showing images of stunning scenery and clips of Stevens’ home videos from his childhood.

The set drew predominantly from Stevens’ most recent album Carrie and Lowell, save for two songs near the end that clearly didn’t fit in with the rest. It was a sombre affair, the album being named after Stevens’ parents, with a strong focus on death and mortality. His mother had more than her fair share of mental issues, and had died of cancer in 2012. At one point Stevens appeared to be overwhelmed by revisiting such a personal topics, drawing a sharp breath at the end of one song and covering his face.

The musicians were all incredible, all accomplished on a number of instruments. Most members ended up playing piano, synth, mandolin, ukulele throughout the course of the night, and most songs featured the most gorgeous three part harmonies. It was a lovely marriage of old and new, full of juxtaposition. Chimes and incense sat next to bright lights and Tron-like neon tape, and muddy distorted synthesisers let loose before tender piano breaks and recorder tunes.

Following a short break, the band returned for a second unplugged set, with all five band members crowding around one microphone. This was a more jovial affair, with the musicians showing a less professional, but more accessible side of them. Most of them had changed into brighter clothing backstage, and they appeared more relaxed. One funny moments involved a banjo string snapping whilst being tuned, prompting Stevens to forget the lyrics to his own song. Stevens hadn’t even talked to the crowd beforehand, but now was happy to talk banter and share some thoughts. He told some stories about his upbringing, being one of six children, with a gazillion pets. These stories brought levity to the until-then somewhat depressing tale of his parents.

From the mesmerising first set of Carrie and Lowell, to the lighter, stripped back second set of hits, Stevens’ and his band kept us spellbound. There was no shortage of talent, and the visuals complemented the music perfectly. They inevitably ended with their hit song “Chicago”, leaving everyone humming the refrain well into the night.

Sufjan Stevens Wellington setlist

Joseph James

EP Review: Daniel Amedee – Everything Will Change

Daniel Amedee Everything will change
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Something caught me off-guard when I first listened to Daniel Amedee’s forthcoming EP, Everything Will Change. The opening riff is almost identical to one my band wrote for a song we played at Rockquest (a battle of the bands for New Zealand highschool students). While this is by no means an indicator of quality, it made me like the song due to its familiararity.

And to be honest, the entire EP is likable. It’s fairly low-key, but with interesting touches. I can’t tell what it is, but there is an ambient effect that reminds me of a chorus of birds during the first song. And there are other subtle touches hidden within the other songs – the reverberating glockenspiel in the chorus of “Let Love Out”, the trashy cymbal punctuating the verses in “Love Is Not Gone”, the lovely percussive beat in “Swimming Through The Unconscious Disconscience”- small elements that enhance the overall feel.

 

daniel amedee 4 llamaryon Everything Will Change

Photo credit: Llamaryon

 

I love the deep bass that gives a warm tone to the songs. The opening title track features a drone that sounds like didgeridoo. It is clear that Amedee has put plenty of thought into how he uses rich timbres to colour his sound.

And that is what I think makes Everything will Change so endearing – the warmth and the obvious human elements. Amedee’s voice isn’t perfect, often wavering at times, but his singing style is both haunting and earnest. With a message of hope, and a reassuring feel, Amedee’s music is an affirming listen.

 

Joseph James


 

Everything Will Change release date: February 2, 2016

Daniel Amedee:     Website      Facebook     Twitter     Instagram       Soundcloud

 

 

EP Review: Kacy Hill – Bloo

Kacy Hill Bloo EP cover
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It sounds like Kacy Hill is one of those lucky right-place-right-time people. She started out as a model (which could explain why she looks familiar, especially if you’ve ever seen American Apparel advertisements). This modelling work somehow led on into dancing, which landed her a role as a stage dancer on Kanye West’s Yeezus tour. Hill somehow managed to capture Ye’s attention, and after listening to her demo backstage, he decided to sign her to his label G.O.O.D Music.

If you’re not a Kanye fan, don’t let this put you off. This isn’t a hip hop release. Although it is definitely manufactured pop.

HIll has a great voice. The most similar name I can think of is Florence Welch (of Florence + the Machine).

First track “Foreign Fields” features crackles and static to give it a warm, vinyl-like feel. It’s a simple song that showcases Hill’s stunning voice, accompanied by crisp piano. There is a trip-hop vibe to it, with a handclap metranome transforming into an electro drum beat. The chorus feels messy with extra effects that make Hills sound distant and echo-y, but it helps to contrast against the slightly sterile verses.

EP highlight “Arm’s Length” takes us into Florence + Machine territory, with upliftingly cooed choruses and ethereal bridges. It’s a joyous anthem that marries delicacy with club music.  “Shades of Blue” brings the mood down. The thunderous drums are cool, but I question why Hill chose such a gloomy song as the closing track. When a début EP like this only contains three songs, each song needs to be strong enough to all make a positive statement. Ending on a depressing note taints the overall experience.

The piano-led gospel-come-pop works well, although the overproduction and excessive effects don’t always serve to enhance the music. The songs work best when striped right back to the basics of just piano and vocals. As they say, less is more. Hill’s voice is gorgeous, and I’d far rather listen to her than half the tripe that plays on the radio these days. This short taster is a promising show of Hill’s potential. Let’s just hope that in the future she can let the songs do the talking, instead of hiding behind unnecessary overproduction.

Joseph James

Album Review: Halsey – Badlands

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Halsey is an anagram of the name Ashley [Frangipane], the latest of a string of electro-pop stars who will soon conquer the airwaves with her début album Badlands. She shares a similar synth-based pop sound to Lorde, Broods, Ellie Goulding. Her voice is like Taylor Swift at times, but she also has a bad girl attitude like Taylor Momsen or Miley Cyrus. Halsey is going to be huge; a hybrid of all trending chart toppers.

The music is likable enough. Dreamy synths? Check. Percussion driven? Check. Computerised sounds? Check. Repetition to the days? Double check.

It’s unashamed manufactured pop, but it is nice to see that the artist herself has at least a co-writing credit on every song on the album. There is also some odd additions thanks to the slick production, like a cinematic choir on ‘Castle’, or the stunning violin on a number of tracks. There are rap and alt rock influences that are detectable through the punky attitude.

Because that’s the last part of the success formula. If you want to sell your product, it’s as much about image as it is about the music. This music is pop with an edge. Halsey is working on her bad girl image like the aforementioned Momsen or Cyrus. She sings about smoking and using drugs and attracting boys older than her. It’s enough to both upset parents and appeal to rebelling tweenage girls. Those messages could be justified as feminist, but I think it’s just clever marketing.

Badlands lasts roughly an hour, with 16 songs. I enjoy most of the songs, but an hour of it is a bit much. The music starts to lose its punch when it doesn’t deviate enough. That said, the demographic that this music will appeal to tends to listen to singles instead of albums, so the music it won’t lose its effectiveness outside of an album context.

Halsey has a great voice. Coupled with slick producers, and riding a trending genre, there’s no way she won’t sell. Hear her blasting from a defiant teenage girl’s bedroom soon.

Joseph James