EP Review: Suburban Dinosaur – Mountains

Suburban Dinosaur Mountains EP cover
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Suburban Dinosaur is the work of Gonçalo Trindade, a Portuguese guitarist living in Berlin. He deserves applause for his choice of his pseudonym, let alone his music. Suburban Dinosaur: isn’t that just the best name? Trindade is also prolific writer, with this latest EP, Mountains, being his third release so far this year.

Mountains features seven short, calming guitar tracks with light piano accompaniment. This is a slight deviation from some of Trindade’s usual output. His last release sits more within the realms of noise/drone, and I even found some earlier works jarring. But I prefer this ambient direction. Serene acoustic guitar never fails to nourish my soul, and this EP hits the spot just so. The songs feel relaxed, slightly sad and soothing.

These softly picked recordings are intimate enough to let you hear Trindade’s fingers as they slide along the strings. The sparse piano notes only add to the mood, sensitively used to enhance where needed.

Although the EP feels cohesive and boasts the same vibes throughout, there’s enough subtle differences to delineate between songs.  It’s not all entirely acoustic. Second track “Contritum Pecus” employs a delayed loop, almost like a heartbeat. “Heartstrings #1” stands out for its strumming, compared to the other tracks, which are fingerpicked. Whereas “Intertitle(s)” features only piano.

It’s a short EP, but beautiful all the same. Certainly a lovely 20 minutes of music worthy of adding to your collection.

Suburban Dinosaur links:

Bandcamp: https://suburbandinosaur.bandcamp.com/

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

Album Review: Tash Sultana – Flow State

Tash Sultana Flow State
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I often wonder about why certain artists are household names, and why some of the best musicians I can think of are virtually unheard of. It’s not a case of talent equating to fame. Many major stars don’t even write their own music.

The reason I bring this up is because Tash Sultana is huge, but has only just released her first album. One of my American friends suggested that I look her up when I was travelling last year. So I did. I dug her sound – chilled out songs that utilize looping pedals. Next thing I know, I’m seeing her name everywhere. She’s headlining festivals, and even sold out a sizable show here in Wellington [which I sadly missed] a few months ago. How has she made such a name for herself without even having an album out?

Let’s be clear: Sultana deserves the attention. Flow State is a great album, and is all the more impressive when you consider that Sultana recorded every instrument herself. Much like Drax Project, Sultana’s story began with busking on the streets, and has arrived at the point of her ascending to stardom.

Solo multi-instrumentalist albums are nothing new. Mike Oldfield is one of the more classic examples. A more recent high-profile example is Dave Grohl’s Play. And Will Not Fade has covered countless more such projects. But Sultana’s work falls into a different category, partly because she sings, but also because her entire feel and approach stands out as separate from the post/prog rockers. “Blackbird” heads in a different direction (think Kaki King or Rodrigo y Gabriela) but on this album Sultana owns a distinctive sound.

Sultana sets the mood instantly with album opener “Seed”. She shows us that she’s no stranger to guitar as her fingers dance upon the fretboard, masterfully conjuring notes rich in reverb. Her voice is just as great as her playing, transferring from angelic coos to smokey singing.

Lazy campfire strumming lays the base for “Big Smoke”, while a shuffled drum beat extends the laid back feel. Bright finger picking and a contrasting solo allow Sultana to show off the breadth of her guitar playing chops.

I cannot tell you why “Cigarettes” isn’t one of the singles, but in my mind it is undeniably the pinnacle of Flow State. The laid-back groove is simply sublime, but it’s not until we reach bridge that things begin to stand out. A jangly riff and fast paced drums come into play, before Sultana lets loose with a scorching solo that simply rips for a few minutes.

In fact, this appears to be the template for many of the tracks. Mellow for the most part, with a searing solo that emerges during the bridge.

The soundtrack-esque “Seven” is also one of the more interesting tracks. An early violin melody adds Oriental flavours, which stall for a piano segment that transforms into a tense ostinato, with ominous Godspeed vibes. This is a track that takes you on a journey, through a variety of interesting terrains.

“Free Mind” feels a lot different to many of the other songs. It still retains groove, but with synthetic sounding drums it sounds like it has been produced differently to the other tracks, and the polished feel doesn’t sit well alongside the others.

One could argue that an hour is slightly too much. The mellow style works, but isn’t the most memorable – especially when many of the songs seem to follow the same formula. But Sultana does enough to mix it up if you listen carefully. “Salvation” has organ sounds, “Mystik” features horns and sweet, sweet bass lines. “Mellow Marmalade” takes the campfire feel to a new level with acoustic guitar, while “Harvest Love” gives Sultana a chance to show us how well she can wail.

Summer is fast approaching this part of the world, and I can see this being the perfect soundtrack to a carefree day in the sun. But likewise, Sultana’s smokey singing and smooth playing could be just what you need to warm you up in less desirable weather.

Tash Sultana is the whole package. Whether rocking you to sleep with smooth lullabies, or setting you ablaze with furious riffing, she plays with masterful ability. And her voice complements the playing brilliantly. Flow State is worth your attention. Do yourself a favour and give it a listen.

 

Joseph James

EP Review: Toe – Our Latest Number

Toe Our Latest Number EP cover
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To me, Toe are about as close as you can come to a perfect band. They are incredibly talented musicians who create great compositions that appeal to just about everyone. It’s never a bad time to listen to Toe, no matter what kind of mood you’re in. I have a funny anecdote that I shared in my Masaki Hanakata review, which involved me introducing Toe to American teenage girls at a Summer Camp I worked at, resulting in them all chanting “Toe! Toe! Toe!” until I played some of Toe’s music through tinny speakers at the campfire.

Their new EP, Our Latest Number picks up where Hear You (2015) left off. In fact, I feel that the new song “Etude of Solitude” could complete a trilogy started with the 2015 tracks “Premonition” and “A Desert of Human”, following similar sounding guitar lines. “Etude…” is my favourite track of this EP, featuring split tapped poly-rhythms, sparing yet effective use of vibraphone, splendid drumming, and possibly even sitar?

We hear light, airy songs that sound simple, but are deceptively complex. The songs are very repetitive, looping around groovy motifs that gradually evolve. Precise poly-rhythms of noodly guitars sit above concise, dry drumming, loaded with explosive energy, yet exuding chilled out vibes.

Most Toe tracks are instrumental, and when they feature vocals the singing is usually diverse and unpredictable. Hear You had male and female vocals, stunning harmonies and even rapping. By comparison, the two songs featuring singing on this EP are relatively straightforward and calm.

Thanos would love this EP because it feels so perfectly balanced. The playing is busy, but the musicians know where to leave space. The music sounds so clean and articulate due to the fact that there are very little sound effects added to the playing . Most post-rock music is saturated in distortion, reverb, delay etc… so these songs sound fresh by comparison.

That is not to say there are no effects or synthetic sounds utilised. “F_A_R” has a weird sliding sound – almost like a robotic heartbeat – at the start of the track. I first noticed it as I was walking to work a few days ago, and I thought the sound was my headphone cord rubbing against my clothes. The track continues to employ interesting sounds from synths and sequencers to add texture.

It says something about the quality of the music when you love a band so much without knowing much about them. I have no idea what they sing about on their songs that contain singing. It’s hard to keep track of what they’re up to over social media, seeing as most content I find is written in Japanese. I can’t understand what their message is, so I simply let the music talk on their behalf.

The only downside of Our Latest Number is that it is too short, last just shy of 20 minutes. And on top of that, some tracks almost feel like rehashed versions of older songs (compare the drumbeat “The Latest Number” against “You Go”, from 2009’s For Long Tomorrow). But my complacency isn’t justified – I just crave more music from this outstanding band!

This is an immaculate EP, in keeping with their previous output. Essential listening for most math-rock and post-rock fans, and I’m sure just as appealing to anyone who doesn’t usually listen to instrumental music. Just press play, and bask in the music’s genius and clarity.

Toe links:

Upcoming US tour dates:

  • September 07, 2018 – Washington, DC, US @ Black Cat
  • September 08, 2018 – Brooklyn, NY, US @ Warsaw
  • September 09, 2018 – Philadelphia, PA, US @ Union Transfer
  • September 10, 2018 – Allston, MA, US @ Brighton Music Hall
  • September 12, 2018 – Toronto, ON, Canada @ Virgin Mobile Mod Club
  • September 13, 2018 – Chicago, IL, US @ Thalia Hall
  • September 14, 2018 – Minneapolis, MN, US @ Fine Line Music Cafe
  • September 17, 2018 – Seattle, WA, US @ The Crocodile
  • September 18, 2018 – Vancouver, BC, Canada @ The Imperial
  • September 19, 2018 – Portland, OR, US @ Wonder Ballroom
  • September 20, 2018 – San Francisco, CA, US @ Great American Music Hall
  • September 21, 2018 – Los Angeles, CA, US @ Regent Theater

Joseph James

Album Review: The Dark Third – Even As The Light Grows

The Dark Third Even As The Light Grows
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You’d be forgiven if Auckland act The Dark Third haven’t popped up on your radar yet, but that is soon to change. Formed in 2013, they underwent a number of changes, before gaining relative success in 2017 by playing support slots for both Tortoise and Alcest when each of those bands played in Auckland. On August 19 they will release début Even As The Light Grows.

The Dark Third have created a hazy brand of music that eludes easy description by drawing on a range of styles including shoegaze, post-rock, prog-rock and black-metal. Their style reminds me of other dark post-rock acts that offer similar moody output, like Coma Recovery, The Swan Thief and Blueneck.

They name check prog-rocker Steven Wilson (of Porcupine Tree fame) as an influence and I can see why. The progressive styling, long songs, and focus on intelligent song crafting over sheer heaviness all bear similarity to Wilson’s own work.

With opening track “The dreams of Lesser Men” a harsh discordant intro segues into hotel lobby piano playing, before transforming into guitar picking. Light floaty segments bookend distorted feedback, but somehow all the parts feel connected. Daniel Hay’s singing sounds weightless and ethereal, but still powerful and emotive.

To me, this strength of this album lies in the second track, “These Things Are Not Inherent”. Primal thumping drums and bass heavy piano chords ground the song, while hypnotic singing draws us in. It’s like Killing Joke minus the aggression. And I can’t get enough of it.

The album repeats itself a lot – not in an annoying way – but revisiting themes across the album through use of reprisals and motifs. Maybe it’s just because I’ve listened to it so much over the past few weeks, or maybe it’s because many of the songs are fairly long, but I keep hearing segments and getting a sense of déjà vu, that the same chord progressions and melodies keep cropping up again. It’s a good thing though, showing that cohesive elements thread through each song to make the album feel like a fully developed package.

Another neat aspect of this release is that the band includes a wide array of instruments that eschew the traditional rock four-piece expectations. Piano, violin and saxophone all offer different tones and textures that defy expectations. When I think saxophone, jazz comes to mind. Well here, it is used in a completely different context. There are 13 layers of sax in “These Things Are Not Inherent”, which all pile upon each other to create a unique drone effect. And speaking of interesting instrumentation, the end of “The Regressor” turns industrial, sounding like a factory in action, with reversed sound effects.

It’s hard to articulate why I like this album so much. I had the same problem reviewing Coma Recovery’s EP earlier in the year. It speaks to me emotionally, which is hard to convey with words. 

Even As The Light Grows is an album of polarities. Dark and light; heavy and soft; classic and fresh. The album art encapsulates their sound well: looking both serene and sharp at the same time. It’s like a good stout: dark, silky smooth and with layers of depth that stay with you long after your sip. Drink it all in and enjoy

Daniel Hay The Dark Third by Mandie Hailtree

Daniel Hay. Image: Hailtree

The Dark Third links:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheDarkThird/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thedarkthird/
Bandcamp: https://thedarkthird.bandcamp.com/

 

Joseph James

Album Review: Listener – Being Empty : Being Filled

Listener - Being Empty : Being Filled
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Listener are a polarising band. Intensely poetic – with strong focus on vocal delivery – they either draw you in with their rich lyrically constructed worlds, or push you away with the non-conventional vocals. Maybe you’re already familiar with Listener. If you like other acts like La Dispute and mewithoutyou you should really check them out.

Half the fun is interpreting the lyrics. Both descriptive and cryptic, they can rip your heart apart or restore your faith in humanity. It all revolves around frontman Dan Smith’s impassioned delivery. His voice cracks with intensity. You can picture him on the cusp of collapsing into a teary mess. But he also has the ability to tenderly pick you up and tell direct truths that demonstrate beauty and hope.

Being Empty : Being Filled is Listener’s fourth record, a concept album that explores the lives of notable inventors. The songs were released over an eight month period across a series of 7 inch vinyl EPs and Youtube videos.

Listener delve into the lives of the inventors. Who are these people who the songs centre around? Maybe we know what they are famous for, but do we know about the lives that they lived? It is a fascinating concept. I wouldn’t even say Listener necessarily chose inventors that they look up to and admire. But no matter how useful the invention (ranging from cryogenics to denim jeans), each inventor still has a story.

The figures in focus range from groundbreaking scientists like Robert Oppenheimer (The Father of the Atom Bomb) and Nikola Tesla; to others who may seem mediocre by comparison, but are no less essential (such as Levi Strauss, and Moms and Dads). Good to see that they included some female inventors in their selection too (Stephanie Kwolek – known for kevlar, and Marie Curie – who studied radioactivity).

Listener

Dan Smith’s solo Still Life EP (2015) – the last Listener-affiliated release – was a stripped back affair. By comparison, Being Empty : Being Filled is a full sounding rock record. I was actually shocked by the opening chords of the album. It sounds surprisingly full, considering how in the past the music has taken a backseat to allow the vocals a chance to shine.

Smith’s vocals don’t take up so much of the spotlight this time, but he is still compelling. Energy, emotion and dynamic delivery are three critical factors that help us relate to music, and Smith offers it all in spades. He bellows cryptic lines with accusatory tones, maybe not in condemnation, but with enough passion to invite interest. Take this lyric, for example: “October is my favorite color”. What does that mean?

The brilliant music help to add gravitas to these stories of struggle and success. Victorious trumpets support Levi Strauss’ triumphant work ethic.  Sparse, lingering notes recount the forlorn tale of Rudolph Diesel, who managed to create his engine, but separated himself from his loved ones in the process. In “Plague Doctor” screeching feedback and frenzied distortion transforms into electrifying, foreboding doom.

Layers of emotion and intensity overlap as the music syncs with the stories. I wouldn’t even say that the tone of the music matches the tone of the stories. I would attach feelings of hope and wonder with conceiving and raising a child, but dense, distorted chugging creates a sense of desperation in ” Little Folded Fingers”. And during “Manhattan Projects”, when we hear Robert Oppenheimer’s immortal line (“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds”) the melody is light and wondrous – followed soon by guitar chugging that mimics dropping bombs – but then offset by a lovely trumpet tune. But my interpretation of themes are subjective, and whether the messages and musical moods marry or not, they both offer engaging and compelling listening.

Being Empty : Being Filled is vastly different from Listener’s previous output because it feels more fleshed out. The music is intense and dynamic enough to match the vocals. Enough riffs to rock out to, enough intrigue to pique interest, enough poetic lyrics to keep you thinking, and enough pathos to make the album feel like an experience. I’ll award bonus points for exploring such a compelling concept as well. This album has motivated me to research some of the figures who Listener pay homage to with these songs.

Admittedly, I was already a Listener fan before this record came out, but I find it a vast improvement upon their previous output. Give it a listen. Even if you don’t like it, I’m sure you can admire the originality and creativity injected into it.

Listener links:

Website: http://iamlistener.com/

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

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/iamlistener

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

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/listenerfamilyband/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/listener


LISTENER 2018 AUSTRALIA & NEW ZEALAND TOUR (Tickets link)

Listener are coming to Australia and New Zealand thanks to Reverse K and Valhalla Touring.

Listener Au NZ tour poster

Review written by Joseph James. Come say hi if you see me at the Wellington show.