Album Review: Broods – Conscious

Broods Conscious

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

Album Review: Tancred – Out Of The Garden

Tancred Out Of The Garden

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.

EP Review: Kacy Hill – Bloo

Kacy Hill Bloo EP cover

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

Halsey Badlands cover

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

Live Review: Ellie Goulding at the Wellington TSB Arena

Ellie Goulding Broods

Ellie Goulding

w/ Broods

TSB Arena Wellington

Monday 9 June 2014

Brother/sister duo Broods proved to be an ideal choice as tonight’s opening act. It was a homecoming of sorts for the two, who, along with their drummer, played a half hour set of sparse synth based music that complemented Goulding’s electropop brilliantly. Although the sampling sounded a bit weak to start with, once the mix improved they played a suitably dynamic set. Broods is quite a departure from the siblings’ previous band, The Peasants, and judging from crowd reaction they could well follow down the path just recently paved by Lorde.

If Broods gave a taste then Goulding gave the full combo deal, demonstrating how well the style of music can be played with a full band. Goulding herself proved adept on both guitar and drums, showing her to be more than just a pretty voice that can gyrate across a stage. She started off strong with hits like ‘Figure 8’ and ‘Starry Eyed’ before changing down a gear to a stripped back song. She then stripped it back even more for a short acoustic set of songs with just guitar or piano for accompaniment. An Elton John cover preceded a lull in the set but the pace picked back up eventually, providing more opportunities for the crowd to move about.

From there on in it got better and better, with Goulding appearing more comfortable to “be silly” onstage, as she told us in her polite English accent. The audience in turn seemed to receive each song better than the last, until the band finally concluded with the song ‘Burn’.

This is one of the better setups I’ve seen at this venue. The stands at the rear were set up, making the arena appear fuller. The lights and screens were impressive. Goulding had the goods. Enjoyable and diverse, she demonstrated that an excellent concert can be put on without the overly excessive price of admission that her popstar contemporaries charge. She has the voice, the charisma and the stage show without the diva attitude to match.


Joseph James