DE LA CRUZ – Street Level

DE LA CRUZ sl COVERThere have been some great bands exported from Australisia over the decades.  Crowded House have blessed us with near-perfect and often very thoughtful pop; Cold Chisel raised the bar for no-nonsense rock ‘n’ roll; Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil proved – perhaps more than any of their American counterparts – that hard rock and politics can go hand in hand and still shift millions of units.  Something UK and US audiences rarely associated with the southern hemispheres is sleaze/glam rock.  Frontiers signings De La Cruz are here to help fly that flag.

This debut full-length release shows off some potentially talented musicians.  Throughout the record, De La Cruz emulate their 80s heroes with gusto, with more than a hearty appreciation for 1987-89 era Mötley Crüe, with Casey Jones and Rory Joy in particular in the driving seat with some hard-edged guitar licks.  Tempering the Crüe trashiness comes a world of filtered Def Leppard-esque vocals – vocals that, at least some of the time, add a greater sense of melody.

Kicking off at their toughest, ‘Street Level’ features a reverbed drum, a hard-hitting riff and slightly squawky vocals, all of which tips the hat to Zan Clan and many glam bands of the late 80s.  From this more than solid base, both guitarists work magic, eventually delivering shredding solos that appear too sharp edged even for De La Cruz’s retro-sleaze.  Musically, if glam is your bag, this is fine.  But what’s that?  Do the band really think that repeating the words ‘street level’ several times actually passes as a chorus?  Even the dumbest, coked-up rock stars of glam’s heyday always managed more than that…at their most half-arsed.   Likewise, in principle, ‘Girls Go Wild’ and ‘Turn It Up’ should’ve been okay in a Mötley style, but they’re also killed by one line choruses.

For ‘Legions of Love’, the focus shifts from Mötley-wannabes to blatent Def Leppard-isms.  With the slight musical shift, there’s always a glimmer of hope that the song writing will improve, but both ‘Legions of Love’ and ‘Gimme Love’ suffer at the hand of (near) one-line dumbness.  Again, this is a great pity, since the musicians turn in decent performances throughout.   This band should have hired a lyricist.  At almost every turn, they manage to kill any good vibes with lazy song writing.  Yes, glam and sleaze is never meant to intellectual, but surely even the most undemanding rock fan deserves more than one line choruses.  With such a trashy approach,  you might get away with one or two of these, but to pretty much fill the first half of this record with them is bordering on taking the piss.

Thanks to various attempts at stretching choruses to at least two different lines and more exposure given to the band’s much-loved Def Leppard-esque vocals, the second half of this debut shows a marked improvement.  ‘Dreaming’ utilizes some unashamed AOR keyboards, which combined with a tough guitar calls to mind Heaven’s Edge before the vocal brings things more into a radio-friendly hair-metal territory.  It’s a shame that Roxxi Catalano’s voice had to be so heavily filtered, but even that doesn’t mar the enjoyment too much.  The verses pack a driving punch, while the chorus comes across like an early Warrant tune re-imagined by Def Leppard.  As before, the guitarists are on hand to fill the instrumental break with well-executed sweeping, all proving De La Cruz have great potential.  Why they waited until halfway through the album to unleash that full potential is anyone’s guess.  After all, the less patient have already long stopped listening by this point.

‘Invincible’ also brings enjoyable moments in its intro thanks to some clean-toned guitar work, but just as you’re expecting things to take a Def Leppard ‘Love Bites’ route, things toughen up considerably.  With a solid back beat and riff to match, De La Cruz embark on a number which fuses the best elements of Dokken and the Leps.  Against the odds, they manage to pull the best from a not especially memorable hook thanks to some multi-tracked voices.  Those voices eventually go some way towards rescuing this number, since Catalano doesn’t sound especially strong in his role of lead vocalist here.  Joining ‘Dreaming’ as the album’s only other genuinely great tune, ‘Set The Night’ brings the band’s best elements to the fore: the lead vocal is scratchy but has a sense of sleaze-rock charm, while the music strikes a fine balance between power and melody; as before, it’s the shameless Leppard backing vocals which are the real clincher.

To finish, semi-acoustic ballad ‘Shine’ includes far softer vocals and melodies all round – so much so it sounds like the work of a completely different band.  Although the tune is okay and the vocals are well suited to this more restrained approach, it doesn’t sound heartfelt or genuine.  It’s as if the band have finished recording their album and then remembered how Poison’s ‘Every Rose Has Its Thorn’ and Warrant’s ‘Heaven’ have survived the decades and, perhaps, De La Cruz need a ballad too.  Placing it at the end of the album just makes it feel even more like an afterthought.

Since De La Cruz showcases two gifted shredders in the guitar department and a vocalist who possesses a reasonable amount of edge (if not always actual tune), it’s a shame that aside from ‘Dreaming’ and ‘Set The Night’, no songs really show off the band’s fullest potential.  Fewer one-line choruses would have been a big help, but it still wouldn’t stop even the best parts of this record feeling like a mere imitation of great glam records of the 1980s.  Despite initial potential, this disc is only for the easily pleased.

March 2013

THE FAULTS – Patients EP

On The Faults’ debut EP (a self-titled release from 2011) the band’s two members, Oli (gtr/vox) and Tom (drums) hammered their way through four reverb-drenched songs, sticking rigidly to the confines of the two-man setup.  While their work didn’t actually bring anything of a new slant to the garage rock genre, the tunes were played with absolute conviction and with a great energy.  Their second release, ‘Patients’ brings the keen garage rock fan much more of the same.

Beginning this second EP in a really unsubtle fashion, ‘Patience’ opens with raucous drums and hammered guitar, over which Oli wails like a man possessed by demons, his voice fuzzed up to create an extra level of intensity. While fans of garage-based noises are likely to dig this, be warned: the general looseness displayed means they’re in danger of sounding more like The Strokes in a slightly drunken stupor than The White Stripes or New York’s mighty Dead Exs at their best.  Much better, ‘Peace of Mind’ mashes an early sixties Phil Spector inspired beat with a guitar jangle that’s almost got a Mexicana vibe – like something from a spaghetti western played in a garage.  Between the disjointed pieces of music, the voice has a very strong presence, bawled with very little restraint. The combination of interesting tune and vocal forcefulness makes this one of the EPs better offerings.

‘Chivalry’ is a standard issue garage rocker where, between the crashing cymbals and the threat of a lead guitar break which never manages to surface, The Faults’ play firmly to their strengths.  Slowing things down and potentially becoming a touch more interesting in doing so, ‘Summer’ brings in a slight tone of sixties pop to the song writing. With the shift in pace, Oli’s voice gets a brief opportunity to stretch out on some longer, croony notes.  Despite a stronger focus on the voice and stripping back the drums, the general tone stays within their fuzzed up remit – yes, it may sound a little poppier in its construction, but everything still comes with a truckload of reverb…and if you’ve dug The Faults’ thus far, chances are, you’ll dig this too.  The strongest – and most easily accessible track – ‘Leather Jacket’ brings more of a trashy rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic to The Faults’ sound, all groove-led drumming and spiky guitar.  Think Jon Spencer Blues Explosion circa ‘Orange’ (though with Spencer’s drunken Presley-isms replaced by something less stylised) and you’ll know where this is headed.  Upbeat and sweaty, this is the Australian duo’s finest (almpst) two minutes.

Even though perhaps three of the five songs aren’t quite as instant as ‘Quarter’ from The Faults’ previous release, there’s some ragged fun to be had from ‘Patients’.  It is not as sharp as it could have perhaps been, but rest assured, it gets better with each play. ‘Leather Jacket’, meanwhile, is a killer track – certainly great enough to make up for anything potentially lacking elsewhere.

October 2012

EVOLETAH – Sleepwalker

Mixing elements of alternative rock, indie jangle and a just a touch of dream pop, Australian rock band Evoletah create sounds for people who like their rock music with a nineties vibe.  One of the first things notable about ‘Sleepwalker’ – the band’s third full length – is that the album’s live in the studio sound really favours the drums.  Even at times when the rest of the instruments are allotted an equal space in the overall mix, those drums still have the edge.  An indie rock approach to the guitar riffs often gives the band a centre-point from which to spiral out, but perhaps the strongest element of Evolateh’s sound is frontman Matt Cahill’s vocals.  The ex-Violets vocalist has a laid-back approach which sometimes hints at a fellow Aussie, The Church’s Steve Kilbey.

Released as the album’s first single ‘Cain & Abel’ is a mid paced tune. Throughout the verses, the guitars don’t break from their initial jangle, leading the listener to think that by the time the chorus rocks up, everything will reach a peak in a suitable blaze of glory.  While this is certainly true of the drums, nothing else really changes tack.  In this respect, the track is best described as vocal led, since it’s only frontman Matt Cahill’s voice doing anything really interesting.

‘Shortly After Takeoff’ is a professionally constructed slab of indie rock which builds tension during its first half, and then gives way to a rousing performance from Jason Eyers-White, while ‘The Hurting’ has a jangling, marching base, over which Cahill delivers an emotive performance.  Despite best intentions, the lack of obvious hook means the audience has to be totally into Evoletah’s sound almost from the get go, since there’s not always much else (hooks, mainly) to help win anyone over.  ‘Invisible’ has a cool vibe, as the band adopt a waltzing time signature, topped with more solid jangling.  These elements don’t necessary hold the interest alone, but a brief trumpet solo along the way adds something extra.  …And while the band are more than musically competent, this highlights that it’s that little “something extra” so many of ‘Sleepwalker’s tunes often miss.

Much better, the lack of drums during ‘Northern Gentleman’ allows a brief glimpse into something more intimate.  Andrew Boyce lays down a noodly guitar line which blends elements of pop rock with a touch of seventies prog, while occasional cello is on hand to add colour.  ‘Minutes Into Years’ is perhaps the album’s finest moment; a track of two distinct halves, the first takes a similar approach to the majority of Evoletah’s best songs, allowing Boyce to work a dreamy, clean-toned riff, over which, the vocals are wistful and breathy.  Occasionally, as the notes drift from the speakers, ‘Minutes’ has the majesty of a tune which could have been recorded by the aforementioned Church during their ‘Priest=Aura’/’Sometime Anywhere’ days.   For the second part, things really rock up, as the guitars crank out some distorted electric riffs to bring things to a climax.  Like ‘Invisible’, this number proves that despite their often middling outcomes, Evoletah are a band with a lot of potential.

Aside from ‘Northern Gentleman’, almost everything is of a mid pace, which after a while makes things start to blur. Although this release has a good end sound – giving some indication of how the Australian four piece possibly sound like in a live setting – and Evoletah are clearly quite talented, ‘Sleepwalker’ would have definitely benefitted from a change in pace once in a while.   As it is, though, you’ll find a few enjoyable tunes buried within, and picking up a download of ‘Minutes Into Years’ should definitely be on your “to do” list.

August 2012

LOWLAKES – Lowlakes EP

Australian four-piece band Lowlakes were born from the ashes of a band called The Moxie.  Relocating from Alice Springs to Melbourne, vocalist Thomas Snowdon, bassist Bill Guerin and drummer Jack Talbot decided a fresh start was necessary.  Under their new moniker of Lowlakes, these three musicians teamed up with guitarist Brent Monaghan and decided to explore music with a sense of atmosphere.

On their debut EP, the music creeps into the listening spectrum very gently.  Monaghan’s clean toned guitars lay a foundation over which single piano chords are played, gently, creating something so simple, it leaves the listener to wonder where things are headed…And then Thomas Snowdon begins to sing.  His opening statements on this release comprise of a few wordless vocal sounds, strong yet somehow unsettling, a little grating even, not necessarily what such music required at all.  By the time he breaks into the opening verse properly, there’s just too much of a leaning towards the hugely, hugely overrated Jeff Buckley in his delivery.  It almost stops ‘Song For Motion’ in its tracks.  Despite this, that atmospheric tune bubbles away beneath, until finally revealing a warm bass and soft percussion.  Snowdon’s voice stays in the centre of it all – far, far too high in the mix – and for those whom dislike Buckley Jr, this could prove a huge stumbling block with regard to Lowlakes…

…That is, at least to begin with.  Somehow – feeling like nothing short of a miracle – by halfway through the EP’s second offering ‘Catch The Breeze’, his voice sounds more palatable. This, perhaps, has a lot to do with the rest of the band.  Here, they adopt a musical stance that’s more immediate than before – a fuller, if never truly busier sound – which helps fill the previous gulf between voice and music.  Jack Talbot’s drums lay a solid base over which the bass, which rumbles unassumingly throughout.  As before, most of Monaghan’s guitar parts are concerned with filling space in their own equally spacious way as opposed to any kind of big riffs, but it’s an approach which definitely works.  Even the falsetto vocals sound like a natural accompaniment.

The rhythm section gets their “big moment” on the relatively upbeat ‘Buffalo’.  Both the bass and drums come in a more indie-rock style as opposed to previous dreampop experiments.  While there’s nothing obviously complex about either the drum parts or basslines, both have an enjoyable quality.  It’s great to hear the bass really high in the mix, which goes some way to carrying the tune briskly for just almost four minutes.  While it may not have the overall sense of atmosphere or invention for which Lowlakes prove capable elsewhere, its upbeat edges make it this EP’s most immediately accessible track.  ‘Arctic House’ brings together the best elements of ‘Catch The Breeze’ and ‘Buffalo’.  The rhythm has an almost metronome feel, but over that, the sparse guitar parts and bass rumbles hold the attention well.  There are fleeting moments here which make Lowlakes sound like they are about to break into one of ‘The Joshua Tree’s more spacious numbers at any second, though that’s not to say they sound particularly like U2…it’s more of a mood thing as opposed to an obvious style.  Throughout, the repeated line of ‘would you believe it’ (where Snowdon sounds like some kind of oddball Buckley/Nina Simone hybrid) constantly threatens to reach a climax, but the track fades, leaving Lowlakes to disappear almost as unobtrusively as they appeared over the musical horizon about twenty minutes earlier.

This EP is an interesting release: at first it sounds like it is going to be hard listening…and then things slowly fall into place.  There’s a nice warmth hiding within a lot of Lowlakes’ arrangements which eventually turns out to be a great strength.  There’s a strong temptation to call ‘Lowlakes’ (both the EP and band) “a grower”; there are some lovely basslines throughout, but with that vocal, they’re unlikely to win mass appeal.  Still, they’re likely to happy creating music on their own terms and winning a decent cult audience.

March 2012

REGURGITATOR – Superhappyfuntimesfriends

As with so many of their peers, Regurgitator haven’t made much of an impact outside their native Australia.  However, after years of hard work, half a dozen full album releases and a bunch of singles, they’ve become cult heroes among the alternative community.  They’ve even secured support slots with Beck, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Prodigy on their Aussie tours.

Regurgitator’s seventh album, ‘Superhappyfuntimesfriends’, presents a mix of jangly indie-rock, pop punk and occasional electronica vibes, served with a frivolous and sometimes uncompromising attitude.   There are various words which best describe the album, but if it were best described by one, that one word would be inconsistent.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have some good moments hidden among its messier elements, of course.  In fact, ‘Into The Night’ could well be one of 2011’s best individual tracks.  With a blend of electronic pop and sullen vocal, it’s the kind of track US band The Killers should record, if only they weren’t so horribly bland (and possessing such middling levels of talent).  It may be down to Regurgitator’s country of origin, but there’s a more than welcome hint of The Church during this number.  This could partly be the use of some very 80s keyboards, but it’s just as likely to be its slightly underwhelming vocal style – delivered in a way which would make Steve Kilbey proud.  Electronic treatments also provide the heart of ‘Devil Spell’, a short and wordless, yet brilliant piece; full of breakbeats and loops, it makes the band sound like The Go! Team reworked by Beck Hansen.  Simple but effective, never outstaying its welcome, it’s a number which works best with the volume properly cranked.

Most of Regurgitator’s other great moments on ‘Superhappy’ aren’t as reliant on retro pop or electronic features.  Their pop-punk tendencies – present on tracks like ‘No Show’ and ‘Uncontactable’ – prove them to be an outfit with great energy (and this also explains why they supported the much-missed CIV on tour).  On the former, a tuneful vocal is well suited to the bouncing riff, while the main hook of “it’s a no show!” is an effective one.  You’ll have heard a lot of similar material throughout the 90s and beyond, but Regurgitator more than hold their own in this department, making it a great three minute number designed to clear some cobwebs.  Due to a slightly more off kilter chord structure, ‘Uncontactable’ could potentially be the more interesting of the pair, though still doesn’t veer too far from punk pop.  A mid section featuring a phone call also demonstrates a silly sense of humour.  Overall, energy plus a reasonable hook more than carries this number off with ease.  ‘All Fake Everything’ is best described as “oddball”.  At first, it presents itself in the Ben Folds vein: a gentle-ish piano ballad intercut with jarring bad language.  Just as you think you’ve got it sussed, it’s all change…The second half of the track is loaded with fuzzy bass and a big groove, dressed up with rough-round-the-edges rap (a la Beastie Boys) – in short, a world away from where it began.  It might just work.  Even if you decide it doesn’t, at least you can’t say Regurgitator don’t kept you on your toes!

Moving things into more accessible territory, ‘Punk Mum’ is an upbeat indie-rocker with a throwaway feel, saved by some great bottom end on the bass and almost marching band drumming in places.  It’s maybe not as good as the likes of ‘No Show’, but manages to be great fun nonetheless.  ‘Outer Space’ brings some retro sounding, almost new wavish edges.  A strong and simple arrangement plays host to some muted guitar chords which recalls the best stuff by The Cars.  However, it’s downhill from there – with such a strong tune, it’s a pity Regurgitator couldn’t have backed up this good tune with a memorable hook of any kind.

Although there are some top tunes, ‘Superhappyfuntimesfriends’ suffers a little from too much filler material. As with any hit and miss albums, there’s bound to be stuff which passes the listener by without making a great impression.  In addition to a couple of such numbers, Regurgitator fill other parts of the album with near pointlessness.  For example: ‘Game Over Man’ fuses 8-bit computer noises with hardcore punk to create a thirty seconds distraction, while ‘D.M.T.42’ spends almost two minutes doing precious little. There’s a Daft Punk style electronic loop, a fuzzy noise and then a little shoegaze thrown in for good measure (which all adds up to a band definitely trying too hard) and ‘8PM’ is a short lo-fi acoustic piece which could have been a Smudge b-side.  None of these offerings reach this band’s true potential.

Given Regurgitator’s inconsistencies and attempts at squishing so many styles onto one release, it’s much better to approach ‘Superhappyfuntimesfriends’ as an individual collection of songs as opposed to a complete album.  Individually, you’ll certainly find some great tracks here, though it’s possible that these standout moments will vary wildly from listener to listener – and depend entirely on mood.

You can download the album on a “pay what you want” basis from the widget below.

November 2011