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


Their name may sound like a community choir, but Australian band The John Steel Singers aren’t named after a man. John Steel, in this case, refers to a small toy horse named by frontman Tim Morrissey.  Since their choice of name leans towards the surreal, you would perhaps expect their debut full-length release to be quirky, and it many ways it is. But make no mistake, quirky in this case doesn’t usually mean humorous or novelty; ‘Tangalooma’ blends various 60s influences and serves them up with a hint of 90s alternative rock, sometimes achieving interesting results.

‘Evolution’ presents The John Steel Singers in one of their most accessible moods.  There’s a solid bassline, banjos and occasional reverbed guitar fills, served up with a choir of voices.  If that wasn’t enough to convey a certain kind of sunshine pop, there’s also a bit of brass thrown in for good measure.  With the bouncing, almost march-along nature of this number, a reasonable reference point for this would be Mercury Rev during one of their more throwaway experiments meeting Small Faces on one of their cockney walkabouts (or perhaps ‘Care of Cell 44’ by The Zombies, albeit with none of the sparkle which makes that tune so endearing).  If they were going for feel-good, they’ve had a good stab at it hit here; it’s worth remembering how difficult it is to convey this kind of mildly eccentric groove without venturing into annoying territory (which is something The John Steel Singers fall foul of elsewhere on the album, with a relative regularity).  Far more interesting – though still accessible – ‘Toes & Fingers’ uses lots of 60s influences during its opening verse.  A hushed vocal sits atop a slightly haunting arrangement of bass and piano, punctuated by simple glockenspiel notes. The vocal harmonies – although slightly dark – are spot on; and then, just as you think you know what’s in store for the rest of the number, the band change tack completely. Things then move into a more upbeat arrangement, driven by Dion Ford’s bass; a choir of vocals chip in, as the glockenspiel takes on a busier role – and it’s hard not to think of Norway’s Team Me.  As the vocals take a stap back, muted trumpets fill the space, while other passages are dominated by retro twanging guitars.  Being two or three musical ideas glued together, it shouldn’t work, yet somehow it does… It’s definitely the album’s stand-out track – and by some distance.

‘Cause of Self’ has a darker vibe, thanks to a great reverbed guitar part and unexpected piano accompaniment.  Vocally, the slightly hushed tones add to a relative unease, and upon first listen it’s impossible to second guess how the number will end.  While The John Steel Singers are clearly in experimental mode here, lots of the track’s subtler elements are crushed by a ringing rhythm guitar which drowns out half the track.  If the band wanted to unsettle their listeners, they’ve succeeded.  It’s a reasonable number in all, but one which would definitely have been better without the noisy guitars.  ‘Once I’ has an unavoidable 60s influence, but delivered with the band’s own style.  Here, over a four-four time signature which often sounds as if it’s desperately trying to break into something more interesting, there’s a selection of banjos, trombones and retro keyboards.  Its gentle air could have been soothing, but as with much of The John Steel Singers’ material, the idea it could break into an unknown quantity at any moment takes away any idea of comfort.  ‘You’ve Got Nothing To Be Proud Of’ showcases more sunny grooves – the electric pianos and upfront basses add nice flourishes throughout, while a multi-layered arrangement shows a great understanding of a band’s ability to really get the most out of their studio environment.  The music often much better here and, as such, the slightly discordant vocal can be overlooked – after all, being slightly out of tune never hurt Stephen Malkmus.

A slight Beach Boys vocal style permeates ‘Dying Tree’, a number with a very dark edge.  Plenty of reverb a plenty unsettles what could have easily been an otherwise easy to like sixties pastiche.  Looking beyond the reverb, though, there are some decent harmonies on show and an interesting – albeit sinister – musical base.  It’s not a number which stands out at first, but perseverance could uncover what is potentially one of ‘Tangalooma’s best offerings.

Beyond those numbers, this album is a mixed bag of potentially failed experiments.  With another marching beat, ‘Overpass’ should have been a bedfellow for ‘Evolution’, but the band take their Zombies-ish marching pace to extremes – almost to the point of absolute annoyance.  Yes, the bass line is solid and harmonies are fairly tight, but the end product is best described as grating.  The only respite comes from a couple of brief sections which hint at psychedelia, but these are duly stomped over by the rumpty-tumpty marching band.  Possessing a tune which rarely changes from its original three or four opening bars, ‘Rainbow Kraut’ – aside from having a really awful title – treads a fine line between trashy and mildly eccentric.  At first, the staccato guitar riff sounds like its building up to something more interesting, but it never goes anywhere. The mariachi horns provide a small amount of interest during the closing section, but no matter how good, these are really no substitute for a chorus (sadly missed).  Parts of this track sound like something the band found among Frank Black’s pile of rejects.  After a few plays, it sounds better than it did on first hearing, but then again, a few spins after that, it’s somewhat of an irritant once again – and barely recognisable as being the work of the same band capable of something as good as ‘Toes & Fingers’.  During the short acoustic number ‘Great Divided Self’ the band sound like they’ve stopped trying altogether. The vocals and guitar sound like a busker, which could be excused if the material was of a better quality, but sadly it sounds like something which was tossed off in ten minutes.

Despite their off-days, this band has something.  It’s not always obvious what that something is, but whatever it may be, it was enough to entice ex-Go Betweens man Robert Forster and Animal Collective’s Nicolas Vernhes on board this project (the pair take on producing and mixing duties respectively).  As such, the production is always great, even when the band’s material doesn’t quite work.    And when the material works, The John Steel Singers have a fair amount of potential. ‘Tangalooma’ presents a handful of attention-grabbing ideas; ‘Toes & Fingers’ in particular sounds like the work of a very interesting band.  If they could have been a little less reliant on marching beats and move farther towards the dark psychedelic elements they’d hinted at on a couple of tracks, it certainly would have been a step in a better direction.

October 2011