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LISTEN: Cool Sounds – ‘Dance Moves’

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“It was certainly a joke to begin with”.

In an interview on the excellent Weirdo Wasteland podcast, Cool Sounds bassist Nick Kearton gives a run down of the beginnings of the band that gives the impression that they could’ve easily faded into memory as a ‘one tape on a little known foreign label’ affair.

Talking about their first few efforts, Kearton comments that while there were definitely songs that he liked on efforts like Melbourne Fashion and Healing Crystals, ultimately the work Cool Sounds had been shopping around wasn’t as realised as it could’ve been. The band wasn’t really sure what it was even trying to be yet, which resulted in entire songs on Healing Crystals being based solely off of IMDb movie plot synopses.

The leap forward to Dance Moves, is huge. This record marks Cool Sounds’ debut on Melbourne label Deaf Ambitions, where they rub shoulders with groups like pop duo Zone Out and slacker pop quintet Crepes.

Cool Sounds aren’t new kids at school by any means, with plenty of the team hailing from the “incestuous, and ever prolific Ocean Party clique” (Deaf Ambitions’ hilarious description). The Ocean Party’s presence and influence is easily felt. From that band, front man Dainis Lacy has pinched a few; Zach Denton works the keys, Liam Halliwell is on sax, and Kearton is OP’s go-to replacement when Crowman can’t make a gig. But I digress; we’re talking about Dance Moves here, and its author is Lacy.

You could describe Cool Sounds as being guitar pop with synth rock chucked into a blender with a black and white photo of some urban street in the rain and you’d probably be correct – though, you’d also be really bad at describing things in understandable ways. The band likes to bandy around this genre term ‘jazz-gaze’ and I don’t know if they’re joking but if not I’d have to disagree. The saxophone embellishments on many of these songs are just that, embellishments. They don’t define the albums course or tone, more serving a greater purpose of smooth new wave/guitar pop jamming that many of the songs belong to.

Songs like ‘In Blue Skies’ are effortless masterstrokes of Cool Sounds’ version of this kind of guitar pop, it’s flamenco acoustic guitar bridge leading into a gorgeously harmonised outro. It’s also got a music video you can watch above where the Lacy makes out lovingly with a basketball, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Lacy’s song writing doesn’t sit in any one emotional ballpark; he’ll contrast vulnerable lines like “I begin to shake/stop looking my way” on ‘Shake’ with huge sweeping guitar and saxophone climaxes. Lyrically, Dance Moves touches on elements of vulnerability, distance, isolation, and the struggles of self control. On the opening track ‘Control’, Lacy admits “I keep dreaming that I’m cheating on you” in probably one of the most honest opening lines I’ve heard this year.

‘Heartbreak’ is a fantastic detour into all out synth pop, synthesizer arpeggios scattering about in the background whilst the drums and bass give the rhythm a work out and Lacy croons over the top, it’s also got one of the best lines on the album, “I’m a man, please justify me.”

It’s unfortunate that in certain instances Lacy’s vocals aren’t up to the task though – with the impressive production laid onto Dance Moves regardless of it’s bedroom recording roots (you can thank Halliwell for that too) Lacy struggles at times to match his voice to the hugeness of the instrumentation around him, not quite reaching certain notes and getting lost in the mix at times. This happens worst on ‘Runs Wild’, that song probably being the most undercooked on Dance Moves, ending in a really awkward way, something that betrays its speed.  While Lacy’s voice might be an acquired taste, his tender and earnest vocal delivery often make up for it.

Lacy’s lyricism is his real strength. He’s not overtly self pitying or glorifying his own weaknesses. He deals with them in a manner that lays them bare and picks at them mercilessly like an out of body experience. In that interview with Weirdo Wasteland, Kearton mentions much of Dance Moves is built out of experiences Lacy had while holding together a long distance relationship that stretched across continents.

Dance Moves is an impressive feat. Lacy decided to bring together everything great that Cool Sounds was with a shiny new coat of paint, and Halliwell’s production ensures that everything sounds way better than a bedroom recording should. While it’s in need of some variation at times, the blueprint for Cool Sounds going forward is so compelling and infectious that Dance Moves sets very few steps wrong.

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LISTEN: Make More – Spend Life LP

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While we’re trying so hard to have a legitimate winter right now, Brisbane trio Make More are dragging me back to Queensland summer. Their debut record Spend Life gives off the sticky feeling of living every moment under a relentlessly bright sun, the kind that makes you look happy even when you feel like shit. Spend Life is a succinctly packaged debut that blurs the lines of every genre it draws from, with each two-word titled track rarely breaking three minutes. The whole thing sounds urgent, the guitars sweating under the suppressed cynicism of each lyric. 

The best thing about Spend Life is that its strengths do more than compensate for its (few) weaknesses and prove there is still room to produce something original on an indie rock record. Six-stringed melodies bury sharp observations about relationships both intimate and universal. It took a few listens to unearth gems like the lone phrase in opener and lead single ‘Best End’: ‘You’re an idealist with no idea / I heard you went on a trip around the world / now you’ve think you changed it.

Lyrically each track is built off a passing thought sprouted from a feeling – disillusionment, disappointment and certain apathy seethe underneath distractingly big riffs with the end product forceful optimism: if I shout things that suck underneath insistently peppy guitars things will get better, or at least it’s worth a shot. ‘Dead Hands’ is a balance of harmonised guitars and counter-melodies, heady bass and stunted, one-syllable-at-a-time vocals, while title-track ‘Spend Life’ closes the album appropriately enforcing the finality of the past and how history is an immovable shit etc. It must be an important theme for the guys, because this is one of the only tracks where the vocals take precedence over guitars in the mix.

Errol, Josh and Simon (surnames unknown/mind your own GD business you nosey B) also play in punk band To The North, and have pasted that band’s propulsive rhythm section straight into Spend Life, injecting feverish punk moments and pushing the sound away from the guitar pop brush I want to paint Make More with. It’s hard to call an album free from any comfortable verse-chorus-verse structure any flavour of pop, but it’s a decision that has paid dividends as an important point of difference between Make More and other jangle punk bands like Boomgates and Thigh Master. Think less Dick Diver, more Unity Floors

Make More are feeling feelings, and feeling them fast. They’ve made an album out of influences that constructed differently have been proven to be offensively boring (part indie rock, part punk, part melodic guitars) but have done it with subtlety and skill. Spend Life is a great record to turn up loud and scream your grossest most undeniable secrets to.

Sneak a listen here ahead of the official release through Black Wire Records and Lacklustre Records, and catch the album tour (dates below).

 

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Listen: Steven Wright – ‘Exposure’

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Steven Wright

Let us consider Steven Wright’s new single ‘Exposure’, from the forthcoming album Repetition, through the above photograph. In the photo Steven Wright stands on a makeshift soapbox, looking forlorn, stripped and self-degraded with the limited movement of only being able to leap or remain stationary as his ankles stand drawn together by rope. His disastrousness and bare-all demeanour, depending how well it’s pulled off, looks like a great show. While every powerful performer is their own kind of vaudeville act, Wright’s stance is exactly how I’d imagine someone singing ‘Exposure’ would look. Wright appears as if he’s going to go for it all, or he’s going to walk away saying ‘fuck it all’. He looks like someone who both wants to perform and is tired of performing. Or more precisely he looks caught in the act of performing, which itself necessitates Wright’s own self-awareness in performance.

To be riddled with this kind of self-awareness is both a devastating self-consciousness and yet also strangely comforting in its truth. The frozen moment looks like a slip between an artist performing on stage and a man unwittingly caught out – it has both an ironic detachment and a complete sincerity. It’s akin to watching someone know the impossibility of being truly sincere, knowing that the stage is resolutely performance and yet instead of indulging in the irony of the moment, over-performing by sincerely acknowledging the theatre of everything.

Exposure is either a great bravery or a deep shame and for Wright exposure seems to linger on emotion, or lack thereof, as it begins with an “openness to any present feeling”, as Wright pushes through the spectrums of either over-feeling or under-feeling but never really, you know, feeling. Yet of course talking about the hardships of feeling and not-feeling is itself a feeling-inducing sentiment and, as Wright tells us, “in that volatility, vitality is found”. The dark dreamy piano and synth music works by affect and I see you’re like “yeah duh most music works by affect/emotion/tears” except ‘Exposure’ isn’t some simple one-way emotional appeal to make you feel melancholy or anxious but instead toys with structured melodies to retain a sense of hope alongside the gloom. Perhaps this sounds mighty cliche, we might even look upon the above image as cliche, but the strength of the vulnerability and honesty in Wright’s music and words demands that his work must be taken sincerely and seriously. ’Exposure’ reads like a person in control of their own song, but not their own life. It has depth, awareness and a sick humour – which is all I ever really ask of a song (or art).

Despite all my above pomposity there are various practicalities that images and sounds aren’t going to tell you. One of these things is that Steven Wright is from Hobart. That’s he’s been involved with Bi-Hour, Wasted Idol and Bad Cabin. That he’s release an LP of noise music under Polanyi.  That Repetition is Wright’s second solo album and will be released by Virtual Cool on August 15 (a tentative date) and you can get ya preorders now. That Wright will be playing select shows through Europe in August.

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LISTEN: Woodboot – ‘Black Piss’

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Sometimes, misguided people from other places ask me to recommend them some bands from Brisbane. Usually I like, mutter something about Bent or 100%, Scraps or Police Force or FOREVR. Or, if I’m a certain kind of fucked, I might just start screaming WOODBOOT WOODBOOT WOODBOOT. Cause they rule.

It seems silly to write about Woodboot, cause it’s the kind of thing that you either like/get or you don’t. At all. But I think more people should have a listen to find out which way they fall, so.

It’s hectic dumb punk music and not in a too-clever tongue-in-cheek let’s-subvert-genre expectations way. It’s absolutely overt and genuine cuz this is a band that knows heaps about the toughest, bluntest, loudest music and have put all the best stuff into their songs and pulled it off with exactly the right bad attitude.

‘Black Piss’ defines Woodboot in one line; ‘I hope you die / and never have money’. Daniel Dunn’s words are slurred – like he’s so mad he can’t get it out totally coherently. Drummer Donovan Miller also recorded the song, hightening the visceral trash feeling by making everything full-force to the point of distortion (the secret weapon, he says, is not giving a fuck). The bass does everything you want: goes real fast. Top that off with a couple of jagged unwieldy guitar solos and you got something really mad. At least, I reckon.

Go see Woodboot live if you ever get the opportunity. ‘Black Piss’ is the A Side of an upcoming single out on Florida’s Total Punk Records.

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LABEL PROFILE: Spirit Level

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New Australian label Spirit Level is the brainchild of electronic producer/Double J radio presenter Tim Shiel, and Wally de Backer of Gotye fame. Originally formed to provide a local Australian release for U.S. outfit Zammuto, who had supported Gotye on some of their U.S. tour dates, the label was then shelved for a period whilst Tim and Wally were busy with other projects.

Fast forward to 2016 and the duo have resurrected the label to provide a platform for unique, compelling artists to be heard. When asked about the decision to revive the label Shiel states that “Part of the impetus for re-launching the label was having this realisation that I am surrounded in my day-to-day life by some pretty amazing creative people, and that we all have the will and the desire to collaborate and support each other – but sometimes you need someone to sort of plant a flag and say, ‘hey – this is a thing now. We’re a family now.'”

In addition to releasing music the label is committed to helping the development of their artists, assisting with any and all facets of the industry from song writing, mixing, artwork, promotion, contracts, booking shows etc. In Shiel’s words “I think we’ll just do whatever we need to do to help out…That’s the job of a label now I think, it goes way beyond just releasing music.” Throughout his own music career Shiel says he’s “really had to learn all of that stuff, piece it all together bit by bit on my own. Now hopefully I’m in a place where I can give some of that back, and through the label just do whatever is required to fill in the gaps. Even if it’s just being a bit of a cheerleader”.

The label’s first official signing is Melbourne artist Jordan White, aka Braille Face. Stumbling across his music on SoundCloud Shiel reached out to White and the two quickly became friends. This eventually led to the release of Braille Face’s debut single ‘Glow; an emotionally resonant slice of electronica not too dissimilar to fellow Melbournites I’lls. Simon Lam, the vocalist from I’lls, coincidentally mastered the follow-up single, ‘Backwards/Medicated’. Offering up a similar mood to ‘Glow’, this latest single builds from a wavering synth line atop a propulsive percussive loop, gradually unfolding and momentarily allowing White’s vocals to soar in beautifully restrained flashes, giving us a glimpse of what the Braille Face project still has up its sleeve.

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What’s next in store for Spirit Level? Firstly, the debut album from Braille Face, due for release later this year, then we can expect new music from the label’s latest signing, Melbourne duo Telling, one of Shiel’s own projects along with singer-songwriter Ben Abraham. And as for the future direction of the label, Shiel notes “We’ll go wherever feels right….I don’t particularly care what kind of music it is as long as I think it’s really great and creative, and that it moves me. And that I can imagine it moving other people.”

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LISTEN: Lucy Roleff – ‘Every Time’

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Lucy Roleff’s upcoming album, This Paradise, is a little ways off of its 15 July release date, but to distill the wait, Roleff now presents the second single, ‘Every Time’ – a perfect compliment to the soft plucking of previous single, ‘Aspen’.

Composed a few years back in Berlin on some banged-up dollar-store guitar, ‘Every Time’ is rich, slow and sombre. Apparently written about a lover who is an expert in making their absence felt, ‘Every Time’ has Roleff’s admitting that this person has an emotional resonance in her life that isn’t always convenient.

It reminds me of the intimate nylon guitar performances of Jessica Pratt; similar to the ethereal yet emotionally honest cuts from Pratt’s 2015 album, On Your Own Love Again. Roleff’s voice is whispered but strong, woodwinds playing soft melodies behind her wavering vocals.

Considering both ‘Aspen’ and ‘Every Time’, the paradise alluded to by Roleff’s album title could either be a paradise that exists only on reflection or one in which she currently resides: the beauty of solitude in Berlin or the beauty of the countryside in South Gippsland. Either way, This Paradise is shaping up to be one of 2016’s most stark but beautiful records.

This Paradise is out on Lost & Lonesome on 15 July. Get down to the launch show at The Gasometer Hotel on July 28th.

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LISTEN: Emma Russack – In a New State LP

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emma russack

It’s so striking to hear an artist working through stuff on a record – when you feel like you’re discovering things about them as they discover things about themselves. Emma Russack’s In A New State is an album of transition, of slow self-forgiveness and a graceful resignation. Russack knows it’s not as simple as moving on without looking back – this record looks back a lot – but every time it gets a little easier.

The transition process on A New State is completely unhurried – every song unfolds beautifully and gently. Even ‘Have You’, a minute and a half of building stormy guitars and cymbals, waits till the right moment to deliver the crushing end note ‘I don’t have you / and that’s…Just… Fine’. It’s one of those absolutely ‘not fine’ fines, but soon it’ll be the truth.

With a record that’s this honest and lyrically engaging, the temptation is to just quote words from it and make up stories about what they might be about (which I’m definitely about to do), but it’s worth commenting on how much emotional work is done by the music as well. There’s a gentle push and swing to these songs, always coaxing you to feel a little more, listen a little closer. And you do, from the prettily echoing guitar of opener ‘Cottesloe’, a song about a good memory that sets the reflective tone of the songs to come, to the dramatic borderline cheesy oscillating synth of ‘Not the Friend’. ‘Not The Friend’ is probably the most fun song on the record too – it’s still possible to have a good time with some bad feelings.

‘If You Could See Me Now’ reads initially as a kind of declaration on the good of self-care, with the understandably oft quoted line ‘I don’t have sex / for validation / I’ve had no sex in six months / but I’m happy’. But while she’s not looking for validation, she might be looking for something else – closure. The ‘you’ in these songs only exists in memories, they’re not calling or coming to shows or liking your selfies, and some of the best parts of this record have Russack dealing honestly with this loss. Like on ‘Another Chance’, which captures that need to stay busy and distracted in order to forget – ‘so many years to fill up / so many years without you’ – which works especially well back to back with ‘You Gave Me’.  On that song she’s admitting that nothing’s working and the only thing to do is to leave town, cause moving on sometimes means running away.

I’m guilty of romanticising the idea of growing up in small seaside or country towns – I grew up in the city (well, Brisbane) and I still live fifteen minutes’ walk from where I went to high school. I was a sheltered and neurotic teen and I’m an anxious and cynical adult. I’ve never felt what it’s like to move away and come home and be a stranger. Or that feeling of escape; when you get to leave everything behind and start new in a big city. And I’m kind of obsessed with it. So take this with a grain of salt, but I think ‘Narooma’ captures this feeling impeccably. One side of a small-town upbringing is the freedom to experiment and grow up a little fast, as Russack shows on ‘Best Love’, talking about her relationship with an older man at 16. It’s the most romantic song here, her voice taking on a country-singers heavy-hearted nostalgia. But it also isn’t afraid to delve into the grey area, of her being ‘still a child’ and maybe taken in by the adult world too soon. Russack revels in grey areas, in second-guessing herself and her past.

Emma Russack was apparently gonna quit music early last year, before a well-timed grant swooped in and prompted her to give it another crack. And, phew, cause Australian music would be way less brave and beautiful without her.

In a New State is out now via Spunk.

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