REVIEW: Yr Friends – “Yr Friends Am Shit At Poetry”

yrfriendsamshitatpoetry

Alexei Berrow’s “press release” for his third Yr Friends EP isn’t like the hard sell drivel that clogs my inbox. Refreshingly honest, it lacks the braggadocio of artists and dull PR agents who really ought to know better. Which is great, but as a result you can’t help feel that Berrow doesn’t expect much to come out of this side project. You get the impression that it’s a bit rushed. Done not without love, but still out of “necessity”. Which as it turns out, isn’t always a bad thing.

The instrumentation and recordings presented easily surpass Yr Friends’ previous efforts, but don’t quite break free of the DIY bedroom aesthetic – which is just as well, because this time around, Berrow’s heartfelt spoken word stories thrive off it. Never once does he sound contrived, yet you can never quite tell whether these words were penned in an afternoon, or over extended months. But does that really matter? The lyrics and instrumentation complement each other perfectly, and those familiar with his work will attest to Berrow being an excellent story-teller more than capable of turning a phrase or two.

Lewes Herriot, Johnny Foreigner’s longtime artist and new guitarist, called these songs “plays”. After multiple listens, it seems like a more than apt description, because disregarding the cover of Modest Mouse’s “Third Planet”, that’s exactly what we’re presented with: a loose three-act structure. A set of narratives that fit together in the most unassuming, yet graceful manner.

The drunken tales of girls, parties, and relativistic fame of “My Summer in Ibeefa” develop a hazily bright start to the release. The sullen beats almost make you want to dance, in a shuffle-around-your-bedroom kind of way.

We’re then rather abruptly thrown into “Adults, At Last”, which deals with heartbreak in its most potent, perspective-ridden form. You’d be forgiven for thinking that a bedroom musician doing spoken word about romantic loss would be self-indulgent and clichéd, but you’d also be wrong. The ticking metronome in the background annoyingly grates, but as Berrow reaches his final verse, the song pays off, painting a nuanced and visceral picture of an adult life removed from its past.

“I swear, I’d rip out the tongue of each boy that you kissed, martyr myself in the hope that there’s something you’ve missed, but six years later, we can sit round the table, make small talk with no sparks and call ourselves adults at last.”

So many artists rely on their youth and oft-projected naivety to form a connection and justify their feelings. Here, we’re told a story that bundles similar emotions together, but concludes with a numbing sense of maturity and resignation. While everyone is guaranteed to take different things from these songs, this is a blunt reminder of change.

“Another Friday Night at the Chloro Party” (I’m not entirely sure what a chloro party is either, but don’t Google it while you’re at work) begins by telling the story of a woman’s wedding, and gradually moves through her life’s moments of celebration towards that inevitable conclusion we all share. There are a few dark undertones, but the bright guitars chime out and make it without a doubt the warmest track present. It’s in this melancholic afterglow that Berrow, for all intents and purposes, concludes the EP, forming a loose arc of narratives around growing up and getting older.

Despite the conviction of the love interest in “Adults” (‘convinced yr future was uni, and uni meant out’) and the ‘plans for life’, part of a ‘future scripted out’ by the woman in “Chloro Party”, it would be presumptuous to suppose any the characters overlap in these tales. It would be equally presumptuous to suppose that Berrow even features in them himself, especially given that numerous songs on Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything were penned about the lives of others (“200x“, “(Don’t) Show Us Your Fangs“). This is ultimately irrelevant though, as the emotional sentiment expressed is as convincing as ever, feeling both effortless and devastatingly honest – immersing us in someone else’s life, fictional or otherwise, that would have gone unnoticed.

Yr Friends has developed rapidly over a short time. Following a distinctly lo-fi debut, Berrow then put together a refined, pleasant, and aching second release. Which brings us to his third EP, Yr Friends Am Shit At Poetry – which is a leap ahead (and side-ways) of its predecessor. Berrow’s cover of “Third Planet” by Modest Mouse closes the EP nicely, despite feeling tacked on, and it begs the question – would three songs be too short for an EP? Not necessarily, and regardless of Isaac Brock’s song-writing ability, Berrow’s original material is much more alluring here.

Alluring enough to draw you in and not only make you think, but make you feel.

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REVIEW: Georgia Fair – “All Through Winter”

Georgia Fair - All Through Winter

It’s been a while coming for Jordan Wilson and Ben Riley – the duo also known as Georgia Fair. Their debut album – All Through Winter – is due for release on the 21st of October, and it’s fair to say there’s been a few people waiting on it. Touring with The Panics, the band have been showing off their new work recently, but how does it sound recorded?

Starting with the slow-burning “Times Fly”, the album kicks off with a strong start. “Blind” brings out intense, rolling drums, and “Where You Been?” is the perfect first single from the release.

Georgia Fair weave these beautiful vocal harmonies into folk music that goes beyond the whole cutesy idea of finger-picking some guitar chords. With lush strings and deep guitar, the songs sound mature and layered. It’s a much fuller sound, and it’s all the more interesting because of it. The best bit: the production is beautiful and sounds just as it should.

What it lacks for the most part, are stand out hooks. All Through Winter is rewarding when it has your attention, but rarely does the album grab it naturally. “Blind” and “Simple Man” both seem to take it up a notch, and so do a couple of others, but nothing really jumps out. Aside from that, too often do Wilson’s vocals feel under-stated. He has an amazing voice, and when really pushed out during some choruses, it explodes, sounding stronger than ever. Unfortunately, too often it feels restrained.

Maybe this album isn’t for me. When cherry-picking tracks for analysis, everything positive I’ve said stands – beautiful folk harmonies alongside a matured sense of song-writing – and it’s consistent in this sense too! But as an album, the release can’t sustain my interest. I feel I’d enjoy it more as an EP. Chances are, that’s more a reflection on my personal tastes.

Whether or not you listen to this as an album or not, if you dig great melodic folk music, you should have a listen. Georgia Fair have made leaps and bounds in many ways, and while I don’t think they’ve found their feet just yet, they’re getting pretty damn close.

REVIEW: Tim Fitz – “Infinite Space” EP

I don’t have many concrete facts to give you regarding this EP. It arrived in my inbox without a press release, and with only the most basic of information: Tim is 21, lives in Sydney, and wrote, played, and produced the whole release at his home. If you ask me, that’s quite an impressive feat giving how good it sounds! As an aside, let this be an important lesson to any PR types: long, convoluted press releases full of spin will not make me want to listen to your music more. I’m more likely to listen to your music if it’s good. Tim Fitz is proof of this.

The first track “Disposable Youth” opens the EP magnificently: tinkling pianos and thundering drums give way to a tremendous crescendo as the song builds. If you try one song, “Disposable Youth” should be it. The percussion in “Helplessman” sounds so glitchy and unpredictable, and the acoustic ditty “Box” feels so laid-back. This is a diverse EP, and it’s all the better for it.

All up, Infinite Space is quite short, clocking in at just over 12 minutes, but this is one of its best attributes because it just works. The songs don’t drag on, and the timing feels right. The release moves and adjusts so seamlessly, changing stylistically on a regular basis. After listening, you’ll notice it’s incredibly difficult to pin-point any one sound or pigeon-hole the release. It’s also refreshing to have such a short and diverse collection of songs, and it’s amazing how much is crammed into such a small time frame. Tim’s voice sounds great, and he could easily escalate out of the whole “bedroom musician” niche. However, an artist’s live show can be a large part of that transition, and I’ve got no idea where that stands right now.

Regardless, this is some great music from someone who does everything themself. It’s a brilliant testament to the things musicians can create without a label backing them. If you have a passion for it, if you want it badly enough, then you can do it: Tim Fitz is living proof of this. Infinite Space is a great release, and trust me – you have time to listen to it and to give it a go. Enjoy it and be inspired by it, because that’s what it will do.

Grab Infinite Space EP over here from Bandcamp (you can name your own price).

REVIEW: Coptic Soldier – “The Sound of Wings 2”

In case you missed it, I reviewed The Sound of Wings quite some time ago. Over here. Ultimately I felt it was an alright release, but that better things were to come from Coptic Soldier. The Sound of Wings 2 proves I was right.

For those of you unaware, The Sound of Wings 2 is an acoustic EP from Coptic. If you’re worried, don’t be, because the acoustic atmosphere suits Coptic’s rapping style more than ever, and it’s amazing how much of a difference it makes. This feels like a niche Coptic could easily slot into on a regular basis, because it works really well, and as a result the release sounds much more cohesive.

Like Inkstains (Acoustic), there’s new material, this time in the form of “I Hate Sleep (Acoustic) feat. Charlie Mayfair” and “Fight for the Fame (Acoustic)”, both of which are brilliant. The latter is a personal standout: musically with the guitar picking and strong back-up vocals, and lyrically.

Vocal melodies and hints of jazz instrumentation throughout the EP help it retain the soulful feel its predecessor had, and I don’t think that’s a sound you hear too often. Which is great, because ultimately The Sound of Wings 2 wins through its diversity. It really sets itself apart. Not content with being any normal acoustic release, it goes that step further to differentiate itself (an increasing trend I seem to be seeing with I Forget, Sorry!’s releases). Which is exactly what makes it such a strong release.

And the effort put into it shows. Coptic and Phatchance both reached capacity at Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory three weeks in a row to showcase these acoustic tracks. That alone should tell you there’s something special here.

The Sound of Wings 2 represents what feels like a natural progression for Coptic Soldier. It’s a big step from his last release (despite both sharing tracks), and it’s where Coptic’s real talent starts to shine. Amongst the mountains of musical trash thrown at us every day, The Sound of Wings 2 proves there is always something special out there – you just have to find it.

Grab lead single “I Hate Sleep (Acoustic) feat. Charlie Mayfair” from Coptic’s triple j Unearthed page here, and pick up The Sound of Wings 2 online here!

REVIEW: Phatchance – “Inkstains (Acoustic)″

You probably don’t remember, but last year I reviewed Phatchance’s debut album Inkstains. If you can’t be bothered reading it, let me just say it was incredibly positive. The album is amazing, and Phatchance is a very talented artist. His latest release reinterprets those classic tracks in a stripped back, acoustic setting, and it works surprisingly well.

This was the first time I’d ever heard a full release of acoustic hip-hop tracks, and it was certainly the first time I’d heard acoustic hip-hop done so well. Fans will be pleased classic tracks like “Mountain of Glass” and “Build It Up” get a chance to shine (the latter being the lead single). However what’s really impressive is the amount of effort put into the arrangements and instrumentation. Every track sounds great, with over-layed banjos and vocal harmonies playing a large part. The songs truly sound reinvented; Chance has done the original tracks justice. Unlike some artists who just play some guitar chords and count that as an “acoustic version”, Inkstains (Acoustic) takes it to the next level and firmly sets the bar.

Maybe it’s a testament to the effort put into the original tracks, or maybe it’s a nod towards those who helped out on the release (Charlie Mayfair, Jon Reichardt, amongst others), but for something so new and different, this short collection of tracks works very well.

Importantly, Inkstains (Acoustic) isn’t just some lazy half-baked release. In fact, it’s anything but. This is an amazing reinvention of some brilliant tracks, accompanied by the impressive tease “Infinity” from Chance’s next album. Lending the songs an acoustic air suits them, and at the risk of seeming like I’m sitting on the fence, they sound just as good as the originals, especially with Chance’s style of rapping. If I had to describe these songs in one word, it would be “refreshing”. Hopefully this will help introduce a whole new audience to some great Aussie hip-hop, because trust me: more people need to hear this.

Inkstains (Acoustic) smashes apart any stereotypes hip-hop has been branded with, and does so with stylish quality. This is just something you have to try.

Grab lead single “Build It Up (Acoustic) feat. Charlie Mayfair” here from Phatchance’s triple j Unearthed page, and pick up Inkstains (Acoustic) online here!

REVIEW: Various Artists – “Triple J Hottest 100 Volume 18”

2010 was a great year for music. We were lucky enough to get some amazing releases from bands like The National, Dead Letter Circus, Los Campesinos!, Birds of Tokyo, and Delphic. The Australia Day of 2011 reflected this, with what I thought was a fairly solid count-down. More importantly it also reflected a great year for Australian artists, with 51 spots taken out by some of our best talent. Australian artists even took out 4 of the top 5 places, and although I don’t quite like “Big Jet Plane”, I’m proud that Australian musicians have worked their ways into the hearts of so many voters.

What this means is that there wasn’t too much room to go wrong with the latest Hottest 100 compilation. Some Hottest 100’s have been a bit hit and miss, but the latest offering features tracks from  some amazing musicians. It includes some of the most popular artists of the year: Cee Lo Green, The Wombats, Arcade Fire, Adrian Lux, and more! And in all honesty, without name-dropping, I probably only dislike 3 or 4 tracks across the two discs. In my world, for a release with over 40 songs, that’s excellent.

This is one of the best Hottest 100 compilations I’ve listened to, and it’s a testament to triple j and their commitment to music that is not only good, but also Australian. Their support of Australian artists is shown in the poll results, and I’m proud to listen to a station with such a passion for local talent. No other station does this better than triple j (and sadly, I don’t think many other stations care).

Volume 18 is a brilliant compilation of some of the best tracks from 2010. It’s a snapshot of a musical year, and it’s worth buying: you’ll definitely get your money’s worth.

REVIEW: Mike Noga – “The Balladeer Hunter”

Mike Noga (drummer from The Drones) is set to release his sophomore solo album The Balladeer Hunter on the 1st of April. Filled with acoustic ballads and stories, Noga has written an album that will click with some instantly, and evade the interests of others. That’s what makes it special – for many, the best albums are those that stretch boundaries. The albums that have to be understood over time to be properly appreciated and enjoyed.

Whether it’s intentional or not, the album feels like a dusty trudge through a perfect Australian landscape. That’s probably an overdone cliche, but I don’t really care in this case. Noga’s voice and the instrumentation have a distinctive Australian feel to them. Noga crafts music of a style that doesn’t seem to be as prevalent as it used to be, but people are unlikely to claim this release is past its time. This is music that will appeal to those who listen and pay attention to what’s being said. Those who are prepared to take in an album for what it’s truly worth. Sure, it’s unlikely to hit the top 40 charts, but it’s music with a brooding depth to it. Music that says what it wants to say, and says it well.

Behind the finger-plucked guitars and the occasional deep stomps and percussion is Noga’s coarse voice. Not uncomfortably coarse, but enough to add texture to the songs. Lofty strings make an appearance every now and again to complement the melodies. It’s the simplicity behind these additions that makes the music interesting without detracting from the messages being sent. Occasionally the music takes a more upbeat turn, and at other times it’s accompanied by a darker atmosphere, like the ominous booms on the excellent “Walk With Me”.

Noga seems like an old fashioned story-teller, and I mean that as a huge compliment. These are songs that would not feel out of place around a camp fire. Speaking only of the music I’m familiar with, Noga’s style is comparable to Australian legend Paul Kelly. His song-writing and lyricism focuses more on getting a message and story across. A feeling. A sensation. Instead of drawing upon abstract metaphor after metaphor and trailing into ambiguity, like so many lyricists do, Noga crafts songs and tells stories that make perfect use of his coarse, deep vocals. The musical textures help paint a rather vivid picture.

For many listeners, myself included, this release will be something quite new. It’s outside of my usual listening. Which is one of the most exciting things about blogging and being deeply involved in music – discovering new things! I urge you to give The Balladeer Hunter a go. Sit down and listen to a track or two with an open mind. There are qualities deep within this music you won’t find elsewhere, and if you take the time to find them for yourself, you’ll be rewarded well.

Take a listen to “M’Belle” below and see what you think.