REVIEW: Mind Over Matter – “Free The Wolves” Mixtape

Mind Over Matter are an Aussie hip-hop duo consisting of Willow and Smiles Again, and “Free The Wolves” is their second mixtape, arriving after their debut LP “Keepin’ It Breezy”.

The release begins with a bit of a monologue, and it’s nothing short of ear-opening. Just exactly what you’re in for here is up for debate as soon as it begins, but luckily what follows is a solid selection of original material, remixes, and collaborations with other prominent local hip-hop names, like Coptic Soldier, Phatchance, and Drake MC.

Standout single “It’s Not A Secret” has something truly alluring about it. The beat consists of a sample of ping-pong balls being hit, but the timing and sound that they get from it is something I’ve never quite heard before. With light strings being plucked behind all of this, it’s a good example of the creative ideas Mind Over Matter bring to the table.

Musically the mixtape becomes much more interesting in later tracks, like the orchestral vibe of “Willow & Smiles’ 7th Symphony”. They make great use of samples, featuring a few more than familiar melodies (I’m looking at you “Still Skinny (Remix)” and “For Real Radio Better Play Me Right Now”), but if you go in expecting something fun then you’ll get what you’re after, and there’s more than enough original material for the die-hard fans.

The rapping is solid, and the interplay between Smiles and Willow works well. Phatchance’s production skills manage to balance things out well, and altogether it sounds great.

When it comes down to it, “Free The Wolves” is solid, but doesn’t feel revolutionary for me. It feels consistent, but not very cohesive (at least not until the second half of the album). That said, while it got off to a rocky start, this is a mixtape, not an album. There’s some great songs here, and the vast majority of them are good fun. Well worth a go, especially if you’re into the Australian hip-hop scene.

Verdict: Positive.

Check out some of Mind Over Matter’s stuff from their Unearthed page, or download my I Forget, Sorry! mixtape here.

REVIEW: Phatchance – “Inkstains”

“Inkstains” is the 2009 debut album from Aussie hip-hop artist Phatchance. In hindsight, I can understand exactly why he’s nabbed spots touring with The Herd and Bliss N Eso, because “Inkstains” has got to be one of the most enjoyable and consistent debuts I’ve heard for quite a while.

Driving brass instrumentation leads the opening title track, and from the off-set Chance’s strong rapping slices through the fray, rising clear and balancing out with every other part, highlighting not only his vocal skills but the high production values instilled in this release.

Dealing with topics such as the difficulty of a music career, alcohol problems, and relationships, inspiration has been drawn from a myriad of situations. They may not all be brilliant feel-good hits of the summer, but as it’s put in “The Catchy Song”:

“That’s not true either, but I’m happy a lot / I just don’t make songs about the candy shop.”

Ultimately this sits perfectly with his music as well. Though that’s not to say this is a depressing album – Chance’s brilliant lyricism walks the fine line between emotive and moving, introspective, and entertaining. Filled with the kind of playful jibes at James Blunt and Kanye West in “The Catchy Song”, and the McDonald’s verse at the end of “Invisible Queen”, we’re given another side to Chance – one that ultimately benefits the album.

To compliment this, the variation in musical sound lends the album some movement. So many artists release material that all seems to blend together. “Inkstains” introduces guest vocalists (though not in excess!) like the brilliant Sam McNeill on “I Don’t Know”, and 360 and Smiles Again on “The Catchy Song”. Incorporating jazzy piano melodies on “Invisible Queen” then drawing in distorted guitar chords during the climax just shows the contrasts that Chance can bring together to form something cohesive and unified.

“Inkstains” is ultimately a solid debut, and the work put into it shows. The vocal delivery is brilliant, and with the lyrics manage to be both witty, serious, and heartfelt at the same time. Musically the album changes tone through a diverse range of melodies and instrumentation. This is a great debut. Let’s hope there’s more amazing material to come!

Verdict: Positive

You can check out some of Phatchance’s stuff at his Unearthed page, or download my I Forget, Sorry! mixtape here!

REVIEW: No Love For Lexi – “My Awkward Mouth”

Let me admit it right off the bat. I’m friends with a member of this band. That’s how I found out about them. I really don’t care if you think I’m being biased, I like their sound, deal with it. Anyway.

No Love For Lexi are an alternative rock band hailing from Melbourne, Victoria, and when they cite hugely talented musicians like Paul Dempsey and Michael Stipe as influences, you know at the very least they’ve got great taste behind them.

Fortunately, you don’t need to revert to such loose threads to enjoy this band. Beginning with a recurring, light jazzy guitar lick, before you know it they’ve launched into the anthemic chorus.

Stand by me, and not on your own.”

Musically it is your typical alt. rock style, but it’s quality stuff. When you’re a band this early in your career, I often feel it’s more important to find your feet and solidify yourselves before you move too far out. There’s nothing wrong with these songs, but the bands that ultimately stand tall above the pack are the ones that carve their own niche out. Fortunately I have enough confidence that these guys can do exactly that.

Vocalist Tom King doesn’t have a massive range, but he doesn’t need it. His voice lends itself well to the tone of the music, and it can hold when it needs to.

No Love For Lexi sound like they’re off to a solid start, and with this kind of material up for free on Unearthed, it can’t be long before they get a bit of airtime on Home & Hosed. They might not be experimental, they might not mess around with synths and tens of FX pedals, they might do things the traditional way, but sometimes it’s nice to have some quality respite from those bands trying to find the next cool thing to put in their music. No Love For Lexi keep it simple, whilst still showing talent in their songwriting and musicianship, and best of all, for their first batch of studio recorded tracks, these sound great. On par with other bands of their genre, and with the ability to take it further in the future, you should check them out. You won’t regret it.

Verdict: Positive.

Check out their MySpace page here.

Grab some free tracks from their triple j Unearthed page here.

REVIEW: Nick Wales & Bree Van Reyk – “Tsk Tsk”

First, let me begin by stating what will become quickly obvious upon first listen: “Tsk Tsk” is an instrumental track. This means that its job of entertaining the listener becomes a rather difficult one (or easier, depending on your forte of musical composition). Without any lyrical content, it’s up to Wales and Van Reyk to entrance us and hold our attention not through literary story-telling, but through the sonic landscapes they craft.

Beginning with a soft, ambient electronic melody, the song slowly builds up to a climax before fading off towards the end. But what really holds this track up are the off-beat rhythms and drums. With a sound verging on glitchy, it sounds like the drums constantly change. If it were faster, it’d be right at home in a night club, but the great thing is that it doesn’t need to be any faster. “Tsk Tsk” was composed for a dance performance titled “Happy As Larry”, and it has toured around Australia and will soon be off to entrance European audiences. I haven’t seen the performance myself, but I can only imagine the kind of fun, spontaneous choreography work that must have gone into it.

The song stands well on its own, and it’s the beat behind it that really pushes it out there and keeps it interesting. Well worth a listen, even if you’re not into this kind of stuff. Stretch your boundaries a bit and give it a go.

Verdict: Positive.

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REVIEW: Birds of Tokyo – “Birds of Tokyo” – initial thoughts

Though I’m currently going through a self-imposed Facebook exile in order to get more school work done, the moment I heard about a stream of the new Birds of Tokyo album being made available to “fans” of the band, I had to get onto it! Luckily someone I know managed to quickly provide me with the appropriate details to access the stream (if you’re reading this, you know who you are, thank you!), and so I decided to take 40 or so minutes out of my day to tell you all about it.

Beginning with the ambient, relaxing, second single from the album, the title track “Plans” launches the album into something that feels incredibly different from their sophomore release “Universes”. Instead of the relatively heavy guitars of “Broken Bones”, “Plans” seems to be leaning in a poppier direction. But who’s complaining? Ian Kenny’s vocal melodies work just as well in this area as they do in his rockier work (which is more than evident in his work with Karnivool). It doesn’t feel like they’re pushing themselves in this direction either. From “Universes” it feels like an easy progression. Despite what some may claim, I really don’t feel like this is selling out at all. If this gets played on commercial mainstream radio, all the better in my opinion.

After “Plans” fades out, we’re reintroduced to “The Saddest Thing I Know”, the first single from the album. “The Saddest Thing…” lifts the album back into familiar territory with a groovy and prominent bass-line, overlayed with tremolo guitar lines.

“The Dark Side Of Love” is about exactly that, though despite it’s sullen subject matter, it’s not overbearing and weighty. Which is good, because if it were I feel it’d be a bit too much too soon. It moves along at a solid pace though, and it does a good job of reinforcing my confidence in  BoT’s ability to craft solid albums through and through, not opting for the easy path of singles and filler material.

“In The Veins Of Death Valley” isn’t as gloomy as it sounds, and it’s a good continuation on from “The Dark Side…”. This song isn’t clicking with me right now, so I’m hesistant to really say whether I like it or not. I think I’d rather just leave it.

Moving onto “Circles”, the album starts moving the way I thought it would. Though not as radio-friendly as “Plans”, it has a relaxing start to it, before bring in some churning palm-muted guitars. It shows that the band hasn’t merely focused on the upbeat, rockier side of things, musically. They’re bringing out tracks that contrast with each other, which is what can help make an album successful in the long term.

Though “Wild At Heart” brings out an interesting drumming pattern, and lightly sprinkled string lines, it hasn’t caught on me yet. It just seemed to pass me by. Though bear in mind, these are comments after a first listen. I’m pretty patient, so time will tell.

“The Gap” starts off with what feels like a monotonous guitar rhythm. Once the strings become sprinkled over the top it becomes more interesting though. The chorus builds the song up, but it’s the layered vocals, the bridge/coda near the end, and the thumping drums before the song fades out that stand this one out there.

“Murmurs” begins with a lightly picked guitar line before rocketing into a punchy chorus. The piano melodies in the back suit this song really well, and Kenny’s vocals sound particularly amazing on this. Lyrically so far this album seems at least on par with “Universes”, though I often find judging lyrical quality easier after quite a few listens. Sometimes it takes a while to see if they have a strong longevity.

“The Unspeakable Scene” begins lightly before abruptly introducing a jumpy guitar riff, which is complimented by the strings melodies in the background. This album certainly feels more symphonic than previous releases.

“Waiting For The Wolves” has a great chorus, but it easily slides into the description of any of the rockier songs mentioned. Still with that layer of strings, still with that thumping bass line. Featuring a line of “oh’s”, it feels like they try to reach anthemic heights but don’t quite get there. I’m sure it’ll be a hit to sing along to at gigs, but the feeling doesn’t quite translate to a studio format. None-the-less, it’s still an alright song.

With a title like “If This Ship Sinks (I Give In)” I was expecting something brilliant, and I got it. Not letting up in terms of pace for the first section, it then moves onto a descending piano line and sombre bridge, finally fading out to finish everything up.

Overall, the album feels solid and consistent at the very least, and those who fell in love with “Universes” will most likely adore this release. The side of BoT that they explore in slower, atmospheric numbers like “Circles” has gotta be the highlight for me. They just seem to set the mood so much more effectively than other tracks. I can’t praise Kenny’s vocal skills enough, and although they aren’t exactly an experimental or challenging band, they’ve got some good songs here. For me, “Universes” was solid, and has some infectious and brilliant songs, but overall as an album it didn’t quite stand the test of time. So far this one doesn’t have the equivalent of “Silhouettic” or “Broken Bones”, but “Plans” and “The Saddest Thing…” are completely different songs, and are well done in their own right. Time and longevity will no doubt be the real test for this album as well, but I can definitely see it hitting a few Australian end of year lists. For a first listen, it’s not bad at all.

REVIEW: Steering By Stars – “Cables”

Filled with ambient, relaxing, post-rock instrumentation, “Cables” moves between moments that draw you into their sensitive melodies, and moments that burst at the seams with intense rhythms and rolling drums.

Steering By Stars allowed themselves 3 days to record their debut, and as a result the release largely sounds like a live performance. It showcases their ability to merge songs together with minimal interruptions, and as a consequence “Cables” is less like a collection of tracks and instead much more cohesive, like a movie.

The band blend together piano melodies, most notably on the simple (yet incredibly effective) chords of “Closer” and the atmospheric layers of “Gloom”. Vocals are used sparingly and to nice effect, adding a bit of diversity to the songs and setting the band apart from other generic instrumental post-rock groups. The amalgamation of the ambient sounds with the melodies and drumming rhythms gives “Cables” something a little bit different. Which is a good thing.

Admittedly, I sometimes find it very difficult to write about post-rock. It goes without saying that a lot of it is atmospheric, beautiful, well composed, orchestral, and both tense and relaxing. All of this applies just as much to “Cables”. So where do I stop rattling off these clichéd terms and say something meaningful and interesting? What am I meant to say that you haven’t heard before that can draw you into this great release?

I have no definite answer, but I know this much. Steering By Stars have been making waves over in Adelaide, and their live performances are having an impact on their local scene. By paving the way for post-rock in an area where many people wouldn’t have heard it before, Steering By Stars are introducing a whole new range of people to an amazing genre. Although their style is blatantly influenced by post-rock, amongst other genres, it’s also evident that it’s slightly different. Don’t miss a chance to check out a band who are not only doing great things for their local scene, but who are paving the way for a genre and style that could, in the future, have a large impact on the way Australian music sounds.

Verdict: Positive

Check out “Closer” and “Ether” here.

Check out the brilliant clip for “Closer” below.

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REVIEW: It’s Just Vanity – “Here’s What You Remember From A Coma”

It’s Just Vanity hail from the United States. They mix relaxing, ambient post-rock, with what sounds like early-wave emo guitar stylings, and their first full-length is going to be given away for free very soon.

Lyrically “Here’s What You Remember…” is nothing short of evocative. With an opening line like “And nothing is as sad as watching you lay latent, so desperate for a hand, and god, I hate this,” how could it be anything but? Moving between the subtler, softer lines, and the throaty emotional choruses, they paint a picture for anyone paying enough attention. Granted, it is easy to zone out at points, just letting it pass you buy, but if you pay attention to the poetic and sincere lyrics you’ll be drawn into something that’s difficult to let go of.

“You keep sucking me in, I feel the pull of a chicago wind. I’m not here to be there for you.”

“I want me to fix you, so you can fix me too.”

“In the future my life will be one sidewalk.”

It really is the massive contrast here that helps set the pace and keep the songs interesting. Instead of your traditional post-rock sound, one second the guitar melodies are floating along, and the next you’re being rushed at by a pounding vocal line and crushing guitars. It lends an air of excitement to the band. Instead of waiting for some crescendo to build up, waiting for beautiful orchestral string lines to explode and release the tension, you get something different. Something just as worthy, just as interesting, and just as musical, yet something different.

“Here’s What You Remember…” is definitely a refreshing change, and a different take on established styles. Though I won’t claim this type of music hasn’t been done before  (because it probably has), it’s certainly new to me. The lyricism, the tension, and the relaxing atmosphere blend together to create something that’s really pretty cool.

Verdict: Positive

You’ll be able to grab a free download of “Here’s What You Remember From A Coma” from here from the 2nd of July to the 8th of July. Make sure you give it a listen.

REVIEW: Coptic Soldier & Miriam Waks – “The Sound of Wings”

The pairing of Coptic Soldier’s rapping and Miriam Waks’ soulful vocals proves to be an effective combination on their debut EP. Coptic has shown he’s got something special after touring with artists like Bliss n Eso, The Herd, and even De La Soul.  Miriam has been nominated for the 2007 ACE Awards, the 2008 MO Awards, and has featured on Spit Syndicate’s “Towards the Light” (an ARIA nominated album). These two artists clearly have talent. So how does it turn out when they work together on “The Sound of Wings”?

Let me begin by saying that it’s very interesting, and I mean that in the best way possible. There are plenty of hip-hop artists out there who have used great singers like Miriam as backing vocalists before, but the way that they’re both balanced out evenly across the release works excellently, and is a testament to both of the duo’s skills. Not only vocally, but in an instrumental sense “The Sound of Wings” proves to be something a bit different. Drawing influences from various cultures, it brings in bright brass sections, subtle plucked-string riffs, and traditional hip-hop beats.

Opener “Why Suffer” is a perfect starting track for the EP. It’s up-beat vibe and the tension built up towards the end really make this track work well. While it doesn’t feel like any other track really returns to this kind of, almost “party” (for want of a better term) feeling, which is a slight disappointment, the rest of the EP is fairly solid.

Title track “The Sound of Wings” provides a brilliant bridge to the last few songs. It feels relaxing, and though it’s short, I feel like it’s a really important part of the EP. To me it felt like it was what the whole EP was built upon, in a thematic sense. Despite being so drastically different, “The Sound of Wings” is captivating and feels integral to the release.

Lyrically, some lines just don’t feel right. They either feel clichéd or forced. This is a rare occurrence, but when it happens it’s noticeable. For example: “I can feel it coming in the air tonight” from closer “In The Air Tonight”. Unfortunately lines like this make it difficult to listen to a song and hear it as it should be heard – as the artist intended.

The extreme contrast between the two vocalists really adds some variation to the melodies, and it gives the duo more room to expand their style. Although Coptic’s rapping feels very laid-back and casual, at times I feel like it could benefit from a bit more of a bite. The vocals though are generally quite good, but often the songs feel like they wander along and just don’t go anywhere. Sometimes there’s just nothing to grab my attention.

Despite all of the EP’s highs and lows, I feel like Coptic and Miriam have produced a solid debut EP. Musically, the cohesion between the different genres and cultural styles sounds effortless, providing enough contrast to hold interest without creating friction. Lyrically they deal with subjects they feel strongly about, like alcohol and religion, and this heartfelt outpouring of emotion shows some sincerity and artistic integrity. I can’t help but feel there are areas for improvement, but clearly Coptic Soldier and Miriam Waks have a dynamic way of creating music together, and I’m sure in the future they’ll refine their style. Until then, “The Sound of Wings” aint bad at all.

Verdict: Positive.

Check out some of their work, with other artists, in my I Forget, Sorry! mixtape here.

Or grab a couple of free songs from their triple j Unearthed page here.

REVIEW: Celadore – “Distance Is A Gun”

 

Melbourne trio Celadore are touring their debut EP, “Distance Is A Gun”, at the moment.

“Distance Is A Gun”, the title track, is full of catchy hooks, and for a three-piece it sounds like these guys have some energy behind them.

Their unashamedly pop-rock influences show, and their embrace of these influences is really something to be proud of. Despite staying true to a style of music that’s been done time and time again, it’s a solid effort, and with the introduction of various off-beat guitar rhythms, it’s interesting enough for those of us who need a bit more in a song.

Lyrically, they feel a notch above their contemporaries, with lines like:

“closer to a stranger, than anyone i love.

the less space the better, distance is a gun.”

Celadore have crafted a solid song filled with catchy hooks. Keep an eye out for these guys, because once they get their break, they could be up there.

Verdict: Positive.

Grab a free download here.

Check out their clip for “Distance Is A Gun” here.

REVIEW: Yeasayer – “Ambling Alp”

I’ve been unbelievably slow in giving Yeasayer a try, but here I am. I listened to “Ambling Alp” a few days ago and was pleasantly surprised. When I first listened to it, I had one thought running through my head: this is what I imagined Animal Collective should’ve been like.

Yeasayer have merged psychedelic influences with loosely experimental electronics in a catchy way, and it really does pay off. They’ve created something that so many other bands make intimidating and difficult, but instead have made it easy and fun. Not over-populated with dense layers of noise and odd samples, the clearly discernible vocals and catchy hooks really just draw you in.

I urge any of you who have been slow, like myself, or merely put off due to them being buzzed about all over the internet to check Yeasayer out. You might enjoy them more than you think.

Verdict: Positive.

Grab a free download from RCRD LBL here.