"Flume revealed his new tune to the world the other night and immediately had it pronounced the BBC’s ‘Hottest thing of the week’ or something like that by the venerable broadcasting concern."
Much as we may love the finger-tangling guitar solo or the beat you can dance to, the merit a song in the pop and/or rock and/or roll market often comes down to the distinctiveness of the voice delivering it. That doesn’t necessarily mean a lilting sweetness – let’s face it, Gareth Liddiard is never going to be asked to provide backing vocals for One Direction (although, it would be something, certainly…), but his cockatoo screech is capable of more than one feeling. While Taman Shud was the spit of looking at the absurdities and horrors of the world around him (e.g.: Andrew Bolt) the new sample of The Drones’ album-to-come turns inward: To Think That I Once Loved You (Tropical Fuckstorm) is the howl of a wounded animal off in the forest somewhere. The counterpoint of fellow Melbourne band Harmony’s, erm, harmonies are maybe the conscience gnawing in his head, or just the echo of the former object of affection’s train pulling away from the station. As ever, they’ve made something that reaches into your head, heart, and guts all at once.
Similarly, Hayley Mary’s voice is the identifiable centre of The Jezabels. They’ve become a bit of a conundrum – filling arenas like the Hordern Pavilion one moment, and then sort of not present at all. However, Pleasure Drive (MGM) is perhaps designed to claw back that ground that may or may not lost, with the video’s zombie sex with occasional ‘60s choreography bound to get it noticed, and played on Rage repeatedly. Getting past the visuals the song itself is a bit of an odd beast: almost too-deliberately restrained and moody from the off, before kicking up a notch to a singalong chorus that doesn’t seem to quite let itself go entirely either. But that might be the idea. #666 with a bullet.
Urthboy is wise enough to know that in some musical genres the guest voice is the making of the moment. So many are saying Sampa The Great is headed for greatness, so having her on the ‘ft.’ line on Second Heartbeat (Elefant Traks), along with further input from Okenyo, make this the sort of local hip-hop designated music not the nasal-accented cringe that can put many off the form, although Lakemba does rate a mention. This is a well-constructed piece of pop music with a bit of a story, likely to be all over your national radio youth network from the time you read this.
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Let’s extrapolate that to an international level. Our boy Flume revealed his new tune, Never Be Like You (Future Classic) to the world the other night, and immediately had it pronounced the BBC’s ‘Hottest thing of the week’ or something like that by the venerable broadcasting concern. Local boy making extremely good, Harley is the one who – better than most – can mix the modern machines with the directness of the human voice to make something sometimes extraordinary. He adds Canadian singer Kai to this for a blunt humanity - her CV already having writing credits for Janelle Monae and Rihanna on it again underlining the standing his Flumeness now has in the world.
To deliver the rhyme of the line ‘…Alcohol and rock & roll…’ with the necessary gravity to suggest you live that life, you really need a voice like Dallas Crane’s Dave Larkin. It’s kinda like sandpaper lubricated with bourbon. Yeah, you hear it now, don’t you? The Sunnyside (Nylon Sounds/Rocket) is Crane unashamedly working on their ‘If it ain’t broke…’ model, and few do the ‘Yell, yell a bit more, guitar solo, have another yell, repeat to fade’ blueprint of meat-and-potatoes rock for a pub audience than them. And you reckon they’ll keep doing it for a while yet.
Of course, we just lost one of the most distinctive voices of all. But there’s been plenty taking their vocal cues from Bowie’s perfectly offhand delivery for many years. A singer like Brett Anderson from Suede would have to admit as much, and probably be flattered by the comparison. Another band having another shot at trying to relive past glories, No Tomorrow (Suede Ltd.) suggests they have the hope of a next day, and in further reference to the former Mr Jones’ ongoing legacy the promotional film to go with it goes for a bit of artistic shock value to further pique your curiosity - if only because of the graphic nature and question marks it leaves in your head.
Of course, some will choose to take their voice out of its usual comfort zone. Matthew E. White would certainly go under that wide – and often misleading – catch-all of being an ‘Americana’ artiste, with obligatory hints of gospel and such in it. But Cool Out (Domino) adds a chiming edge, almost out toward a whispered Walker Brothers feeling – although never quite that melodramatic. He’s got the guest secret weapon present as well, in the form of fellow-Virginian Natalie Prass – whose self-titled album was one of overlooked wonders of last year. This is the hand-hewn sculpture carved from a single piece of hardwood.
They call The Cage (Dew Process) ‘brooding’. But Art Of Sleeping remain maybe just a bit plaintive for such a word. They’re trapped, certainly – but maybe by their own increasing maturity. There’s an almost tentative pick at the guitars as the thought process unravels, but Caleb is never quite as fragile as you might think. That’s the trick in his voice, which you can witness as they tour with the similarly-minded Boy & Bear in an entirely complementary double bill.