America hasn't taken the Newcastle grime out of them just yet.
For the last few of musical generations it’s usually gone to the all-round artists and bands: Singers who songwrite, songwriters who sing. Even if you could suggest that some should very much do one or the other – the hardly-mellow tones of Bob Dylan coming to mind. Or maybe that let the anomalies stand out more. The Beatles had many bases covered: Paul for the lilting pop, Lennon for the more lemony spits, George for the existential hippie musing, and even Ringo for, er, ‘comedy relief’.
But the rise of dance producer collectives and - maybe even more - hip-hop’s gang mentality conversely more openly lets guests aboard. The ‘Featuring…’ brackets on so many songs, where the ‘right’ guest voice is brought in to straddle styles, genders, or just for effect. Disclosure’s upcoming album is likely to be one of year’s big items – if only the UK. The Lawrence Brothers’ are going for the complete multi-media package, Jaded (Island) even worked as the third part of a video trilogy – individual rebelling in dystopia future, with added CGI, you know the drill – and given the big kick along of having Sam Smith as the featured vocalist. Good enough for James Bond, good enough for them? Other songs have had jazz vocalist Gregory Porter aboard, and among others rumoured for the album, the Lorde kiddie. All sounds very well planned.
We can do it here, too. The Bamboos bring the boy Rogers in for a bit of yer rock n roll ‘attitood’, but in a generous progressive barn dance kinda way, their most often featured singer, Kylie Auldist, is loaned out to Southlight to add her old-style soul tones for the belting out of Love & Money (Southlight Music) for one of those big dancefloor anthems, which used to be the sole domain hereabouts of Paul Mac – who also knew how to pick a good singer for song.
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Not really sure who counts as guests or actual part of the band in the multi-headed and seemingly ever-changeable army of musicians of the Melbourne Ska Orchestra. Satellite (Four|Four) does sound very true to their brandname, seeming to have a lot of ye olde Two-Tone style from another century and another hemisphere. That’d be Pat Powell doing the deep and mellow tones, as Nicky Bomba puts on the pork-pie hat and points the combine around the park. It remains a huge skanking racket, eminently suitable for use in commercials for any range of goods and services.
And sometimes you only need two people, two voices, and not much else. I will carry on my one man crusade for the introduction of the Australicana genre, and have Jep & Dep placed immediately in same. Cut All Ties (Independent) has the bare bones emotions that used to be called ‘gothic’ before that word became the term for something quite different, and to be derided. The torn curtains and empty rooms of the video are just about the perfect setting for the aching lament J&D offer. It’s a barren country, but one where they can make you feel the loss.
There’s also a touch of that variety of gothic in Kill Devil Hills. I Am The Rut, I Am The Wheel (Independent) is a worksong from the level of hell where Nick Cave listening to Johnny Cash is the recommended soundtrack. It rocks and rattles. It threatens, a bit. But it’s the dark corner place where you can order shots, down them quickly and quietly, while you sit and wait for the fighting or fucking to start. Only goes for a speck over two minutes, then stops abruptly like death just walked in through the swinging bar doors.
Or you can be a duo where the music and gestures (and eyebrows) are that much bigger. The Gooch Palms are about to make their first return home since moving across the ocean to frighten the Americans with their rattletrap take on the drums and guitar two-piece configuration. Slow Burner (Independent) does light the fuse from a distance as the title suggests. Kat and Leroy remain not the sort of people from whom you should probably not accept boiled lollies, but America hasn’t taken the Newcastle grime out of them just yet. Hunter St Mall reprazent!
There is a truth in the title of I Have Heart (Independent). For there is much of it in Maples newest. Gabby Huber – formerly of the quite wonderful Dead Letter Chorus – has a voice that sweeps across a bed of mostly synthesised noise, but doesn’t fall into the faux epic quality that some think hide the emptiness inside. What Gabby makes is pop music, of vision and honesty. The latter, often the hardest thing to achieve.
Yes, we still love that 1980s big beat. Coupled with an almost mid-period Robert Smith tendency to occasional not quite mesh with the melody as written, Big White keep a sense not taking the whole thing too heavily. The crumbling industrial part of the waterfront of Sydney’s Balmain that hasn’t been renovated into loft apartments is present as Dinosaur City (Caroline) unfolds, but falling in love (perhaps on a Friday) remains a musical constant, as does singing about it while strolling deserted streets.