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Better Than Ezra – Before The Robots

Before The Robots is a return to form for a band that never really lost it’s way.

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I remember back when I was in high school, and I heard “Good” for the first time on the radio. The soaring chorus, the driving guitars; I was hooked. A while after that, “Desperately Wanting” graced the airwaves; and I was doubly hooked. Now, cue “A Lifetime,” the first single from Better Than Ezra’s latest record Before The Robots, and I’m caught; hook, line, and sinker.

The boys of Better Than Ezra have been making fantastic music for a long, long time now. If the new single “A Lifetime” sounds somewhat familiar; that’s because it is. It was first released on their 2001 album Closer; and has become a staple sing-along at almost every BTE concert. Their old label folded soon after Closer hit the shelves, so the band decided to re-do the tune for Robots: finally giving it a well-deserved chance to be heard by the masses. Before The Robots is also home to another fan favorite BTE tune: “Hollow.” This song has been kicking around fan circles in some form or another for God knows how long—it’s just taken this long for it to find a suitable album for release. “Hollow” is an amazing bit of storytelling that follows the lives and developments of a few high school friends as they make decisions, and mistakes, that will affect and change the course of their lives. It’s a great tune, and makes for a nice little rock-out before the two album closing ballads.

As far as style goes, Before The Robots finds lead singer-songwriter Kevin Griffin dipping into all the lessons they learned on every album they’ve released. It has the eclectic ness of Closer, the rock of Friction, Baby, the experimentation of Deluxe, and the guts of How Does Your Garden Grow? This is the album Better Than Ezra has always wanted to make. It’s accessible enough to hit a homerun on the charts, but still quirky enough to suit even the most stalwart of BTE fans. Highlights include the new rendition of “A Lifetime,” the two album closing tracks “Our Finest Year,” and “Breathless,” the aforementioned “Hollow,” the quasi-social commentary “American Dream,” and, most notably, the stunningly gorgeous “Our Last Night.” The amazing “Our Last Night” just goes to show that Griffin still has the songwriting chops that put him on the map way back when “Good” hit the airwaves for the first time. It’s just a gorgeous song.

Before The Robots is a return to form for a band that never really lost it’s way. Maybe with this record, Better Than Ezra will, like their song “A Lifetime,” finally get the recognition they so desperately deserve. Go buy this. Now.

(Artemis Records)

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Hatchie – Keepsake

Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars

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Hatchie Keepsake

Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.

There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.

However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.

The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.

(Heavenly Recordings)

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