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Blur – Think Tank

This is Blur’s finest and most troubled moment.

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Find a review of Blur’s Think Tank without the mention of Graham Coxon’s departure and this reviewer will happily step up and buy you a beverage if we ever happen to meet. The truth is, Coxon’s departure plays heavily on the sound and atmosphere of this album, whether or not the departure is the direct cause of the result, we may never really know. But this, Blur’s seventh full length offering is much more than just sound and atmosphere, it is an eclectic metamorphosis of a band; distinctly vibrant, diverse and academically cultural.

“Moroccan Peoples Revolutionary Bowls Club” is a wild funk trip into desolate tribal sounding unknowns. Its springy percussion work and new wave sounding electronic fusion is craftily highlighted by Damon Albarn’s chocky, energetic vocals. The track’s jive filled raucous approach makes it accessible to all from the deepest and darkest jungles to the innocent streets of Sesame. It is perhaps a distinct indicator that Blur’s straight forward Britpop outlook has all but evolved.

In “Sweet Song” they demonstrate a far more subdued sound. In it’s almost lounge friendly aura, it tinges with light sophistication – tender bass lines, crooning vocals and a very gentle sprinkle of a certain Tony Bennett (yes, Tony Bennett) quality. It’s an aptly titled tune; perhaps the album’s most serene and beautiful. A far cry from the boisterous “Crazy Beat”; electronically charged and guitar driven, it’s back beat drumming and knob turning effects make it a strange rock hybrid – a spirited tune, but perhaps the least imaginative of this collection. Delicate in instrumental work, “Good Song” is a meandering of sorts; lightweight in nature but seemingly without clear-cut purpose. An opposite of “Brothers and Sisters”; this funkdooby, jangly ode to drug themes is yet again a plunge into a more worldly musical sound – but is without that pop edge felt in “Moroccan Peoples…”.

If it weren’t enough that Blur visit musical revolution on their own, they bring in Norman Cook (the slimmest of Fatboys) to assist in some areas. Most notably the shiny, playful “Gene By Gene”. It’s tropical feel and playground-rhyme-like vocals are as sunny and delightful as it’s tapping cha-cha-cha-esque musical sound. Yes, it is super produced, but the certain good-natured naiveté that emanates from the track is refreshing.

Think Tank is not an easy listen – traces of “British” that so quantified their previous records are all but gone – replaced by a more international flavor. It is often lively and mysterious, like the single “Out of Time”, sometimes serene and yet at times it can be simply non-chalant about its musical experimentation. This is Blur’s finest and most troubled moment. Seemingly struggling with itself, forced to change and grow but trapped inside preconceptions and lofty expectations. But don’t be deceived by attempts to closely relate the progress of this record with their far more humble beginnings. Think Tank is a vital step in this band’s growth and evolution.

(Virgin Records)

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The Ritualists – Painted People

The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music

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ritualists

After listening to Painted People by The Ritualists, I was very surprised to learn that this is their debut album. This band shows a maturity in their music that I would not expect from a first album and provides inspirational sounding tracks with ‘reach for the stars’ type of guitar riffs. I hear a modern version of U2 in The Ritualists, along with an influence of Radiohead. Their songs are full, wholehearted post-punk hooks with a lead singer that has a sizeable range.

“Rattles” opens the album, and it’s the type of song that shows their audience that they are here to stay. It has a great build-up of excitement and intensity. The band explains that this song is “A combination of dark, deep-pocketed verses juxtaposed with big, flashy choruses is a key element to tracks”.

Ice Flower” and “Worthiest One” welcomes an electronic wave to the album and showcases just how impressive lead singer Christian Dryden’s range is. His ability to hit those high notes with such conviction puts my falsetto abilities to shame. “Worthiest One” brings this sort of nostalgic feeling- it’s a rock ballad with a floaty guitar riff.

“She’s The Sun” is a great follow-on from “Worthiest One” as it transfers the mood upwards and directs the music into more of a hypnotic vision, which conveys “the band’s inner Sixties Love Child”. “I’m With The Painted People” has a really relatable background to the song. Dryden felt a larger than life inspiration from people like David Bowie and Simon Le Bon, these artists felt like soulmates, which can be lonely at times. It wasn’t until he ventured out into the clubs of the lower east side of New York which helped him feel comfortable to express his creative vision freely. The song is all about finding like-minded people.

There are hooks galore and catchy choruses in pretty much every song. “With this record, I’ve specifically tried to be anthemic,” admits Dryden. “I’ve always loved going to shows, where immediately after the performance, and even on the ensuing days after, you just can’t help but remember and sing the songs you’ve just heard. It’s almost like a higher form of communication.” The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music and Painted People shows hints of variations with different genres explored throughout. They sound motivated and in return have produced motivating music for their listeners.

(Out Of Line Music)

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The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street

What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk

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The Decline

It’s possible that since punk broke through to the mainstream in the mid to late ’90s, listeners outside of Australia think Frenzal Rhomb are the only band to have come from the lucky country. It’s true that during the rise of that Epitaph and Fat Wreck sound, Frenzal Rhomb became the namesake of the genre from Australia. However, Australian punks know that their history stretches long before the release of Survival of the Fattest. From the legendary sounds of The Saints to the rock n’ roll infused punk of Radio Birdman, Australia’s punk rock history is not only rich but very much precedes the genre’s mainstream explosion.

Frenzal Rhomb were another chapter in punk down under and for many, they opened a lot of doors. If not at the very least, proved that there were fertile grounds for new bands to emerge across the vast land. Western Australia’s The Decline formed in 2005 and quickly showed their talent for writing up-tempo melodicore that shred as much as it soared. From their 2010 debut, I’m Not Gonna Lie To You, it was clear that the band were equal parts snotty, urgent, funny, and melodic. Like the Frenzal Rhomb formula, they’ve got all of it in spades with a mean streak of Australianness that is both endearing and extremely relatable. Their latest album is no different.

From the title alone you can tell you’re in for a shedload of fun, and while it’s easy to think that Flash Gordon Ramsay Street is just goofy humor, it’s actually got a lot of pointed commentary too. From the animal-supportin’, veggie-lovin’, attack on meatlovers and meatheads (“Brovine”), to the real-estate market questioning “Smashed Avo”, there’s plenty of current talking points that The Decline run through. Sure, you also get vegan buffalo wing recipes (surprisingly, not the song titled “Bullet With Buffalo Wings”) and a love for The Legend of Zelda, but who says you can’t sing about Marxist theories while talking about your love for Nintendo?

What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk; taking plenty of cues from the best of the NOFX / No Fun At All up-tempo, hardcore-derived brand of punk. The hooks on Flash Gordon Ramsey Street are as infectious as horny teens on spring break, highlighted by the endless harmonies on songs like the terrific “It Was Always You” and the call and response male-female vocal attack of “Verge Collection”. Brevity is also key, as the majority of the songs here never overstay their welcome with the longest clocking in at just 3:15 (the wistful closing of “Josh”).

Flash Gordon Ramsey Street is concise, to-the-point, and a furious medley of skate punk urgency that is relevant to young adult life as punks in Australia. Great production values to boot mean you can’t go wrong here.

(Pee Records / Thousand Islands Records / Disconnect Disconnect Records / Bearded Punk Records)

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