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Ghostwood – The Lost Album

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Today we’re constantly warned about our digital footprint to the point of cliche. These warnings are not without good reason as horror stories abound where something a person said, clicked or liked online come back to haunt them years later. We can only shake our heads at some of the ridiculous, pointless or downright stupid things we did in those innocent, trailblazing years of social media a decade ago. 

When you’ve had a social media profile for such a long time, you pick up significant flotsam and detritus. A Facebook friend with someone you’ve only met a couple of times and won’t see ever again, a page you hit like on because of one mildly bemusing post, a page to a concrete business because one of your mates asked you to. Most of these relics cling to us forgotten, unseen, mostly benign and waiting for the day when we finally clear out our profiles like we’ve always been saying we will. 

I say all this because last month a distant memory of my digital footprint reared its way back into my life in a most unexpected way.

On a Sunday evening, I spent a few minutes scrolling mindlessly through Facebook as I made myself a tea and was greeted with this.

Ghostwood, a Sydney shoegaze band, was releasing an album. At first glance, this wasn’t particularly exciting news. In our current world where we are forever drowning in content, another band releasing an album was just another brick in the wall. But what made this announcement different from others was that Ghostwood is a band that had the briefest of moments in the sun in 2007-2008 before disappearing for more than a decade; unseen, unheard and entirely forgotten. Just another band to fall victim to the chaos of young adulthood.

I saw Ghostwood at the Northcote Social Club a decade ago. I’m fairly certain they were supporting Mercy Arms, another Sydney shoegaze band that fell apart too soon, but the memories all bleed and blend after so long that I can’t be sure. What I do remember is being mesmerized by what I saw on stage. Atmospheric, driven and powerful. This was a band that hooked you in and didn’t let go. I remember buying their EP straight after the set ended and playing it for weeks on heavy rotation. This was a band that seemed set for big things. 

In 2008, Ghostwood relocated to Britain to play shows and record an album. The social media posts dried up and eventually, I moved on assuming the band had come to an end and its members moved on to the next stage of their lives. 

Needless to say, that June 2019 post took my by surprise. At once, the memories of that show and that EP came flooding back to me and I eagerly anticipated listening to this record they had dubbed The Lost Album.

Upon its release on Spotify a few days later I was impressed by how fresh this lost album sounded even though it was recorded years ago. The tracks from the old EP were there. “I Am Overcast” still teased with swirling guitars and pounding drums while “Red Version” still creates an increasingly tense soundscape that cries for release up until the final seconds. I expected these tracks, regardless of their quality, to grab me for no other reason than the pure nostalgia hit of remembering a time in my life that almost feels foreign to what I am now. 

What I didn’t expect was that the previously unreleased tracks to hit me with the same emotional punch. “Pink Panther” with its ethereal and moody instrumentals and forlorn vocals mesmerizes as it washes into your skin. Closing tracks “Haha1996” and “Great Inventions” are more upbeat and irresistibly catchy. 

As someone who is constantly fighting an internal battle over their love/hate relationship with shoegaze, this album is a reminder of what the genre can offer at its finest- beautiful, distorted soundscapes that are carried with an urgency of purpose rather than meaningless noodling and pedal switching. 

Hearing such a stellar album ten years after it was recorded, inevitably leads to questions of what could have been. This is normal but what’s more important is appreciating that this album even exists to begin with and that hopefully through the power of the internet it will find its way into hearts of people who will appreciate its craftsmanship regardless of whether or not they saw Ghostwood in 2007.

(self-released)

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Pretty Vicious – Beauty of Youth

Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype

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Pretty Vicious

The perils of industry hype and stardom have been unforgiving for many young bands. The brutal nature of the rock n’ roll whirlwind is both an inescapable thrill, and the overdose that has claimed the scalp of many. Welsh rock band Pretty Vicious are no stranger to the often destructive nature of record label glory and lofty expectations. The band members were mere teens (15-17) when they signed their mega-deal with Virgin EMI in 2015. What followed was a roller coaster ride of failed recording sessions and the burden of unmet expectations that come with signing big-money deals at such a young age. But the remarkable truth is, Pretty Vicious seem to have come out of the industry slog having survived their initial foray into the fire with an album that is quite a remarkable achievement.

Initially touted as the “next Oasis”, Pretty Vicious have thankfully shunned that tag and done away with writing the next Definitely Maybe for something more visceral. Beauty of Youth is what happens when raw talent and a knack for writing great songs finds itself surviving the hype. If Beauty Of Youth is a record signaling Pretty Vicious’ convalescence after their initial break down, then please, feed this medicine to all the bands.

There is no Oasis, but rather the furious, feverish unpredictability of rock music that we had seen with early Biffy Clyro, early Idlewild, packed with the dangerous uncertainty that came with The Libertines. It’s immediate too; from the raucous riff-heavy opener “These Four Walls” to the vagabond “What Could’ve Been”, much of the album channels frenzied palettes of distortion and beautiful noise. “Force of Nature” is a little Josh Homme, while “Someone Just Like You” is what Dave Grohl sounds like when he’s trying, but the album’s best moment is perhaps the gorgeous, slow-burning “Playing With Guns”. A song that’s composed of great wistful melodies that slowly incinerate the ears with infectious songwriting that makes Beauty Of Youth sound massive while being personal at the same time.

You can’t go past songs like “Move”, with its buzzsaw guitars and wall of energy, without thinking of all the best rock bands we’ve heard over the past decade. It’s got it all- to a T- but its urgency and hectic nature make it feel all the better. “Something Worthwhile” has got the bright lights and big stages of Glastonbury written all over it. And while their 2015 stint at the festival saw them on the “Introducing…” stage, this song is headlining main stage material.

It is quite an achievement to be as accomplished as Pretty Vicious at such a young age. Even more remarkable that they’ve survived the industry machine to release such a damn good debut album. Beauty of Youth is a composed, compelling, high energy debut that answers the question, “what became of the likely lads?”. They went on to write one of, if not the best, rock records of 2019.

(Big Machine / John Varvatos Records)

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Sum 41 – Order In Decline

Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler

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Canadian pop-punkers Sum 41 have been remarkably consistent over the course of their last few albums. And while we have never stopped calling Sum 41 a pop-punk band, their last few albums have been less about being fun and bouncy, opting instead for a far more serious flavor of rock music. Long gone are the days of All Killer, No Filler, replaced instead with songs that do their best to mimic Muse’s big stadium anthem feel while not forgetting their penchant for metal licks and hefty solos. Truth is, it’s quite a shame because when Sum 41 were more about being fun and silly, their songs had this incredible likeability to them. Forget All Killer, No Filler, they were at their most fun with their often silly 2000 debut Half Hour of Power.

So what to expect with Order In Decline, their 7th full length? Well, if you like easy-to-digest pop-punk anthems, you best look elsewhere as much of the album spends way too much time taking itself too seriously. Not that the results are bad; songs like “A Death in The Family” and “Out For Blood” do the faux-hardcore/melodic punk thing really well. The chugga chugga riffs, toe-tapping melodies, and Deryck Whibley’s snotty vocals continue the band’s well-refined sound. Opener “Turning Away” doesn’t shy from being a little metal, a little rock, a little punk, and sets the high energy tone for the album. The return of Dave Brownsound for 2016’s 13 Voices has solidified the album’s two-pronged guitar attack, and Order In Decline’s production helps on that front- it’s a loud album, it just doesn’t seem to say a whole lot at times. “45 (A Matter of Time)” is the band’s anti-Trump song, and while it tries to provoke, sounds loud, its cheesy protests of “You’re something to few / But nothing to me / Someone so twisted and sick as can be / It wasn’t the plan / We gave it a shot / You’ve proven a real man is something you’re not” won’t exactly inspire a raging fire within the listener. I suppose if you’re turning to Sum 41 to change the course of the future, we’re all in trouble.

Sum 41 love their ballads too- and Order In Decline’s lighter in the air moment (phones in the air for you kids) is the piano-strewn ballad “Never There”. It’s OK, but doesn’t quite reach the heights of effective balladry they showed with “With Me”. The album’s best moment is the blitzing “The People Vs…” which trades the stadium rock for more melodic hardcore/thrash that a little akin to some of the goofy stuff they did on Half Hour. The meaty riffs, a great solo and the soaring chorus pumps much needed old Sum into Order In Decline, and it’s only a shame there isn’t more of it on the record.

As the album closes with the radio-ready “Catching Fire”, listeners are left with one of these two thoughts. For those who enjoy Sum 41 when they’re trying to be the best big band they can be, there is plenty to like on Order in Decline. They’ve found a consistent, polished, and well-produced sound they first hinted on with 2002’s Does This Look Infected?. For those who found their juvenile, snotty attitude on Half Hour of Power and All Killer to be the quality they most enjoyed will respond to Order in Decline with indifference. At least I don’t hate it.

(Hopeless Records)

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