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Har Mar Superstar – The Handler

The Handler is the perfect party album; it’s got the most lovable pervert in the world writing the songs and the most bloated production values for twenty years. Really, what’s not to love?

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You might want to sit down before reading this, but the pot-bellied Prince parody seems to have *grown up* since his last incarnation in You Can Feel Me. This maturity seems true musically, anyway: anyone who writes the couplet “we’re in motion / we brought lotion” can’t be that far off puberty. From the lyrics, it is business as usual in the ‘Lothario’ sense; most songs have their dials firmly set to ‘Pervert.’ They’d look down your shirt and up your skirt and anywhere your mother told you not to let vaguely creepy men look at. Even if you’re a man. Har Mar Superstar seems to have spent the last year listening to early Prince, Stevie Wonder, and seemingly, Hall and Oates, although I’m sure the Hall and Oates was purely ironic. Honestly. He’s also dragged a host of famous mates into this sordid world of 80’s synthesizers and bulging bass. Karen O and Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), rappers Northern State (me neither) and even pop tart and occasional Neighbors actress Holly Valance pop up on a couple of songs, the little harlot. Anyway, Har Mar seems less enthused with electric bleeping and squelching this time around, swapping it for some surprisingly authentic soul, R&B and some hilariously bad rapping.

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Har Mar’s ability to get the party started. The first thing you think when you hear the opening synthesizers of “Transit” is that he’s copied this off “Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain. The money he spent on production really pops its head up here: the song sounds clean, fresh and sexy and the mixture of bongos, Stevie Wonder pianos, Jackson 5 vocals and Wham! bass forces you to go out and scream “Where’s the party at?” at people. Actually, don’t do that. “Body Request” sounds like the funktacular son of Flashdance mixed with Footloose and then pumped with cocktails with sparklers in it, possibly in a nightclub called Rio Nites or Spangles or something. It’s not Morrissey, at any rate. If you haven’t heard “DUI” yet, I don’t want to be your friend: The most radio-friendly jam Har Mar has ever produced should be on the national curriculum, under ‘Fantastic song studies’. “DUI” sounds impossibly like the Jackson 5, and is therefore brilliant. Even the weird falsetto rapping halfway through can’t touch the groove the song generates.

Crikey! Everything goes all Fischerspooner (remember them?) on “Cut Me Up”! Karen O verbally spars with our favorite funkateer over something generated out of a broken Casio found in a skip. Its X-rated vocals, moans and groans will have mothers the world over reaching for the pen and paper to write very stern letters. Keep that one on the top shelf, next to all the Penthouses and Playboys, is my advice. “Sugar Pie” is basically every Stevie Wonder song ever written, complete with string section and vocal gyrations to put Justin Timberlake to shame. “As (seasons)” is one of the weaker songs on The Handler, a sub-Usher flick through the ‘Big Book of R&B Clichés.’ Crap guitar bit? Check! Vaguely Hispanic sound? Check! You’re better than this, Har Mar. Next song “Save the Strip” is also a bit rubbish: the same forgettable boy-band vibe, although with some pretty filthy lyrics.

”O” is where it gets sad. Imagine “Take My Breath Away” done by Duran Duran and Boyz 2 Men, and you’re halfway there. In a single stroke, the Har Mar facade has been broken: he parties all night, and cries in the morning. It’s a good song, and even a little tear jerking. Don’t cry Har Mar, we love you … Ah! Back to funk excellence with “Back The Camel Up.” The first line ”All the panties you’ve been throwing on stage / I still got them” pretty much sums up Har Mar, and think “Killing An Arab” by The Cure as done by Missy Elliot and you’ve got the right sort of tune. “Bird in the Hand” and “Back in the Day” are like a lot of other songs on the album, mourning ladies lost, and celebrating new ones. If The Handleris a big night out, then “Alone Again (Naturally)” is the black-hole hangover the next day: a subdued, bleeping rage against love, sex and romance (but especially sex). A strange end to an overwhelmingly hyperactive album, but as it’s a good song, we’ll let it off.

So is The Handler deserving of your hard-earned money? On the whole, yes. There’s some fantastic pop here, and the music will appeal to 30-somethings wanting to relive their early-eighties childhood, or even teenagers wanting something a bit more mature than the usual boy band pap floating around. It’s also the perfect party album; it’s got the most lovable pervert in the world writing the songs and the most bloated production values for twenty years. Really, what’s not to love?

(Record Collection Music)

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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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