I like Primal Scream. I think their blend of rock and electronica provides some of the most consistently challenging dance music of the last 13 years (if I have the release date of their brilliant mission statement, Screamadelica right), and if one can ignore their lyrics (which, honestly, is a concept one must utilize with most dance music), there’s plenty to like.
I like the Lo-Fidelity Allstars. Their sound may initially sound derivative of a group like Primal Scream or The Stone Roses, but their sheer bombast and close adherence to the idea that techno need not be austere, empty, beat driven, migraine inducement, but instead can be funk, melodic and poppy, puts them on every dance party mix I’ve ever made.
I should like Kasabian, a group already receiving massive hype in the UK press for their self titled debut, a fusion of rock and techno that hasn’t been seen since … well … the last Lo Fidelity Allstars album two years ago. The elements are all here- the band has a full lineup, including a very skilled drummer who knows how to use a simple bass-drum pattern to bring all the party people out to the dance floor, a keyboard player who has clearly studied up on old organ riff from both ? and the Mysterians and James Brown songs, and club-friendly track names like “Butcher Blues,” “Processed Beats,” and, for the goth fans “LSF (Lost Souls Forever).” Unfortunately, the group is simply too indie for their own good.
If you’ve ever been to a concert by an indie-approved dance group like Hot Hot Heat, The Fever, or (recently) Modest Mouse, then you’ve surely seen the types. Sipping away on their first (and only) beer, with crossed arms, one leg slightly bent, equally mocking and scowling at audience members who are dancing, flailing, or otherwise freaking out and enjoying the music, the indie concert goes begs the question- if you’re going to go to a concert just to stay sullen and look, ahem, “cool,” then why bother showing up? I’m sure there’s a music store just down the street where you can go make fun of people buying Coldplay CDs.
And, sadly, Kasabian would be the guys, right up front, standing completely rigid. Sure, their bassist may occasionally nod his head, and the drummer will tap his feet and smile when the skinsman on stage pulls off that difficult fill, but soon both of them will resort to stoicism after getting nasty looks from the singer. If this were a CD of rock songs that simply had techno elements, then my major gripe would be with the lyrics on the CD, but you get the idea the band really wants people to get their freak on to this, so the problems run much deeper. All the band needs to do is forget about being cool for a moment and attempt the music equivalent of a double flying jump kick. “Processed Beats” has a great, danceable riff, and, typical of clubland, a paper-thin refrain of “I ran from the tide / Won’t let you hide, Won’t let you hide.” But singer Sergio Pizzorno sleepwalks through his delivery with nary one sign that he really cares whatever it is he is singing about. Of course, it would be easy for a person to throw back the example of Primal Scream, whose singer Bobby Gillespie’s delivers his words with a syrupy haze. His voice, I would argue can be energetic when it needs to (see “Rocks” for proof), but usually is much more fitting accompanying the slow, drug-fueled song that Primal Scream are prone to writing. With Pizzorno, it sounds like he just can’t keep up with his backing band, but also like he doesn’t really want to. The idea of putting energy and passion into his delivery would require breaking the sullen image he projects. Over an amazing bassline and menacing keyboard line in “I.D.” Pizzorno mumbles, “music is my world,” and the listener is left wondering whether he means the statement ironically, or whether that’s actually all the enthusiasm he can muster.
In fact, the album’s absolute best song is one of only a few downbeat numbers on the album, “Butcher Blues.” The track might work because of its warmer production, its Albini sounding drums and bass, or its eastern-tinged keyboards. More likely, though it’s the lack of struggle between Pizzorno’s indifferent delivery and the track’s serene music. In this instance, the elements all come together to make a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on “Screamadelica.” Closer “U-Boat” (the rationale for the title evades me, except perhaps as a shout out to Primal Scream’s controversial, “Swastika Eyes”), evokes Muse, of all things, and thanks to another unexpected and well placed drum beat, the tracks ends the album on a high note.
But really, all one needs to do to really see this CD’s place among other techno rock hybrid acts is to compare its album art to other bands. Primal Scream art is colorful, blurry, and basically the equivalent of viewing the world after a bowl or two. The Lo Fidelity Allstars take a grittier approach, but their collage-artwork still intrigues, as does the lack of any band photos. In contrast, the artwork for Kasabian is cold, and brings up imagery of communist Russia. In their individual shots in the booklet, the band let forth their most dour Gap-model expressions. Only one question, guys; isn’t dance music supposed to make people happy?
The Ritualists – Painted People
The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music
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.
The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street
What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk
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.