“A loss for words” and other such enthusiastic proclamations are overused hyperbole in our vast musicverse. Yes, we often encounter artists and music that leave us close to breathless, and perhaps this exaggeration merely enforces our enchantment with what has befallen our eyes and ears. Yet I am reluctant to jump forth with describing Munich-bred electronica outfit Lali Puna’s latest effort as leaving me at “a loss for words.” And it is not due to the fact that Faking the Books isn’t a mesmerizing listen, because it is, but because the eager need to find something to bookend with quotation marks has become a needless practice of tedious separation. If I had simply touted Faking the Books as “one of the year’s best” (which it is) without necessarily challenging it, questioning it, then perhaps it is not worthy of such praise.
What is important to note is that Faking the Books isn’t endless blips, loops, samples, and atmospheric experimentation. It is the album’s strongest quality; that while rooted in electronic music, Valerie Trebeljahr and company aren’t afraid to include more organic undertones. Portions of the album, noted in “B-Movie” and again in “Left Handed,” are strongly driven by a backbone of percussions, searing guitars, and more rudimentary songwriting, but layered with subtle hints of more luscious soundscapes. Perhaps the album’s most well-received track, “Call 1-800-FEAR,” actually sounds more like a great indie rock song than something conceived with mere key strokes.
It is however, when Trebeljahr and the rest of the group let loose their ability to create chilling environments of noise, sound, and echo that the album really shines. “People I Know” boasts great work in regards to sound reverberation and echo; skittering in and out of harmony and melody with the charm and wit to last the song’s entire duration (close to 5 minutes). And I’ve grown immensely fond of Lali Puna’s ability to be casual one moment, and distinctly challenging the next- the contrast is seen between the aforementioned “People I Know” and it’s following track “Grin and Bear;” which actually transfers in the opposite the direction (but effective nonetheless).
Strangely, the one track that amazes me the most is neither the album’s most uniquely testing, or one that can be called the defining moment of the release. It in fact, could very well be the album’s most subdued outing. I am referring to the opener, “Faking the Books,” a rather innocuous wave of melancholic, yet lustful serenity that seems to act as nothing more than opening bars; but what a beautiful beginning it is. It captures calm, paints pictures, and evokes sadness, all in lucid simplicity. And in alluding to one of my earlier statements, it is important for an album to be challenged. But not merely challenged for the sake of doing so- it has to MAKE you ask the questions, and Faking the Books has answers that do just that. I want to wonder why at times a song feels awkward in certain moods, and why during other moments the same song feels like the chilly morning breeze.
Electronic music has at times been perceived as “above” most other genres- some have created certain separation between this so-called “better” music and those who may toil beneath. But I honestly do not believe this to be true, and it has always been my perception that Lali Puna skate between two great bands; the beautiful pop aura of Stars and the radiant moods created by The Notwist. Maybe some may see these protagonists of music difficult to understand or conceive, thus creating this “post-The Bends Radiohead” syndrome where listeners are immediately put off by the absence of human generated music, and/or the lack of distinctive organized compositions. Unfortunately, those who partake in this sort of narrow thinking will ultimately miss out on great records like Faking the Books; it is more universal than one might think. Besides, pretension can, and is, often mistaken for sophistication.
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.