I’m sure at least a few readers have heard the highly lauded debut album by Mando Diao. I think it is fair to say that expecting them to make any broad strides between that first album and its follow up so quickly is asking far too much. So keep that in mind when listening to Hurricane Bar. The band hasn’t really done anything jaw-droppingly different to their sound, but personally I like it that way. Among all of the bands in the so-called “rock revival,” the majority seem to focus on the trashy, garage rock side. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that, but after a while attitude alone just doesn’t cut it. Fortunately, Mando Diao know the value of melody, and it is instantly obvious.
The band has the raw edge of 1960s garage bands (the Animals, the Kingsmen, etc.), but they also have the musical sensibilities of the British Invasion. Simply put, they aren’t afraid to drape fantastically catchy melodies over the basic rock and roll backdrop. “God Knows” has one of the most ear-pleasing melodies I have heard from any rock band this century. Especially when sung by part-time lead singer Björn in a suave, almost sexy croon. Contrasted with Björn’s velvety pipes are the unbridled wails of Gustaf, the group’s second lead singer. Between the two, the band seems to strike a balance between their seemingly contradictory styles: the composed and the reckless. It doesn’t matter whether you shout or sing along with the lyrics, you still can’t help but make some sort of noise. I hate to use clichéd terms, but Mando Diao are damn infectious.
“Down in the Past” is a driving, pulsating number, reaching a towering crescendo in the choruses as Björn’s vocals stretch higher, accompanied by a swell of organ and trailed by a guitar solo that is actually good. Such a solo is a rare feat these days, finding the odd middle ground between pointless wanking about and lifeless scale exercises. The lyrics reflect the youthful, mod influence that Mando Diao so proudly displays. The songs are full of faithless girls, oppressive small towns, and a desperate desire to just break out. The band isn’t solely dominated by simple emotions, there is also an intellectual slant that still sounds apropos, such as “I met her in a crowded room where the bookshelves help you and knowledge takes your hand.”
The reason I would choose this band over the many retro-rock revivalists (I think I just dry-heaved writing that) is because they are a complete package. They have youthful energy, a firm grasp on melody, a disdain for the blasé, and enough intelligence to know what blasé means. Too often bands sacrifice one or more of these to work on the one that is selling the best, which is usually just the youthful exuberance and disdain … not for anything in particular, just disdain in that sexually frustrated teenager sort of way. Mando Diao is in a good place to finally bring rock and roll back to the cultural apex it once reached, if they can just shove the damned Strokes out of the way.
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.