It seems that plenty of artists and musicians in these tired times act as if they have plenty to prove. Constantly trying to reinvent themselves and the music they play, words like ‘experimentation’ and ‘direction’ become prominent lingo. Does it matter if a band never becomes front runners of innovation? Does a band never really become great unless one of their albums develops into the talking point of every music rag on and offline? Apparently, Placebo shares no such notion.
While Sleeping With Ghosts boasts moments of fledgling “experimentation” and audio “weirdness”, its hard to tell whether or not Brian Molko and crew intend this to be their defining album or whether its just the next number in their catalogue. Laced with guitar heavy tracks, casual percussion work and Molko’s strange, genderless voice – it would not be unconceivable to say that this album still brags a more organic, straight forward rock appeal. The first single “The Bitter End” is perhaps the album’s most forthright cut – a decisive bass line, acerbic guitar work and that unconcerned musical approach creates a deftly basic rock tune. Emulated once again in “Plasticine”, that down-to-earth groove is tinted by Molko’s dark, glam-like voice but fails to invigorate anything more than pleasant acceptance.
The album does showcase some worthy moments. In “English Summer Rain” they manage to bend and twist conventional instrumental work into a distinctively gratifying mélange of glam rock entangled with bits of electronic components that are grafted by murky lyrics, “hold your breath and count to ten/fall apart and start again”. It’s a welcome escape from tired harmonic guitar twangs and those overused rock leanings. It leads well into “This Picture”; a soothing crash of the finer elements that craft Sleeping With Ghosts in its entirety. Its pessimistic view of this world, Molko’s eerie presence and the combination of more earthy tones and spaced out rock is the perfect arrangement for its cathartic spirit.
It is unfortunate that moments like “This Picture” are merely scattered throughout this release. Embedded among the more bland and undistinguishable patterns, these moments of brilliance are often lost and in all its irony, “fade out”. Perhaps we are too keen on marking every album that borders on innovation as trying to be just that – innovative. Maybe Placebo aren’t all that interested in becoming pioneers, and maybe it’s okay that Sleeping With Ghosts is an album with distinctive pluses and minuses. Not all albums have to be different and exciting in order for it to be good, or at the very least, decent.
Hatchie – Keepsake
Keepsake, the debut album by Brisbane dream pop artist Hatchie is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars
Brisbane indie-pop artist Hatchie (known to her friends and family as Harriette Pilbeam) is in the envious position of being a pop artist unspoiled by the many trappings of what it is to be a modern pop artist. Unlike some of her contemporaries who craft music by committee or with Sheeran-like self-importance, Hatchie is as of now, unsullied by the pressures of the cookie-cutter pop machine. Hatchie’s debut full length is a showcase for a talent who is supremely confident and composed in her abilities, and Keepsake is musical luminescence that can only be described as music written for the stars. The album is also a wonderful throwback to pop’s dreamy 60s influences that shuffle in and out of this delirium while working alongside distinctly more current musical touches.
There is the lush dream pop sounds of “Without a Blush”, taking cues from the best of what Stars and Goldfrapp conjure but heaping a tonne of Pilbeam’s charisma on it. Like her vocals, “Without a Blush” has this elegance that has the ability to elevate songs from being beautiful to grand. It is the kind of vocal elegance that really shines through on songs like the skittering, beat-driven “Obsessed” and the alternative, guitar-fuelled (yay!) “When I Get Out”. Indie/electronic closer “Keep” is a wonderful end to proceedings.
However, the great strength of Keepsake is not just its composure in how all the songs have been put together. It is also this genuine, natural-sounding quality that permeates the album- nothing overly written, overly produced or put together by research groups or music analysts. It just sounds like talent. We can argue that much of pop music is constructed to appease the moment- designed to grab as much attention as possible in an A.D.D. world. And sure, that can be said about almost any kind of music, but the resulting aural tone of Keepsake is anything but transient or transparent.
The best way to combat tepid chart-topping music is to write better pop songs. Songs like “Her Own Heart” and the disco-toned “Stay” are examples of pop music that come across as timeless. We are moved by the songs found on Keepsake when we listen to them today. And I suspect that in 10 years time, or in 20, we will most likely feel the same. It is rare to find the sort of ageless beauty you find on Keepsake.