An ominous feeling hit my gut as I saw the album title. “That’s not how you spell margarine” I thought. Super. I gave a sigh as I opened the puce-colored case and put the disc into my CD player. “I hope I don’t get hate mail for this one too” I think as I press play.
The sound filled my room; it was the noise of a synthetically-mastered drug binge. I sat in shock for a few seconds before the impact set in, then pulled open the CD player. No, it hadn’t been switched with one of my aunt’s new-age relaxation tapes. No mistake had been made; this was Stereolab.
I looked over the case as I casually listened to the first song. A bizarre combination of puce, dirt brown, and traffic-cone orange, it looked as if Van Gogh had lost his lunch on paper. As I turned my attention back to the music, I realized how incredibly hard it was to do so. I couldn’t concentrate on it; my eyes lost focus and I fell into a stupor. It took me a minute to realize that the song had changed. “That can’t be right,” I thought, “this is the same song.” I skipped ahead- the same song. Again and again, same song, same song, same song. Twelve songs, exactly the same.
Where do you go when the world has handed you a pile of shit and the man in charge of brilliant ideas is out of town? To the people! Headphones and my copy ofMargerine Eclipse in tote, I hopped into the station wagon and made my way to Pizza Hut. An hour and a half later, my inventory now included three large, meaty pizzas, and, complaining under my breath about pathetically slow “fast food” service, I floored it to the mall.
Ah, the mall; where the public convenes – every one from overweight middle-agers to vapid preteens to high college students. I set up on a bench outside of the record store and carefully scribbled across one pizza box top “Listen to some music and get some FREE PIZZA!” And I waited, like a shark baiter who’s just poured blood into the water. They could just smell the mega-processed super-saturated goodness. Americans are so easy to manipulate.
The first person to stop was one of the mall’s many blue-haired power-walkers. She gave me a grandmotherly smile and adjusted her horned rimmed glasses as I turned the music loose on her. For a minute I thought she may have been having a stroke, and then she took off the headphones and handed them to me with a tolerant look of confusion.
“What is it, dear?”
“They’re a European pop group,” I reply, “Mostly computer synthesized…”
“Oh,” an interruption, “And how many strings does that have?”
I made a few notes on my clipboard. So much for that generation.
As she power-walked away with a fresh slice of sauce, cheese, and a part of at least six different animals, I was approached by a couple my own age. It was the guy who took the headphones and fit them carefully around liberty spikes and chains connecting piercings. His girl just stared at me through her cat-slit contacts, looking as though she wanted to drink my blood. I rubbed my neck and turned to watch the man’s response. His expression never changed, he simply passed the headphones over to the countess. They shared a look, then each spat at my feet in turn, muttering something that sounded disturbingly like a Celtic curse in my direction. Uh-oh.
I breathed a sigh of relief as young man came out of Abercrombie & Fitch and crossed over to me. By now I was steadily losing pizza, and hope. He made pleasant small talk and took his turn with the headphones.
“Huh” he said shortly. “Are they, erm … are they speaking English?
“Well,” I replied, “No, this song’s in French. Try this.” I skipped ahead to one of the English songs.
His expression became even more pained.
“I don’t get it.”
“I don’t understand them.”
“Oh. Does it matter? They’re speaking the international language of music.”
He shoved the headphones at me.
“I only speak American.”
Well, there you go. Though he, apparently, could bridge the language gap long enough to speak fast food. By now, my pizza was getting cold, the crowd was thinning, and I was getting desperate for something I could use. I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes.
“Pizza?” a little voice said, and I opened my eyes to see a little boy holding the hand of a man that appeared to just have spent a week lost in the desert. “What the hell,” I thought, and I let the kid listen.
“It sounds like an elevator” the kid said, as his little head swung back and forth with the rhythm of the song. I suddenly became more alert. “Hey… it does. That’s exactly how it should be described,” I thought to myself. He handed the headphones back to me, now covered with something sticky from his dirty little hands.
“Let’s go, Daddy,” he said “I don’t like robots. They make bad music.”
I think I need to give little Billy my job.
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.