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The Decemberists – Her Majesty The Decemberists

The story of the Private Avery William Whitmore and The Decemberists.

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Private Avery William Whitmore was sent to France with the English 2nd Battalion in June of 1916. Having enlisted at a young age, Whitmore was but an eager boy, willing to serve for his King and country. As a learned student of English, he kept a private diary of his life on the front lines; a keepsake and journal detailing the hardships of trench warfare, this chapter paints a soul lost amongst the blood and mud. These pages were his last, Private Whitmore was killed on July 23rd 1916.

June 24th, 1916
Oh how the Southampton coast seems like a world away. It has been but two weeks since our paddle-boats came to rest at Havre. On what felt like stone our cattle truck ride to these front lines were but passing comfort; if I had only known of life here in these conditions my enthusiastic demeanor would not have been so. The sounds of whiz-bangs and mortar shells have become a morning roost and the smell of mud, rain and blood but my senses’ only test. How I yearn for this to end, my body has grown frail and my mind distraught from the constant trembling of guns. Our rations are low, water scarce and moral teetering on breaking. Yet among these sorrows the regiment has seen the occasional smile, a laugh and a jolly swagger that reminded me of the tales my brother Harold spoke of from his trips to London. Amongst our torment, Captain Meloy has been but our champion; our one unifying presence. He regales us with the many stories of wonder he has seen and heard; tales of pirates and far away lands, lost castaways of the many seas. And I remember so vividly how he began, in a voice so labored yet so swaying, his first parable;

“We set sail on a packet full of spice, rum and tea-leaves. We’ve emptied out all the bars and the bowery hotels” he called. And on he went amongst our watchful eyes and yearning ears, with images of daughters dragged with blindfolds through thick air. Then on to far away lands of nubile, dark-skinned natives and the lives of sailors past … all before he culls us, a swift adieu for the evening,

“So goodnight, boys, goodnight”.

June 27th, 1916
The days are long, the nights ever more so chilling. Men have lice, the mud and dirt so thick on my socks only my knife will carve them away. A bullet with grave conviction struck Private Browning today, his face a crimson red as it spattered on mine. His blood so thick it nearly choked me.

The captain has once again been our only rest from this human decay. He has just told us, nay, sung to us an ode to someone of mysterious ways. With such delectable blister and with the convention of phonographic wonder, in perfect glee came the story of sweet Myla Goldberg. Her “crooked foot all upside down” and her “pretty hands do pretty things” were slight notions of this strange character, someone who strikes me as rattled with age but still eager to grow.

June 29th, 1916
There was brief calm today. For the first time since my entrenchment, the guns were rested. In the silence of the moon’s whisper, there were no odes of death, no clouds of terror and no sounds of the dying – Captain Meloy played his gramophone for the men and we smiled to a tenor’s sound; an Italian man by the name of Enrico Caruso if I do recall. An opus he quickly turned to his own, with another tale no less, this time of a place in America. With passion that so quirkily quivers like the cold winter breeze and an echo that gallantly summons our land’s most extravagant orchestras, he tells us of the “city by the sea”, a city he seemingly, and affectionately surrenders to;

“Its streets and boulevards, orphans and oligarchs, and here’s a plaintiff melody, a truncated symphony, and ocean’s garbled vomit on the shore; Los Angeles, I’m yours”.

As he continues with his telling, I am astounded by the delusional wonderment in which his words unfold. As if they call upon me to travel these same unique paths, to walk on ground only he has done before and to forever let my imagination stir the greatest of fantasies. Perhaps this is our gift, that in these times of squalor we have been given the most human of sounds.

July 14th, 1916
My hands are frail and I have been aching to write, but the aching is the only sensation my body endures. Bedecked by constant struggles to stay awake, my posts are nothing more than endless peering into No Man’s Land; and I often dream of spotting a sniper, just to exercise these brittle limbs. With communication so meager, I find myself restless if my incessant standing up is not sustained by Captain Meloy’s straggled yarning. He had just completed a soft-spoken sonnet to his apparent theatrical ability. One where he quips, “I was meant for the stage, I was meant for the curtain, I was meant to tread these boards, of this much I am certain” – I am amused by his stubborn buoyancy; at times it is as if he seeks certain adulation for his off-kilter mannerisms. He had me won. But it was temporary, I was sent out again to man the loneliest view I have ever known, where not even fine cigarettes will do one good.

July 22nd, 2003
I am surprised that a sense of claustrophobia has not gripped me; the canals of these mud graves are smothering, more so when men are blown off their feet by bursting shells. Trapped in the bloody rags and the sandbagged bodies of our fallen brothers, I have on so many occasions felt like jumping out – just for that escape; to not breathe this suffocating corrosion, but I know that if I do, the air I breathe will be my last.

I do not want to think of such things.

This evening, the men have felt a joy we haven’t felt in almost a month. Corporal Bradley arrived this past afternoon as a bearer of good news. Some of the men have been given permission to head for Blighty; first steps in returning to life as a civilian. Oh how I yearn to be rid of this hatred. A hatred for a country I have not stepped foot in, a hatred for people I’ve only killed and a hatred for myself for believing in this fictitious honor. Still, the corporal’s visit was not today’s only sun. The captain has but restored a little hope; this time with his grandest of sketches – a salute to us, the men of this regiment. This was his glorious tribute to battlefield camaraderie and homage to the one true value we have; a loyalty to each other, our unending trust of our brothers-in-arms. He deems this the feeling of being alive and I concur so.

When I again return home to live my life in humble austerity, the only thing I wish to keep in memory will be these strapping lads who shared with me the hardships; huddled in confines with bricklayers, bakers, schoolboys and one never-dispirited soul, I lived the soldiering life. And through the tales of faraway lands and beckoning sounds of admirable fascination, I am again filled with certain humanity. 

(Kill Rock Stars)

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The Ritualists – Painted People

The Ritualists play some determined, strong-willed music

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ritualists

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.

(Out Of Line Music)

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The Decline – Flash Gordon Ramsay Street

What The Decline get absolutely spot-on is their clinical, unrelenting brand of skate punk

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The Decline

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.

(Pee Records / Thousand Islands Records / Disconnect Disconnect Records / Bearded Punk Records)

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