Blair Shehan is bound by his talents. He is the memoirist; the able writer who pens our most indelible of emotions, summoning the human commonalities that bide between each and every one of us. He writes of our distances (“Did you celebrate without me? / Did you tell them all about me? / did you sell me out / if you ever had a doubt”) and our insecurities (“I will be anxious arms/ beside myself and there is no one else / won’t you be my answer then”), and he writes of all those moments that leave us speechless and cold. He is the arrant negotiator, calmly blurring the lines between the lush manifestations and the oft sanguine sluicing of pleasant rock formulae – crafting compositions that yield their own significance; a bold statement between perfectly moving and sincere. Shehan is our honesty and the Jealous Sound is the musical vernacular in which these distances are bridged.
Believe what you will, press lines and quips of praise are but words we form in an attempt to grasp emanating sounds. The very words you are reading are but some, an effort to fully comprehend how in years passing, so little have awaken the deepest warmth of sadness and growth. A time in which we often seek clarity and understanding, but receive it far too late. Gone are those opportunities, the fleeting instances we failed to grab and the comfort we missed to embrace. And these words that so solemnly echo, the gentle shoestring tugging of the heart, all but remind us, before it lets us rest our weary heads on its waiting shoulder.
“I force your hand to write / List what you left behind / Did I force your hand to move like mine”, Shehan writes in “The Gift Horse”, his voice is the awkward reassurance, layered above the pristine rock riffs that ache that infectious stillness. An apparent calm that is broken by the upbeat nature of the album’s more effervescent instances; most notably “Naïve”, a bitter tongued diatribe that boasts lyrical poignancy as well as musical grace, and in the ambitious “Anxious Arms” (that was previously seen on their debut EP but receives a conscious reworking) – a grand gesture of searing emotion and well placated instrumental balance; sharing periods of sullenness and rejuvenation.
There is a distinct separation between the Jealous Sound, or more accurately, Shehan himself, and artists who desire the attention of both our ears and hearts. The somnambulistic veil in which he coats each song is an added texture; one we feel more than we hear – interwoven is this luster, into the uncomplicated tangling of instruments and those choice connections made with the seemingly tortured poetic poise. Whether it be the observations of others, “You’re poised and you’re perfect / face of the fallen destroyed / Call out and curse it and everything else you avoid / Your comets burn brighter but you still feel the sting / They lift up their lighters and sing so sweetly” or our own inner struggles, “I’m already gone / Don’t say a word / I can’t hear you / Don’t hold me close / I can’t feel you”, the words that escape are ones we relate to; shaped as if they are those released from our own breath.
It is in that same breath that we feel at ease, the burden that some artists cast upon themselves can be immense; courted by lavish experimental settings and desires to outdo, their most human of features become indistinguishable. And it is this very human essence that shines throughout Kill Them With Kindness; seemingly unbothered by delusions and loftiness, it shimmers undaunted, like the softness of falling snow, the affection of the fireplace and the kindness of the reaching hand. This gleam captured in true form during “Guard it Closely”; an earnest winter escapade buoyed by the slow magnetic opening, champagne riffs and lounging bassline, its simple candor; lit once again in the much grandeur, gentler “Recovery Room” – best left at beautiful.
For those times we are left in shadows, searching for a sound or voice of reason, we turn to our most personal of places. We look for those open arms where we can rest our weary core, where we can sit and hear and wait for the profound, where we can scream in relief “It feels so good to feel”. And like the moments spent in Shehan’s audience, the understanding is clear, and the only constraints lie in whether or not we’ve found them in time.
(Better Looking Records)
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.