Where to begin? The beginning: Do we consider the trilling synthesizer of “Fragments” a shameless rehash of “Baba O’Riley,” or slyly self-referential? Is either the better choice? I am asking you, the reader, because it is really a choice that is up to you, and one that will influence your perception of Endless Wire. And I have to ask myself, because this album brings with it a certain wariness for any reviewer. It is their first studio album since It’s Hardover twenty years ago, and also their first since Entwistle joined the choir invisible. It is a situation that creates undeniable conflict. The cheeky young music critic is prone to dismiss new releases by old artists (unless that artist is named Tom Waits, or maybe Bob Dylan on his better days), and yet – after such a long gestation period – I terribly want this to be a good album.
I can say at least one thing with ultimate certainty: Townsend is still one hell of a lyricist. He can tell a story and turn a phrase with biting humor or grand eloquence (as the situation requires) just as well as ever. “Like broken glass / we damage even in defeat,” he tells us through the avatar of Daltrey in “Fragments.” This could be taken as a comment on the band’s age, but judging from past experience with Townsend’s writing, it probably has a more universal implication. This is followed by the fairly good religious indictment of “A Man in a Purple Dress,” and the darkly humorous “Mike Post Theme” (“Everything is all right / We’ve prayed to day / If there really is a God / We’ll get laid today”). But this good run is broken up by the fairly lukewarm “In the Ether,” which features one of the most absurd vocals I’ve ever heard from the Who.
The rest of what I’ll call side one of the album shifts back and forth like this, between the good and the mediocre – with fairly consistently stunning lyrics throughout, though I’m a bit befuddled by the shout out to Godard in “It’s Not Enough.” With “Sound Round,” the album becomes the mini-opera proper Wire and Glass. Appropriately, the rolling snares and terse lines emitted by Daltrey’s still powerful voice feel like a fresh start, like something new has begun. The story of “Endless Wire” doesn’t really become clear until the title track lets us in on the “ether man’s” plan to entertain immortals with music – which of course would require endless wire.
“Fragments of Fragments” picks up the pieces (sorry) of the album’s opening track and makes something altogether more interesting out of it. In it’s new incarnation, the warbling synthesizer no longer seems like a reprise (ironically, considering the song actually is a reprise), but the perfect aural representation of fragmented people. Finally the Who play to the cheering masses of immortals on “Mirror Door” (at least that is what the sound of an audience implies) and closes with the perfectly understated “Tea and Theatre.” On it’s own, the mini-opera Endless Wire is an unexpectedly good release coming from a band so far along in their career. To which I say “thank you, thank you, thank you Townsend for not copping out.”
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.