Debut album from the self-proclaimed King & Queen of the Hillbilly Underground featuring a carefully selected group of tunes incorporating Honky Tonk, Blues, Rockabilly, Garage Rock and Surf music. Like Doc Watson and the Cramps had a love child.
Multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Sarah Mary Chadwick is not a new face to Melbourne’s music community. After moving to Australia from her native New Zealand to pursue a career in music, Sarah spent a decade fronting the grunge band Batrider. Eventually becoming tired of the collaborative requirements intrinsic to band life, Sarah shifted her focus to songwriting independently, drawing inspiration from “weird old New Zealand musicians” like Peter Jefferies, Chris Knox, and Australia’s Pip Proud and the way they tinker away and work for decades for “little to no commercial success.” This inspiration is obvious in Sarah’s performance as she simultaneously savors and mocks the pedestal that her creativity affords her, acknowledging that “it’s a position of power being on a microphone” and how “it’s a desperate demand to be seen. It’s funny and really sad.”
To listen to Sarah’s music is to be a quiet observer to her thoughts on love, death and mental health. Sometimes this anguish bears itself in sullen, quiet moments, but more often torment manifests at the break of Sarah’s voice as she sing-shouts painfully vulnerable, self-aware lyrics. This is all front and center on Chadwick’s newest Sugar Still Melts In The Rain. From the album’s moody (though by SMC standards, uplifting) first track ‘Flow Over Me’ to its larger moments where Sarah cries ‘raise your glass to my health and to everyone going away’ in the title track, the album is undeniably committed to the uncomplicated, relying solely on piano, keys, bass and percussion.
Learning that Sarah’s songwriting is thoroughly autobiographical is perhaps more unnerving than her artistic process of watching sexually charged movies to inspire her pornographic art. She drinks, she watches porn, she draws and she writes. When the blur of the evening fades, what remains is a colorful orgy on the page and Sarah’s recollections immortalized in ‘Wind Wool’, “oh no I’m losing memory, did we just piss away time? And does it matter anyway, I’ll die, you died, we die…”. To Sarah Mary Chadwick, all tragedy is comedy.
Sugar Still Melts In The Rain marks her first release for her new label Sinderlyn (home to Homeshake, Jaye Bartell and Tim Cohen). Having already released three solo records on Bedroom Suck, Siltbreeze and Rice Is Nice, this album is her 4th solo work. It was recorded and mixed by friend, musician and filmmaker Geoffrey O’Connor in Vanity Lair and Phaedra Studios in Melbourne. The album came together so quickly partly as a result of the duo’s commitment to efficiency and partly due to Sarah’s lack of attachment to the idea of “the perfect vocal take.” She knows she isn’t a virtuoso; tongue firmly in check, she is quick to reference those limitations mockingly. Yet, it’s within those boundaries that she thrives, disinterested in the perfect take in lieu of her best take – unique, somber and raw.
Young veteran of Cajun Dance Party and Yuck finds his voice and his confidence, makes an excellent solo album
Daniel Blumberg is a restless one. At 28, the London-based artist already has a string of lacklustre musical projects behind him, from the ill-fated Cajun Dance Party to 90s pastiche Yuck, to a series of more valiant but half-baked solo efforts as Oupa and Hebronix. More recently, Blumberg ventured into the world of free improvisation, taking up residence at Dalston’s Cafe Oto where he worked on a number of experimental projects. After five years of dabbling, Blumberg has reemerged with the first album under his own name.
Recorded during five days of seclusion in the Welsh countryside, Minus contrasts intimate piano-led tunes with outbursts of free improv. Blumberg is accompanied by a quartet of violin, saxophone, cello and double bass that, at times, spits and sputters notes with unhinged violence and at others creaks ominously in the background. There is a sense of turmoil throughout; you can picture Blumberg hunched over his piano as musicians linger on the fringes, waiting to score his fall. “I can’t escape / from the band,” he sings on ‘The Bomb’, and one wonders whether he’s reflecting on his musical history or a reliance on his newfound group of improvisers to punctuate the album’s darkest moments.
‘Madder’ is 12 minutes of this discomfort, jolting in and out of manic Incus-esque improvisations like they’re hypnagogic hallucinations. In contrast, ‘Stacked’ is a ballad tinged with an country inflection, where Blumberg shows off an affecting Neil Young-esque falsetto. It’s been rare to hear Blumberg singing in anything other than a faux-American drawl, so it’s a pleasant change in pace to hear him finally expressing himself without so much self-consciousness.
It’s interesting that Blumberg describes himself as having been “monomaniacal” about this album’s completion. It’s not a record that sounds particularly meticulous, given its free-form spontaneity. Many of the more traditional sections are repetitive, focusing around a single refrain with maybe a few variations. This is not meant as a criticism. Minus is raw and honest, and the melodic simplicity drives that home.
Darlingside first gained broad notice with 2015’s Birds Say. On that album, bassist Dave Senft, guitarist/banjoist Don Mitchell, violinist/mandolinist Auyon Mukharji, and cellist/guitarist Harris Paseltiner fused glorious vocal harmonies that evoked classic Beach Boys and Crosby, Still & Nash to a collection of songs that evoked a sometimes melancholy nostalgia. Follow up Extralife finds the band facing forward to address the troubled present and uncertainties of future via a unique impressionistic twist: they take the staid simile of life as a video game and ramp it full of apocalyptic anxiety to create something utterly fresh and revelatory.
Starting with the silly existentialism of Mario trapped in his own game, the concept of an “extra life” becomes irradiated with potential as the album progresses to reveal the darkness beneath the beauty of the band’s combined voices.” It’s over now,” they sing in the album opener, “The world has flattened down.” Envisioning a multi-leveled existence modeled upon a Mario Brothers or Donkey Kong world, God becomes the “Super conductor up in the sky” rewarding “Extralife”. It’s a surprisingly effective metaphor, these “Push-on clouds” that “reset the sky”, since eschatological apocalypse is not simply an ending; rather, it is a global cleansing so that the world may be reborn again anew.
Apocalyptic images dominate the album’s lyrics.We wait for the end like dinosaurs watching the meteor’s approach in “Singularity”: “Someday a shooting star is gonna shoot me down / Burn these high rises back into a ghost town.” In the beautiful, poetically framed “Hold Your Head Up High”, life is but a “let-go-of balloon”. Meanwhile “Bikini snow (a 1950’s-era euphemism for fallout from atomic bomb testing) burns like acetylene under our feet” as “Our future moment disappears” in “Futures” and, in a nod to Yeats’ “Second Coming” with its “rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem to be born”, we hear that “Something is waking on ‘Indian Orchard Road’.”
But, as with any truly apocalyptic vision, all the uncertainty, all the fear, all of the as-yet-to-come suffering is in the service of rebirth: prophecy of not just an end but a new beginning to follow. Even as we’re told of our disappearing “Futures”, we are reassured by a chorus of “it’s not ever too late.” “Eschaton” amplifies the video game metaphor with its electronic chirps and pulses, yet offers the millennial reassurance that “No matter what we’ve been / We are the upshot now.” Heavenly visions of Lindisfarne follow accompanied by equally angelic voices. Finally, we are reassured that “We are a long way from the best of the best of times”, a central component of any apocalyptic prophecy, the promise of a rapturous rebirth or bounty following a period of tribulation.
Mukharji describes the inspiration of the new album’s title and theme as “a life beyond where we are now, whether that’s a brand new thing, a rebirth, or just a new version of ourselves as we move forward.”Extralife is a record infused with apocalyptic dread, a collection of campfire sing-alongs for the end of days. As well, it’s an oddly beautiful record, comfortable in its unsettling contemplations and rapturous.
A natural chanteuse who possesses just the right blend of sass and savvy, Aussie-born singer Ruby Boots (aka Rebecca Louise “Bex” Chilcott) was a seeker from early on. After leaving home at the age of 16, she took off for the outer reaches of Australia’s west coast, eventually landing a job on a pearl fishing trawler. It was there where she started dabbling in guitar, and eventually writing songs. After adopting a new name, she embarked on a career that’s brought her numerous awards and a fan following as well.
Chilcott, or Ms. Boots if you will, previously released three EPs and a full length debut she christened Solitude. However, her new album, the tellingly named Don’t Talk About It, handily elevates her standing. A set of songs that dwell on the wreckage left in the wake of romance, it pointedly addresses those prone to all sorts of sexual manipulation. Granted, that kind of abuse is nothing new, but in view of recent headlines, the focus Boots finds here seems especially apt.
Boots is aided in her efforts by the astute backing of the band Texas Gentlemen and support from a kindred spirit, Nikki Lane, who co-wrote the title track and provides the backing vocal. However, the focus remains wholly on Boots throughout, thanks to a saucy delivery that turns each song into a clear statement of purpose. “Don’t Talk About It” offers an especially strong example of her swagger and defiance. The determined “I’ll Make It Through,” has her declaring “I’m more than you can handle,” turning a song about survival into a hard won ode to independence.
To be sure, these songs never find Boots in retreat. If her attitude is any indication, she remains steadfast and undaunted. “Infatuation,” “It’s So Cruel” and “Easy Way Out” come across with drive and insistence, ample indication that she’s not about to back down. Happily, she’s willing to lure her lover by offering assurance as well. “I am a believer, standing strong by your side, I’m a hand to hold on to when its too hard to climb,” she declares on the spare “I Am A Woman.” Unlike the defiance Helen Reddy once railed about on her similarly-named song, this is one instance where Boots finds no need to roar.
Ironically, the relatively subdued song that ends the set, “Don’t Give a Damn,” is also the most emphatic. Boots rebukes an unfaithful lover while dishing out her disdain. As it climbs to its crescendo, it becomes increasingly clear that Don’t Talk About It makes certain statements that definitely need to be said.