Gang of Youths, Manchester Orchestra, Saskwatch

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything on my blog. Laziness, procrastination, tiredness – all feeble reasons to keep yourself from doing something to keep your writing chops up. Sigh.

Anyway, my thoughts/reviews will now be more condensed for readability and for time’s sake. I hope you find them helpful and feel free to post any of your comments or opinions on the thoughts below!

Gang of Youths, Go Further in Lightness

There’s something distinctly ‘Australian’ about the opening to Go Farther in Lightness’s opening, piano-led track ‘Fear and Trembling’. It’s got a Cold Chisel, Aussie ballad-type feel. David Le’aupepe’s vocals enter, sounding very close to Bruce Springsteen in delivery (and sometimes like The Killers’ Brandon Flowers). The Australiana doesn’t last long; soon enough, the rest of the band enter and the song picks up its pace and has the ambitions of epic stadium rock – more Springsteen than Cold Chisel.

This is more or less how the rest of the album sounds.

These are indeed very ‘meaningful’ tracks, in the likes of Springsteen, and no doubt those looking for something like that or perhaps the soul-satisfying rock of the U2 variety will be appeased – and possibly satisfied – by. A genuine lyrical honesty does permeates each track. However, Go Further in Lightness quickly descends into a sameness of sound and scope. The tracks begin to blur into one another, and the album lacks the memorability that it’s depth is striving for.

Admittedly, I’ve not heard much from Gang of Youths in the past, or anything that’s really stood out for me, but I can appreciate the overall cohesion and thematic nature of the album (the album has a series of stringed interludes). I would have really loved that Australiana vibe that opens the album to have been pursued, but alas it was not to be.

Manchester Orchestra, A Black Mile to the Surface

A friend of mine introduced me to Manchester Orchestra (MO) through their album Mean Everything to Nothing. The songs on that album were simple yet catchy, not too heavy, but hard-hitting enough. They were of a alternative rock bands in the ilk of Brand New and mewithoutYou, but with a Michael Stipe-like delivery (but whinier).

I dipped into their catalogue occasionally since that release, but didn’t take to much of their output. That was until I heard their last album COPE, which I believe is one of the most underrated rock albums of recent times. The accompanying, stripped down version of the songs from COPE in their later release, HOPE, proved (at least to me) this the case where melodic nuances were far more prominent. Now with ‘A Black Mile to the Surface’ the band return with a mixture of new ideas and familiar sounds.

This album is far darker than previous efforts – maybe closer to the sounds of HOPE but with a full band. The single ‘The Gold’ is much what you could expect from a MO song – a catchy guitar line, catchy melody and big chorus. ‘The Moth’ continues the trajectory of more classic (and moody) MO, similar to something you’d find on COPE. ‘The Alien’ brings in a more Simon and Garfunkel/folk vibe to their repertoire. Much of the album continues on in a similar vein with some heavier moments (‘The Grocery’ and ‘The Wolf’). The final track, ‘The Silence’, is an epic ballad that builds towards with a crushing ending (the Stipe-like delivery is most prominent here).

A Black Mile to the Surface sees the band adapt and expand the sounds that they had established in COPE/HOPE into a fairly cohesive group of songs. It’s neither here nor there, just a solid group of songs.

Saskwatch, Manual Override

If you want some of the best Aussie-produced music of the last decade, listen to Saskwatch’s previous two albums, ‘Nosedive’ and ‘Sorry I let it come between us’. Their unique blend of funk, soul and pop makes for great listening. I was living in Summer Hill and my housemate was blaring their first album on record. I couldn’t believe how good the songs were. (It is rare where you rush out to ask what is being played, don’t you think?) Two years since their last release is ‘Manual Override’, their fourth studio album. So, how does it compare to their previous efforts?

‘Manual Override’ expands the band’s experimentation with psychedelic sounds and heavy use of synthesisers. Their production is also toying more with the Lo-fi sounds that would draw a fair comparison to Tame Impala’s last album ‘Currents’. The opening track, ‘December Nights’, has a souring chorus from singer Nkechi Anele that isn’t too dissimilar from Seattle-based indie-pop band, Western Indian Girl. ‘Then There’s You’ is a typical Saskwatch song dressed in heavy synths.

The use of synths drops off in tracks like ‘Renoir’ and ‘North Terrace’, instead being more guitar and vocal-driven. ‘North Terrace’ is an irresistible, moody Rhodes-driven ballad and easily one of the best songs on the album. The middle section of the album isn’t as strong, but eventually picks up with the ultra-catchy ‘Shrinking Violet’. ‘Heaven seems so far away’ is another great love-struck/love-lost ballad (they’re quite good at those). Speaking of love-lost, ‘Renaissance Man’ finishes the album in another low-key ballad in the vein of their previous albums.

All in all, Saskwatch are writing the best pop music in Australia. Actual pop music. Can they be stopped?

What do you think of these albums? Sound away!

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