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NEW NOISE

sonnySONNY AND THE SUNSETS

Talent Night At The Ashram

Lost & Lonesome Recording Company

Sonny Smith originally envisaged Talent Night At The Ashram as a project where a short film told a story of a character. When these tales were all strung together, they made a full-length feature. Actors were hired and filming was started, but at some point the screenplay turned into songs.

The San Franciscan singer begins Talent Night At The Ashram with a swag of Beach Boys-like harmonies within the psychedelic pop song, The Application. Thetale finds the protagonist completing a form to become a human being. The lo-fi bedroom recordings are full of classic ’60s sounds, with tunes that would be at home on the soundtrack of a Jane Fonda movie.

Happy Carrot Health Food Store is the strangest moment on the album as Smith walks through the characters in the store from Wayne in produce to Sharon in customer service, before descending into a spoken word montage where Smith describes one of his scripts as a barking dog responds in the background. Conversely, Icelene’s Loss is so simple and melodically strong that it won’t leave you for days.

Sonny Smith is an ambitious and prolific writer who has hit his straps on Talent Night At The Ashram, an album that sets him apart from the myriad of acoustic bedroom toilers.

4 stars

CHRIS HAVERCROFT

blakemills

BLAKE MILLS

Heigh Ho

Caroline

 

Blake Mills is a talented guy. The spider-fingered guitarist has played with the likes of Jenny Lewis and Julian Casablancas, and his recording know-how has serviced records by Conor Oberst and Sara Watkins. Heigh Ho magnifies these skills, while depicting Mills’ affection for a classic vein of American songwriting.

Along with a hearty dose of Americana – think Neil Young by way of Ryan Adams – Cry To Laugh springs like a Randy Newman number and Three Weeks In Havana is melodically and chordally indebted to Harry Nilsson. These are solid foundations for an impressive LP, but unfortunately Mills spends most of Heigh Ho parading his tools, rather than using them to generate a constructive breakthrough.

The biggest villain is Mills the studio nerd. On several occasions he introduces a crafty chord progression, coupled with the scent of a fast-fermenting melodic brew, then proceeds to add layers of instrumentation – 360-degree percussion, effects-y guitar, orchestral synths or grand piano – but fails to resolve or expand upon the curiosity roused at the song’s outset.

Granted, the instrumentation and manipulation of recorded space is handled with prowess, but first and foremost Mills is a singer/songwriter. As such, the misuse of his tools leaves one feeling like a great story has been cut short due a phone battery dying.

 

3 stars

AUGUSTUS WELBY

taryn

TARYN LA FAUCI

Unveil

Independent

 

A lot of heart has gone into Unveil, the debut EP from Sydneysider, Taryn La Fauci. From its beautifully painted cover art to the quivering emotional weight that balances on the precipice of each song, the sincerity and authenticity is something that cannot be brought into the line of questioning. It’s a quiet, humble and unassuming collection of songs, often delivered with the kind of stark intimacy that would suggest a bedroom confession or a balcony-scene soliloquy.

La Fauci’s voice is lilting and lush, particularly when paired with arrangements of strings, percussion and slide guitar. Withered And Weathered serves as the definitive showcase of her talents, presenting a sombre and lovelorn taken on broken-heart balladry. The influences are often clear (Simon & Garfunkel guide Oceans Between Us; Joni Mitchell is central to Map Of The World), and the tone of the songs lacks a versatility. For a debut release, however, such minor issues are common.

In a climate where to call the singer-songwriter scene ‘overcrowded’ is a generous understatement, it takes a lot to be heard and to leave a lasting impression. La Fauci has gotten this far on Unveil, and it’s as warm an introduction as one could hope for.

 

3.5 stars

DAVID JAMES YOUNG

jose

JOSÉ GONZÁLEZ

Vestiges & Claws

Shock

 

Little has changed for José Gonzálezin the near eight years between solo albums – but who does that say more about? It could well be argued that the issues reflected on within each song – the human condition, the crumbling relevance of organised religion – remain in an evergreen state of pertinence; as does the simplistic approach of one man and one guitar. Even the backing vocals and percussion feel as though they’re interrupting something extremely intimate.

Of course, it’s always felt this way when it comes to González– and that may well be the point. If such a specific and distinctive palette did not draw you in the previous times around, Vestiges & Claws is not the album that is going to change that. Then again, that’s not part of its agenda. It’s a further reflection on life and those who live it, hushed in tone and yet quietly devastating in its own way.

Three albums in 12 years may be an inconsistent rate, but the record always shows that each José Gonzálezrecord is more than worth the wait. Vestiges & Claws is no exception – it’s an album to be welcomed in with open arms.

 

4 stars

DAVID JAMES YOUNG

twinpeaks

TWIN PEAKS

Wild Onion

Communion/Caroline

 

By now you’ll know if you’re into the garage punk of bands like Twin Peaks, and Wild Onion probably isn’t the album that’s going to change your mind.

Wild Onion is poppy, noisy and melancholy, with songs that range from uptempo punk to distant ballads. Rather than deftly switching styles, the mix feels jarring, like the combination of pumping, chorus-driven Flavor and the hazy caress of Ordinary People. Here, the change of pace feels more like discord than diversification, and it detracts from the individual songs. Depending on your taste, you’ll be wishing Twin Peaks did more speeding up or slowing down, and it’s hard not to wish they’d focus on the one style and really nail it.

Still, the 40-minute, 16-song album always has another tight, two-minute track to bring it back into step. I Found A New Way, Making Breakfast and Fade Away are all Twin Peaks at their most listenable, mixing garage noise with effortlessly catchy hooks.

Wild Onion is a strong second effort from the Chicago-based four-piece. It’s the kind of album you could spend a whole summer listening to, but it never really does enough to stand out in a heavily saturated genre.

 

3 stars

LACHLAN MACKENZIE

sw

STEVEN WILSON

Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Kscope

Joyce Vincent was a young English woman who died in her London flat in December, 2003. Her corpse was only discovered in 2006. No-one had bothered to check in on poor Joyce for almost three years.

The reason for that grim opening is because Steven Wilson, the progressive rock magician, has gone off and written a rather accessible concept album about Vincent. The first song to note is the title track, with catchy rock that comes off as almost a progressive impression of Coldplay. The following song on the tracklist, Perfect Life, which has been released as a single, occupies an avant-garde electronica/rock mood in common with fellow English heavyweights Radiohead.

However, the comparison to these established bands does Wilson’s individual brilliance a great disservice. Hand. Cannot. Erase. takes the listener every which way, with soaring female vocals in Routine transitioning to soft progressive rock, the metal-esque odd-time chugga on Home Invasion, and the Steve Vai-like soaring guitars on Ancestral.

It’s difficult to give a fair account of a progressive rock album in so few words, given the delicious bubbling hot tomato sauce of musical influences on something like Hand. Cannot. Erase. So in short: it is very good.

4 stars

NICHOLAS HARTMAN

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