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For the diehard fans of Danger Mouse this is one album that has been a long time in the making. Five years it has taken the American producer to finally emerge from the mist with this ode to Italo-Western film. And with Italian composer Daniele Luppi and a small cast of high profile guests joining him on this faux-soundtrack, to think it would be anything less than exquisite is just absurd and ignorant.

Drawing inspiration from such a unique sub-genre of film, ‘Rome’ has a distinct and distinguished sound that is mature and meticulous. You can essentially hear Luppi’s love for the romanticism and fragility of classic Italian soundtracks in every note played. It is truly a connoisseur’s album, a sentiment that is demonstrated perfectly through the blasé introduction Theme of Rome.

The careful placement of Jack White’s vocals in follow-up The Rose with the Broken Neck and throughout ‘Rome’ are a production masterpiece as they give the album the raw edge and bite that it desperately needs to stop tedium and repetitiousness creeping in. The Rose with the Broken Neck’s intriguing lyrics and conflicting lullaby/’soundtrack to a nightmare’ essences offer it the potential to take over the record’s preliminary stages.

Roman Blue is the instrumental piece that could accompany any great film (spaghetti-western or non) in a post-climatic finale scene and the soft howls that ring out towards completion give it a mystique that, on this album, is rivalled only by Norah Jones on Season’s Trees. Problem Queen’s intricacies are overpowered (without remaining completely unnoticed) by Norah Jones as her vocals again play a pivotal role in the distinction of this track as one of the album’s highlights.

While much of the record is instrumental, Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi have ensured that the subtle diversity between each of these tracks are not lost nor disregarded. It is a privilege to be able to enjoy works of such mastery. Anyone with taste will appreciate everything these artists have accomplished through their collaborations on ‘Rome’. In an intricate and sometimes inexplicable genre, Rome’s beauty shines like a lighthouse. Exceptional!

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The Phoenix Foundation (TPF) has a long and decorated history as one of New Zealand’s finest indie-rock exports. Plying their trade since the late nineties (longer than most bands can respectively account for) it is a difficult task to write a piece without listening to their back catalogue. The band have obviously developed their sound over the years and with no points of reference from their past to draw from it makes the task seems somehow less noble. Youthful ignorance aside, I will do my best to review ‘Buffalo’ as a single entity rather than the [optimal] piece of a progressive jigsaw puzzle that the band have been patching together for over a decade.

 

Opener Eventually is a wistful introduction that sets a beautiful scene for the album to develop from. It’s slow without trespassing on boring or monotonous and it’s dreamy without intruding into dreary; a trap many a band has descended naively into.

The opener then delicately transitions into title-track Buffalo; a strong track with a soft, penetrating beat that showcases the potential TPF still possess to produce exceptional music. Along with Skeleton, a subtly haunting tune that would just fit so perfectly on the Donnie Darko soundtrack, this is the standout track from what is a thorough production of fantastic records.

However while each track, as a standalone, is beautiful you will find them all increasingly similar to those preceding them. At times ‘Buffalo’ is pleasant and very peaceful but it climaxes early and never really manages to re-capture the attention of the listener hereafter.

The vocals on Wonton borderline on delicious if the band still have your undivided attention by this point in the record but the album’s latter stages will unfortunately prove to be little more than background music. The intricacy of Orange & Mango will go unappreciated, few will enjoy Golden Ship the way it should be and listeners will emerge neither loving nor hating the record.

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There is something to be said for a band that really knows their identity. For a band that have spent time discovering their strengths and weaknesses, play heavily to those strengths and shy shamelessly and intelligently away from their weaknesses. Architecture in Helsinki’s decade-long reign as an Australian indie-dance-pop favourite has helped them discover exactly who they are and their music has reaped the benefit.

Forget the scattered array of quote unquote ‘hip’ folk chatting amongst themselves in the beer garden during the show because the other ninety-five percent of The Gov were busy letting them know exactly what they were missing out on. The crowd happily surrendered to Architecture in Helsinki’s classic party atmosphere from the moment Cam Bird and co took to the stage. They cheered with delight as Bird and his cheeky grin strummed along to Hold Music, not letting up until they were ushered out of the venue’s notoriously narrow exit.

As far as the content of their set goes, Architecture in Helsinki seem to have a kind of Miami Heat style ‘Big-3’ thing going on. Their amazing ‘old’ favourite That Beep is one of, if not the catchiest song the band have ever written, while 2011 triple j monster tune Contact High is the only possible exception. What is the third entity of which this man speaks then you wonder? Duh, their incredible on-stage choreography and demeanour! How can you not have fun when the band is having so much fun on stage? How can you not dance when the band themselves have choreographed moves and are executing them (apart from the guitar player who was at times a little sloppy) perfectly?

Plenty of swaying, grooving, singing and humming, plenty of Heart It Races and plenty of fun later the satisfied crowd remembered just why Architecture in Helsinki have achieved such a dedicated fan-base who are more than happy to see them performing their seamless and energetic routine over and over. Architecture in Helsinki will continue to sit comfortably in the top echelon of Australian bands as they provide a model of consistency for bands looking to make it in a crowded local indie market.

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You have to pay a certain level of respect to someone who has managed to hang around in the brutal music game for long enough to release eleven studio albums but having said that, it is difficult to maintain that same level of respect for an ‘artist’ who has spent a significant portion of that time being far more famous for being famous than he has for his raps.

Essentially, ‘Doggumentary’ is just another shameless attempt to stay relevant, dramatically highlighted by Snoop’s willingness to slump to the current mainstream climate with cough ‘hit-single’ Wet (vs David Guetta). Ok, so I may have enjoyed dancing to this track in some dirty club on the weekend as a hardbody was grinding up against me as only ‘The D-O-double G’ would advocate, but it does not change what this song and album represent.

It’s frustrating that someone who has been around the game so long is producing such mediocrity in a creative climate full of artists such as Kanye West and OFWGKTA who are changing the game up so frequently and in a such a fresh way. In spite of this, Snoop’s fame and tenure in the industry have given him enough swag to feature just about anybody he wants to on his tracks (including the aforementioned Mr. West), which has once again dictated the formula for this album.

It is brimming with artists who are exponentially more talented than His Doggness and it can’t be easy to f**k up an album when so much talent surrounds you, so I guess props go to Calvin for managing to do that too… Maybe he should’ve got some Bieber on there to save the day? Fingers crossed the inevitable album number twelve does just that but I won’t hold my breath. I’ll ‘never say never’ though either…

My F**n House is basically just Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Black & Yellow’ but shitter. The UFO-like backing sample over Platinum, coupled with a typically shit R. Kelly feature is simply infuriating and unfortunately ‘Doggumentary’ only gets worse from here [please note; R.Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet Parts 1-12 are quite possibly BETTER!].

Maybe Snoop hasn’t yet realised that there is only so long you can rap about weed (especially at age 39), ‘hoes with double-d’s’ and other pointless shit before it becomes monotonous and boring. That in itself is Snoop’s biggest dilemma; his voice, however soothing and charming in his earlier days hasn’t changed or developed in the past decade either, leaving every verse being a clone of one I’m sure I’ve heard (albeit better) before.

‘Doggumentary’ is a very average album by an artist who is obviously in the twilight of his career. Do yourself a favour and spend your money on something better, like cheese and yoghurt or the entry fee to Black Market this Saturday because either of those two options will be far more enjoyable.

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Like his first solo album ‘Bastard’, Tyler is coupling some of the most confronting lyrics in the game today with a range of crazy beats to produce the unique sound he and OFWGKTA have created and embodied over the past couple of years. His music makes him such an enigmatic character and his crazy mystique is compounded only by his blatant disregard for life. This apparent nihilism, be it genuine or an act, is tough to deal with for listeners; ensuring ‘Goblin’ remains a difficult and extremely unpleasant experience for those who are new to his music.

If you don’t already like Tyler’s beats, then you will not like Goblin. That’s almost certainly the way he wants it too. He’s not trying to draw more mainstream attention to generate more ‘fans’ for his bandwagon with this record. He is connecting or re-connecting with the kids who feel a kinship toward him and the darkness he radiates through his raps. “Kill people, burn shit, fuck school” he howls on Radicals.

‘Goblin’ is an exceptional progression from ‘Bastard’ that demonstrates an unexpected maturation by Tyler although it is most certainly at its demonic best when he sounds isolated, frightened, and confused. It’s undoubtedly a game-changing record for indie hip-hop.

Yonkers, with it’s hostile beat and melodious backing sample must already be considered a frontrunner for song-of-the-year and tracks like Sandwitches, Analog and Tron Cat work as incredible standalone tracks, away from the album as a whole.

Goblin, Nightmare, and Golden (in particular their therapy sessions) paint a fascinating portrait of an unattached mind; struggling to remain grounded as life drastically continues to change. Even Tyler’s endearing camaraderie with the rest of OFWGKTA expires with an aggressive and nasty finish, concluding with Tyler mysteriously killing his friends before succumbing to a violent, inexplicable, emotional breakdown.

To really experience ‘Goblin’ you have to sincerely commit to this record. You have to endure Tyler’s painful, self-loathed lows and relish in the album’s intoxicating highs. You need to desire to be one of his insiders and to be part of the ‘wolf gang’, a group that despite Tyler’s obvious indifference is rapidly expanding daily as his infamy does too.

Tyler, The Creator – Yonkers

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Drapht may just be the one act actually doing something of worth in what is really a pretty shit genre right now. With little to no expectations for “The Life of Riley” my thoughts were focused solely on how best to shred the Perth MC for yet another pathetic Australian attempt at ‘hip-hop’, so listening to the record and not cringing with every verse was a big step. Then I actually played it through a few more times and realised it’s quite a catchy & well-produced album.

Renowned for producing hooky favourites like Jimmy Recard in 2008 to platinum single Rapunzel, with The Life of Riley Drapht might have elevated his status from just being the festival circuit regular and producer of catchy backyard bbq hits to a legitimate Aussie Hip-hop powerhouse. The base for this assessment being that a hell of a lot of people will really enjoy this record, and why shouldn’t they?

Opening track Sing It literally (well, figuratively) jumps straight into your head where it’s sure to stay for longer than is really necessary and the top heavy collection continues into Down and then Rapunzel, two tracks that sum up everything that has made Drapht the artist he is now – a classic ‘I can’t do anything but nod my head to this shit’ Drapht beat with an arrangement of articulations that are more intelligently sang then spoken. NO complaints here!

The Eulogy and R.I.P J.R lack creativity as Drapht continues to shamelessly bark up the tree of success that was Jimmy Recard while the multitude of unnecessary Kurt Cobain and Motley Crue shout-outs could probably be toned down a little. I’m sure there’s somebody holding a half empty West End Tin dropping a “yehhhh sick shout out, how good was that bulk Jimmmyyyy beat eyyy, chuck us another tinny yeh Teegan!” to that too though; helping our MC to further transcend those socio-economic bridges other artist have found to be so treacherous. Luckily for Drapht, JB Hi-Fi opened a store at Blakeview so rather than spending that hard-earned welfare cheque on food and shelter for the three kids ‘n one on the way, daddy can make sure he and the lads have mass tunes for next weekend’s barbie at Dave-o’s.

At no point after the first four tracks do I find myself thoroughly enjoying the album but I’m pretty sure I’m developing a sort of muscle memory/nervous twitch-like reflex in my neck from all the nodding that has accompanied it. Air Guitar could be one of the points I do find myself getting close to that thorough enjoyment late in the record. A little less ‘classic Drapht’; Air Guitar is a little bit hip-hop, a little bit rock and a little bit MC from Perth stranded in the Sahara Desert. Unfortunately you have to suffer through the 1:44 waste of time that is Skit to get to the oasis.

Featuring Trials of The Funkoars, The Paul The Dan is more of the same successful monotony as is Murder Murder, while the backing guitar in Take The Party With Us and Good Morning (just in general) leave much to be desired. Fortunately the album closes strongly with On & On, ensuring those nods remain intact from 0:01 to 56:49.

While it is a very intelligent solidification and continuation of the moves Drapht made up the food chain with “Brothers Grimm”, I think I still would’ve rather spent the $20 on a toasted footlong meatball with avocado, a medium soft drink cup and three cookies. Good thing I get these CD’s for free to review huh…

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It seems like an eternity between drinks for fans of The Middle East. Three years ago their last EP was released and it was received with such warmth that waiting so long to release their follow-up LP would inevitably be accompanied by a substantial rise in expectations; almost to that of an unattainable level.

Fortunately, ‘unattainable’ doesn’t seem to feature in The Muddle East’s vocabulary as “I want that you are always happy” is a fantastic balance of the band’s classic indie-rock and soft-folk sounds. A few fans expecting thirteen new renditions of Blood might be feeling a little harder done-by from the band’s pursuit of the folk-ier experience but “I want that…” Is sure to win many an admirer with this pursuit.

Opening track Black Death 1349, released prior to the album as one of the singles, is the introduction that every indie-folk soundtrack should strive to produce. The way the vocals are softly howled over the plucking of strings serves as a portal to The Middle East’s oxymoronic world of melancholic happiness. This slow, almost monotonous and hypnotizing rhythm and sound continues seamlessly from the opener into My Grandmother was Pearl Hall and As I Go to See Janey.

The album is very unique in it’s ability to contradict itself with dark and despairing album artwork and tracks Ninth Avenue Reverie and Vert Many to the uplifting and joyous moments we experience on first single Jesus Came to my Birthday party and standout track Land of the Bloody Unknown. Aside from being one of the most appropriately and brilliantly titled tracks ever, Land of the… is a gorgeous ode to everything that is Australia. The sound, the lyrics and the vocal accent all cry Australia; as the LP drives you out of the darkness.

Be warned though, it is a tumultuous journey back down into these darkened depths with the album’s other standout Mount Morgan. The gentle beginning innocently matures into a long deep sigh, groaning for your approval and catching your breath before allowing you to release your tension with follow-up tracks Months, Dan’s Silverleaf and Hunger Song.

Deep Water closes the album with the same damp earnestness it began with, leaving my only criticism to be that I don’t possess the eloquence required to express this album as beautifully as it deserves. Trying to communicate artistry of such beauty with sheer words is utterly unjust, as The Middle East have created a divine album that can only be experienced.

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