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Hide and Seek
Emma Kupa’s singing is for me a visceral source of inspiration and motivation, and I can never quite put my finger on why. That’s even more true with this new band Mammoth Penguins than it was with her previous band Standard Fare, who put out two great albums a few years back. I think it’s because Mammoth Penguins feels more direct, highlighting her singing in an even more raw way. The songs are similarly melancholy yet raucous, articulate about personal failings and emotional dilemmas within a structure of driving pop. The guitars and drums crash their way into an endless party, while Kupa voices inner turmoil. Hide and Seek drives through a collection of wishes, confessions and regrets, before culminating in an explosive rumination on aging and generational expectations.
Chapter Music’s website refers to the band Dick Diver as “Melbourne deep pop thinkers”, and it seems like such a perfect description. Their grasp on guitar-based indie-pop music is clearly deep; they often recall New Zealand’s Dunedin scene and the Go-Betweens and other melodic-guitar-pop bands of the past. That’s a starting place, but they keep going directions you don’t expect, from the sax solos to faux ‘60s rave-ups to crashing anthemic choruses to soft-rock moods to quiet grooves that unfold and then disappear. The “thinkers” word is incredibly important too - when I think of their approach to lyrics as “smart”, what I mean is that they alternate among being inscrutable, wry, emotional, biting, strange, straightforward and poetic. One song, “Waste the Alphabet”, was written with the help of an actual poet. So you know, that means they’re smart.
The Leaf Library
The title Daylight Versions makes me wonder what the nighttime versions might sound like. In any case, this is music that delivers textures that make you think of light and its fading, of seasons changing—and the feelings that go with those things. They do that through music that bridges the gap between groove-based Stereolab jams and intimate bedroom pop, someone whispering their thoughts in your ear in a pretty voice. And there’s an aura of filmic mood music in there as well. They sing about nature as well, and stars and the human heart, while the music twinkles and glows behind singer Kate Gibson’s lovely voice. This is the debut full-length from the London-based group the Leaf Library, after various releases scattered across seven or so years, and it’s an absolute wonder.
When you see the phrase “side project”, think not “less essential” but more like someone in a group who had their own separate artistic vision they needed to express. Looper’s been described as a side project of Belle & Sebastian since their inception, though Stuart David left the group 15 years ago. Looper’s been relatively dormant, at least album-wise, since just a couple years after that. Their fourth album Offgrid:Offline came at the same time as a brilliant retrospective boxed set, one that took the unconventional approach of grouping the songs by invented genre names. Offgrid:Online includes songs in all of those genres, while feeling different than the duo’s past work. The album title represents the life path Stuart & Karn David took, moving to the countryside. Offgrid:Offline has a more organic feeling representing that choice, and the songs dwell—in gorgeous, poetic ways—on the properties of cities versus the country and on the life choices we all make. There’s a minimalist, natural side to their style of synth-pop in 2015 that is incomparable and, perhaps not surprisingly, going more unnoticed than it should. But that’s part of the fabric of the album: slipping into the darkness and feeling satisfied with that choice.
Nephew in the Wild
Owen Ashworth rebranded around 2010, changing the name of his one-man-band from Casiotone For the Painfully Alone to Advance Base. There was a slight change in musical direction, towards a more minimalist keyboards and drums set-up, but in reality the change may have mostly cast off fans not keeping up with the news. Those fans need to come back, ASAP, like the character in this latest album’s first track, “Trisha Please Come Home”. Ashworth is up to the same old tricks, but over time he’s gotten even better at them. The last Advance Base album, 2012’a A Shut-In’s Prayer, streamlined the sounds of those brilliant last two CFTPA albums to great emotional effect. Nephew in the Wild, as its ominous title suggests, starts there but goes off in more ambiguous and unsettling directions. It’s a pretty pop album but the more you listen to it the more it starts feeling like a horror movie. Satan even shows up at a few pivotal moments. And there’s a love song titled, “My Love for You Is Like a Puppy Underfoot”” By the epic, muted ending which references The Exorcist, in your listener’s brain you’ve started entwining loneliness and regrets held since childhood with creepy visions of disappearing children, demons lurking in suburban homes, and perhaps severed heads. And more common real-life horrors like car crashes and unexpected deaths.
// Notes from the Road
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