Monday, 24 March 2014

Record Review - Lucas Paine

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday March 21.

Lucas Paine & The Cutting List
Chasing Winter

Hailing from the mountains of North Carolina, and having lived amongst the icy vastness of Alaska, Lucas Paine knows about space and solitude. He also has a strong sense of warmth, and it’s these qualities that he brings to his fourth release, recorded in an abandoned university hall just outside of his now home, Melbourne.

Named Chasing Winter for the perpetual chill seasons Paine endured whilst crossing continents repeatedly, the EP is, by contrast, as warm and inviting as red wine around a crackling fire, the country sounds that emanate from within simple, yet effective, well placed and finely executed.

Sally Away begins proceedings, it’s about quality as opposed to quantity, the aforementioned space playing a big part in the song’s elegant arrangements. Misty Mountain Tryst kicks it up a notch, heavy on the fiddle, dobro, banjo and guitar, all brought together by Paine’s Neil Young-esque voice, his songwriting quietly standing tall, again, simple yet effective. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Samuel J. Fell

Friday, 21 March 2014

Feature - Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, March 21.

Long Way From Home

In this day and age, all it takes is one song. The bouncy and melodic Home was that song for Los Angeles group Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, a mish-mash of odd little couplets combining to create a modern paean to love, “Home is when I’m alone with you.”

From their debut long-player, Up From Below, released in 2009, it took the oft-time 12-piece to the top of the indie folk/rock pile. The difference between them and many others who’ve been propelled to the lofty heights of international stardom with a single number however, is that they’ve not faded away; one-hit-wonders they ain’t.

What’s followed has been a study in solid growth. “[That] first album has some really interesting stuff, but [wasn’t] really quite as sure of itself,” says frontman Alex Ebert.

“Production-wise, and songwriting-wise, [2013’s self-titled effort] is the most adventurous stuff we’ve ever done. By quite a ways, actually.” Evolution is the key here, the reason Edward Sharpe have been able to stay on top.

The band, fronted by Ebert and Jade Castrinos, and driven in large part by the writing of the former, has, since Home brought them to international recognition, released two more albums, toured the world, including Australia a number of times, and continued writing.

“I’m writing tons and tons of stuff [at the moment],” Ebert laughs, going on to say evolution in sound is still very important to the group. “At the moment, I’m exploring just about everything.”

Given the band operates with as many as a dozen players at any one time, you’d think they’d have no trouble continually coming up with new musical directions in which to travel. You’d think as well, that it could be a case of ‘too many cooks’.

“Well, usually it’s one person presenting a song, usually it’s me so far,” explains Ebert, who earlier this year, won a Golden Globe for his scoring of the Robert Redford film, All Is Lost. “What we’d like to do though… is get into a room with all 12 of us, and try and write songs as a gigantic group. I think that would be fun.”

Risky, but then Edward Sharpe have never been ones to do things by the book. Another possible left-of-centre idea Ebert has been toying with is a live album, with a twist. “We’re putting out a live recording towards the end of this year, and I love our live recordings, but it would be fun to just write an album, tour it, record the tour, and then put that out as the album.

“You’d really have to work through [the songs], and they’d have to really work live, which I think would be a really fun experiment.”

As they look to the future then, and another studio recording, the fact the path isn’t cogently mapped out is all part of the Edward Sharpe adventure. “You know, I’m not totally sure,” Ebert muses on where to next, sonically. “I’m not sure I have a lead on exactly what we’re supposed to do yet… we have gone into the studio and stood around the mic and come up with things on the fly… that won’t indicate what kind of songs are going to happen, but that’s the process [this time].”

It’s from the unknown that those great songs spring – that’s where Edward Sharpe are most at home.

Samuel J. Fell

Gig: Enmore Theatre, April 10 / Byron Bay Bluesfest, April 17
Tickets: /
Live: Folk/pop with a twist

Best Track: Home, from Up From Below

Monday, 10 March 2014

Profile - Neil Finn

Published in the March issue of Rolling Stone (February 2014)

Neil Finn Reaches Dizzy Heights

“I want to sink into the atmosphere,” sings Neil Finn, the near desperation in his delivery heightened by the eerie swell of strings, guitar stabs, harmony backing vocals creating a bed from which the lyrics leap. The track in question is ‘Impressions’, the opener to Finn’s newest release, Dizzy Heights, his first solo outing since One Nil in 2001. It’s a record which sees the man in ebullient form, investigating different avenues, looking for something new.

It’s also a record which explores the theme of height, or ascension, a fascination with the aforementioned atmosphere. Songs with titles like ‘Flying In The Face Of Love’, ‘Divebomber’, the title of the record itself, all suggest an affinity with moving up, with being above things, soaring high on velvet wings.

“It’s not a concept record at all, but there is more of a thread running through it than I’ve had on previous records,” Finn confesses on a theme that came about almost accidentally, something he quickly latched onto: “I decided to acknowledge it rather than just keep it as a sub-agenda that nobody knew about.

“And I’m not the sort of writer that has a clear narrative running through my songs… I like to leave a few doors open, let people find things in their own way and interpret things in their own way. But on the other hand, it’s quite good to give people a bit of a leg up, so I’ve done that a bit more this time.”

Dizzy Heights is a record which has, understandably, been a long time coming for Finn. Since One Nil, he’s been involved in a myriad projects, from a second Finn Brothers record (Everyone Is Here in 2004, with brother Tim), to Pajama Club with wife Sharon, releasing an eponymous record in 2011, not to mention the reformation and subsequent release of two records with the iconic Crowded House. And yet the idea of another solo record wasn’t something which consumed Finn during this almost decade and a half.

“I [didn’t] want to underplay it, or overplay it in my mind, because I don’t really think about it that much,” he concurs. “There’s impetus for making music always, and people say it’s been 14 years since the last solo release, and that surprises me too, it doesn’t feel that long. But it also doesn’t feel that making other records is in any way less of an intense experience, from a writing point of view, from seeing it through.

“There are collaborators at every stage, and there are collaborators with a solo record as well, so in some ways it’s just a different condition but the process is very similar, the name on the record just ends up being different. So I don’t dwell on that one too much.”

Something he had thought about was how the record would come together. As he writes in the press material which accompanies Dizzy Heights, he didn’t want it to be a stripped back, “singer-songwriter” record. “I was aware that that was something that I could do, and would almost be expected of me… [but] that was less interesting to me, at the moment,” he explains.

“I love pop music, first and foremost, and I love it when it’s got an element about it that’s mysterious, you’re not quite sure how they put that together… and it carried with it a challenge to myself; it would be easy to settle into being extremely tasteful and sensitive, and I’m resistant to that. I’m trying to make sure I don’t get too cosy.”

He goes on to say, with a hint of a smile, that he’s also entertaining the idea of doing, for his next album, a collection of songs revolving around just him and a piano. “I’ve reserved the right to completely contradict myself, from album to album,” he laughs.

While Dizzy Heights may not be cosy for Finn, in a sonic sense it’s the epitome of, wreathed as it is in layers of warm, atmospheric sound. Working with wife Sharon (bass), and sons Liam (guitar) and Elroy (drums), along with string arrangements by Victoria Kelly and production from Dave Fridmann, (Mercury Rev, The Flaming Lips), Finn has crafted something different – given his experience and the relative freedom that comes with that, it’s not really a surprise.

“You have a bunch of songs that you’ve attached yourself to, you want to see them expand and become more, well, everything really,” he says on how he wanted the album to come together, what his MO was. “You know, give them more weight, more feeling, more flair, more colour. Mainly, making them step out, not having them sound too much like ‘shut away in your bedroom’ type of thing.”

“And Dave is really good at recognising sonic fuel, and allowing it to exist and making it fit,” Finn expands, referencing producer Fridmann’s contribution to the warm, cosy sounds that permeate the record. “And he was a good editor too, you can make a lot of good, spontaneous noises and sounds for a long period of time, but Dave is fantastic at wading in there and going, ‘Like that, like that, don’t like that, don’t like that’, and just building something, and he’ll play it back to you, and you go, ‘You’ve picked about all the best things I could have imagined’. He’s got a very well organised mind.”

“We’re ascending higher and higher each day / There’s no turning back,” Finn falsettos on ‘Divebomber’, a line that basically describes the making of the album, his career as a whole, and his want and need to continually move on, still learning after all these years. “I’m trying to take control over the whole process, understand the whole process of music making and record making,” he says thoughtfully. “It’s a really great mystery, and it’ll always be a mystery, but I feel now I’m on the verge of being able to direct my attention in a very focused way.”

Samuel J. Fell

Monday, 3 March 2014

Record Review - The Basics

Published in the Shortlist section of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday Feb 28.

The Basics
My Brain’s Off (And I Like It)

Last year saw a return to the stage by The Basics, obviously hungry for more time together after the success of Gotye, extensive aid work and involvement in film.

Their comeback shows, at Melbourne’s Northcote Social Club in September 2013, were subsequently recorded, and so now we have, to add to their already substantial canon, a live record. For those who’ve seen The Basics in the flesh, My Brain’s Off… won’t offer any surprises. Their banter is as lively as ever, the music itself as jangly and catchy as it’s always been. Good to see too, that the majority of the material covered here is culled from the band’s earlier releases, mainly 2003’s Get Back, and 2007’s Stand Out/Fit In.

The recording itself is great, the crowd sound enthusiastic, the band are excited, as you can tell from the accompanying DVD footage. However, the album does do one thing above all else – remind one how overdue the band are, to record some new material.

Samuel J. Fell