Monday, February 6, 2012

Wrangling The Heard: January

Well, aside from listening to a wealth of Grimes' bizarro pop, Yeo's plaintive Home (still available here kiddos), Battles after their muscular live show and, of course, The Darcys' glacial take on Aja - all of whom have had some AMR love recently. January's soundscape has been filled with a bunch of killer interesting sounds, 'like what?' you say - like this:

The Stepkids -
The Stepkids (Stones Throw)
I recently acquired a turntable for Christmas. I know, I know - it's hard to believe a music blogger and potentially snobby writer like myself didn't already possess a record player, or perhaps stomaching the idea that it's a slippery slope before I'm a cynical thirty-something audiophile. Tangent! The point is that The Stepkids' first self-titled release was one of my first purchases, without having previously owned the album on CD and at risk of sounding like I've already joined the hipster brigade, it sounds amazing on wax.
The way I've been recommending it to friends is 'imagine Unknown Mortal Orchestra if instead of drawing on hip-hop and claustrophobic garage, they dug on classic soul and funk?'
Originally session players to the likes of Alicia Keys, Lauryn Hill and 50 Cent (!), the Connecticut threesome employ their falsetto voices and experience as tight players then cut it with a love for jamming on vintage funk, East Coast jazz and old skool R&B. The results are then seeped through a heavy filter of heady, kaleidoscopic production in what the group label 'psychedelic soul.'
It's a fitting way to describe something like Santos and Ken or the blissed-out La La, where chunky Sly and the Family Stone grooves are peppered by droning organs and lilting harps. Elsewhere, Shadows on Behalf has the swagger of a Pharrell Williams cut, but soon descends into a colourful maelstrom of spaced-out pianos and wonky guitars. Even when they play it relatively straight, such as on the classic laidback soul of Legend In My Own Mind, all Stax horns and phased keyboards across girl-group harmnoies - there's a contemporary focus. 'Neo-retro art-funk anyone? Nah man, just put on The Stepkids.'
Shadows On Behalf by The Stepkids
Legend In My Own Mind by Stones Throw Records

San Cisco - Awkward (Independent/MGM)
As already chronicled in the review of their recent live show with Brisbane's The Jungle Giants, the title track of San Cisco's latest EP came it at the ridiculous rank of #7 of triple j's Hottest 100. Its cute line-swapping between scrappy singer Jordie James and drumming Lolita Scarlett Stevens has an undeniable appeal, and along with an awesome video certainly, helped propel the Perth four-piece to the upper echelons of Australia's largest music poll. So what of the rest of Awkward? Does it contain a similar dose of zeitgeist seizing summer indie? The short answer is, yes.
As the groups' third EP of rough pop gems, following on from the similarly breakthrough single/EP Golden Revolver, it really makes a case for San Cisco as an act that make tossing out natty, hook-laden tunes look easy. At just five tracks clocking in at fifteen minutes, it's an easily digested and accessible little set that hones their songwriting chops, while simultaneously ticking some stylistic boxes.
Rocket Ship opens with some afropop shuffling and some simple melodies before taking off (sorry...) into a spry sing-song of 'ooh la la las,' punctuated by equally choral handclaps. It's disarmingly fun and even a little knowingly silly. Lover is equally shrill with spring-heeled excitement, cooing "I'd like to get to, get to know you." It's chorus turningon a 'doo-da-doo-doo' vocal hook and a fidgeting New Wave keyboard solo that would fit snugly onto a Devo record.
On the other end of the spectrum, Reckless is a slower number. Unlike its rollicking live version, it chooses to  focuses on a sombre acoustic strum that hints at some heart-on-sleeve vulnerability. James' endearing yelp of   "When your heart's in your mouth/and your guts on the ground/and you've got nothing left from the chest down," in an impressive take that suggests there's more depth to the band than radio-storming pop numbers.
Finally, in a tradition perhaps set by their take of Tame Impala's Solitude Is Bliss on the Golden Revolver EP, Awkward contains a cover of Arctic Monkeys in a version of 505. Though it lacks the searing sexually frustrated build of the original, it's a noteworthy rendition regardless.
As a whole, it's an impressive and addictive collection, again enhanced by Steve Schram's sparkling production; a strong set that doesn't rely solely on the mini-stalker narrative of Awkward to do the heavy lifting.
Lover by minyuklikesyourdimples
Rocket Ship by sgcmedia
- Sine & Moon (Stones Throw)
If I was to open up a coffee shop-come-independent-music-shop one day, then I figure Jonti's colouful beat-making would feature pretty heavily on the playlist. Such is the relaxing appeal and sheer 'cool' factor of his music.
South African ex-pat Jonti Danilewitz relocated to Sydney at the turn of the century and began making his unique clash of densely processed loops with an ear for peculiar, cartoonish sounds under the name Djanimals. He's since simplified to his birth name and caught the attention of Peanut Butter Wolf, who made him his first Australian (our Jonti) signing for his hip Stones Throw label.
He's also been fêted by the likes of Mark Ronson and Santigold, who clearly see the comparisons between his wonky, off-centre beats and those of infamous hip-hop producer J. Dilla. Well, if his crunching loops were combined with a soft spot for Beach Boys harmonies and cooing melodies.
Interestingly, he doesn't rely on samples to generate his colourful and eclectic constructions, but instead his own live instrumentation and odd noise-making. A self-confessed structural obsessive, he then dissects those elements and what makes them tick into new beat-centred formations imbued with his own off-centre eccentricity and a knack for irregular melodies.
Though the recently released Twirligig was his first as Jonti officially, and his sophomore Tokorats is just around the corner; it's in fact a collection of earlier recordings released between the two called Sine & Moon that is the best place to start, not least because it's available as a free download cherubs.
Nightshift in Blue (Alternate Version) by The Line Of Best Fit
Hornet's Nest by Stones Throw Records

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