No shrinking violet when singing from heart

August 22, 2015 5:23 am 19 comments Views: 1
singer Josh Pyke in Brisbane pic Jamie Hanson

singer Josh Pyke in Brisbane pic Jamie Hanson
Source: News Corp Australia

THIS week’s album reviews from The Courier-Mail (ratings out of five stars):

ROCK

Josh Pyke, But For All These Shrinking Hearts

(Wonderlick/Sony) ****

Most of us are attracted to those who dig deep inside, revealing their own traumas for their art.

But chances are a songwriter can only go to that well a few times. Too much trauma isn’t good for anyone, artists included. Anyone in this for the long haul has to rely not only on personal experience but on observation, a compassionate eye, or the writer’s keen eye for a story.

Paul Kelly and Neil and Tim Finn are fine examples of songwriters who have done that, album after album, decade after decade. That’s where Josh Pyke is aiming, a long-term career that carries his early fans with him for the ride. And this fifth album is evidence that he has finally hit his stride.

Pyke broke through 10 years ago with his winning tale about growing up in Sydney’s Balmain, Middle of the Hill, also included on his 2007 debut album Memories and Dust. That album established him as a distinctive new voice, one in the same sphere as songwriters like Elliott Smith but with a warm kind of glow, a positive tone, that recurred in his lyrics and melodies.

For Pyke there have been some good songs since, but no album quite as convincing again until now. It is only speculation to say why it might have happened. Perhaps it’s confidence that he’s still around while so many artists who arrived at the same time have withered on the vine. Perhaps it is the studio set up in his backyard that allows him to tinker on songs to his heart’s content. Perhaps it’s his contented spot in life as the father of two young sons.

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Source: Supplied

But For All These Shrinking Hearts isn’t that different from his previous work — that warm voice and sunny melodies make him immediately recognisable — but the quality is there from track 1 to 11. There are enough sonic details there for the album to keep revealing new things: I’m still finding them and I’ve been listening to it for weeks.

That would certainly be attributable to having a studio close to home, the shimmering keyboard textures of Book of Revelations and There’s a Line, the colourful orchestral-pop arrangement of Be Your Boy.

Other tunes are comfortably familiar: Momentary Glow is the kind of song that would have shone on Memories and Dust, where he already sounded like a rather wise head on those young shoulders. Songlines, a co-write with Marcus Azon from Sydney band Jinja Safari, feels like a summer anthem in waiting.

It’s not easy to write a love song that doesn’t drown in sentimentality but Pyke can pull it off: Still Some Big Deal is another of Pyke’s philosophical observations (“I’ve seen you carry this weight/But I can still be an atlas for you/And that’s still some big deal’’).

Two of the album’s finest songs use orchestral instruments to striking ­effect. The strings on Late Night Driving are rich without being syrupy: they feel integral to the emotion of the song rather than just another colour.

Pick of this crop is Doing What You’re Told, with a lovely Beatles-y major to minor chord change and swelling brass and strings that adds to the ’60s atmosphere. It is one of those songs that feels like it has always been around, even first time through. It also begs the question, what does a fellow have to do around these parts to get some commercial radio play?

* Pyke plays the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers concert series, with Toowoomba Concert Orchestra, on September 20, and Caloundra Musical Festival, October 2

Noel Mengel

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ROCK

Albert Hammond Jr, Momentary Masters

(Infectious/Liberator) ***1/2

Solo sets from band members can go two ways. Uh-oh, not as good without the other guys. Or, the others are going to be mad these songs weren’t on the radar for their next album. This is the latter, from the exuberant opener Born Slippy, where Hammond mixes lurching guitars with the best pop hooks he’s played on for some time. His vocals are getting stronger too, or maybe it’s that he’s getting stuck into lyrics he really cares about. The setting is guitar-driven rock, sometimes quite detailed and intense: the multi-riffed wigout of Caught By My Shadow is almost prog-metal. But that’s balanced by tunes that would have been right at home in The Strokes’ set (see Losing Touch) and new-wave-ish rockers that sound like someone played the best Cars album on 45rpm (Razor’s’ Edge). When he takes on Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice he does so with taste. This is Hammond’s third solo album and his best. Whatever happens with The Strokes, his future as a song craftsman (a path already taken by his father, author of The Hollies’ The Air That I Breathe and his own hits) is assured.

Noel Mengel

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ROCK

Frank Turner, Positive Songs For Negative People

(Xtra Mile/Universal) ****

After the comparatively high-gloss production of 2013’s Tape Deck Heart, English folk-punk troubadour Turner and his backing band the Sleeping Souls have pared things back here. TDH was — by Turner’s own admission — a breakup album. On Get Better, Turner makes it clear this album is more about re-evaluation and moving forward (“I got me a future/I’m not stuck on the past/I got no new tricks/Yeah I’m up on bricks/But me, I’m a machine and I was built to last’’); and lead single The Next Storm drives the point home (“I don’t want to spend the whole of my life indoors/Lying low and waiting for the next storm’’). Elsewhere songs such as The Angel Islington, Mittens and Song For Josh — a touching tribute to a friend who took his own life — feature Turner at his quiet, contemplative best, while The Opening Act of Spring and Josephine are as musically upbeat as anything in Turner’s solo oeuvre. Fans of Turner won’t be disappointed with this back-to-basics album, a welcome addition to his discography.

Daniel Johnson

ROCK

Dead Letter Circus, Aesthesis

(UNFD) ***1/2

Brisbane’s prog-rock scene has undergone a renaissance in recent years, and two shining examples released new albums on the same day last week. We’ve already checked out Guards of May’s debut, now we turn our attention to the third effort from Dead Letter Circus. Like the former, this album has a star producer in Chris Lord-Alge, whose star-studded resume (Springsteen, U2, Stone Temple Pilots) makes him ideal for the stadium and radio-friendly yet indie rock. Singer Kim Benzie emotes on cue and relatively new addition Clint Vincent’s chiming guitar is a constant overarching presence. The big bang boom of a breaking heart was never louder than on first single In Plain Sight — “Maybe it’s time we say that it’s over” — while the soaring melodies of YANA give way to quieter acoustic guitar and muted vocals by the end. The penultimate Change the Concept picks up the pace. But the most emotionally intense track is Silence, a true tale of child sexual abuse kept secret for a lifetime: The song ends with a children’s choir incanting: “Liar! Liar!”

John O’Brien

The Jungle Giants

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ROCK

The Jungle Giants, Speakerzoid

(Amplifire) ****

Songwriter Van Dyke Parks once told me about the music he enjoyed, with the “wobbly” bits left on. That describes this Brisbane quartet’s second album, in which they deconstruct the indie guitar pop of their debut into a buzzing rhythmic monster somewhere out on the ledge with Beck’s Odelay and Eels’ Mark Everett at his wiggiest. Pick of the pack bunch is next summer’s anthem Devil’s Play, with its buzzsaw attack and general sonic wooziness. They’re not much interested in verse-chorus-other bit and four beats to the bar. Instead they want to be the life of the party. They allow those hip-shaking rhythms to range free, punctuated with left-field effects (see Lemon Myrtle), and when an acoustic guitar pops up it’s in a Latin time signature (Mexico). They use spoken word (not rap) as a way of shaking up songs like Every Kind of Way and Not Bad, and while their melodic pop instinct is intact (try Creepy Cool and see if you can get it out of your head) they’ve made a real breakthrough here. Wobbly bits everywhere you look.

Noel Mengel

The Inner West Misses You by Danny Yau

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ROCK

Danny Yau, Think We’ll Live Here Forever

(Independent) ***1/2

Place is big with Danny Yau, formerly guitarist with bands including Lazy Susan and The Aerial Maps, also experts in telling local stories in song. Sydney’s bustling inner west provides the backdrop to many of the songs on this debut solo set. The Night Bus Home is a Kinks-type treat that observes all the landmarks seen from the ride home after a gig. Courtney’s Moving to Newtown (To Start A Band) might be the first song ever written on the subject, despite the fact people have been doing it for 50 years. For others adulthood and responsibility, and the understandable desire to escape rising damp, forces a move, leading to wistful pop treats like The Inner West Misses You. Yau might be a dad these days too but he’s not going anywhere with such a rich vein of stories for his well-crafted tales of the street, lost friends and all the girlfriends who came before (as per 12 Girls). Still, you get the feeling it wouldn’t matter if home was Penrith or Watson’s Bay, Yau would find plenty to write about. There are always books and movies for a start (see Unafraid of the Dark).

Noel Mengel

Genevieve Lacey & James Crabb

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CLASSICAL

Genevieve Lacey & James Crabb, Heard This and Thought of You

(ABC Classics) ****1/2

Take this CD slowly, gently. It is a sensitive meeting of musical minds in music from composers across several centuries framed by intriguing love letters in a complementary, stylish booklet. Printed words unite with music as elements of nature blending in a garden of sensuous delights. A vibrant utterance from Genevieve Lacey’s recorder settles into the nest of James Crabb’s classical accordion textures in two Recercada movements from Diego Ortiz (c. 1510-1570). The expert ease of this virtuosic duo highlights contrasting moods in a setting of A Division upon a Ground from Playford’s Division Violin, by John Banister (1630-1679), Where is Everybody? a 2015 creation by Andrea Keller and a suite from Matthew Locke (c. 1521-1577), Shadow Box by contemporary Australian composer Damian Barbeler. Selections from J. S. Bach, Palestrina, Sally Beamish, whose plaintive Lament is haunting and beautiful, and inimitable vitality in Scottish folk melodies complete this Toby Chadd production masterpiece.

Patricia Kelly

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