The name of this band isn’t Talking Heads

July 10, 2015 5:23 pm 13 comments Views: 2
Stress of Leisure make extraordinary observations of ordinary things.

The Stress of Leisure make extraordinary observations of ordinary things.
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THIS week’s album reviews from The Courier-Mail (ratings out of five stars):

ROCK

The Stress of Leisure, Achievement

(Tsol Recording Company) ****1/2

One of my favourite memories from a live show: Talking Heads at Brisbane’s Festival Hall in 1979, around the time of the release of Fear of Music. As they walked on, David Byrne stared out into the crowd and we stared back. The look on his face could have been wonder, fear, or confusion. It seemed to say, “How did I get here? And how did you get there?’’

That was an important part of music in those post-punk years, where even the choice of music you liked seemed to make such a strong statement. It was there in the lyrics of Talking Heads and other bands of around that time, from Gang of Four to Magazine.

This was not about love, heartbreak or rock ’n’ roll fantasies. The lyrics observed everyday objects and experiences and made you question everything: what you liked, why you liked it, what you hated, who you voted for and the kind of life you chose to lead. You didn’t have answers but you did question.

This music, while based on strong songwriting foundations, thrived on dissonance, musical and emotional.

I have just heard that thing again in Brisbane band The Stress of Leisure’s dazzlingly assured third album. The lyrics often look at everyday things and experiences and the four-piece group moulds them into music that is exhilarating and danceable.

The result is funky and poppy and razor sharp and, in another age, when music was a more desirable commodity, I can’t imagine why it would not have been snapped up by a major label to reach a global audience.

As it is, The Stress of Leisure have made a record that will stand the test of time, similar to some of the work from other bands I have mentioned.

Achievement by The Stress Of Leisure

They will most frequently be compared with Talking Heads. Ian Powne has a Byrne-ish yelp in his voice, there is a quirky edge to them that owes something to post-punk new wave but which we’ve heard in bands from Pere Ubu to Devo, Television, B-52s, Pavement and Franz Ferdinand.

In this electro-flavoured climate The Stress of Leisure stand out like a beacon — great songs, great choruses, great guitars, whip-smart.

No Idea is the New Idea is an exciting introduction to the band and the album. It sports a propulsive bass line that wanders all over the fretboard, a slightly off-kilter guitar, an inquisitive synthesiser, a “ch-ch ch-ch ch-ch ch-ch’’ vocal hook. Dave Graney (one of the band’s fans) would be proud of those lyrics.

Girl on a Lilo is even better; an inexorable bed of bass, drums and synthesiser with acute angles from the electric guitar as Powne pleads: “Give me that thing quick, to save my brain!’’

Aim High/Get High juxtaposes robot-gone-rogue rhythm with the undeniable observation that “CCTV footage of a man jogging is in fact a man jogging’’, one of numerous laugh-out-loud moments.

Brain Jam has a funky rhythm and appears to capture a rare collision between melodica and wah wah guitar.

Professional Woman continues the new-wave disco groove (is that a cowbell?); Sylvia Plath is frantic (“Out of these questions/How to relax/Afraid of these books/Afraid of the facts’’).

You won’t find a weak track here. Not just a classic Brisbane record but one of the best I have heard this year.

Noel Mengel

ROCK

The Vaccines, English Graffiti

(Columbia) ***

English rockers The Vaccines are heading for Australia, joining the line-up this month at Byron Bay’s Splendour in the Grass and returning to tour with Mumford & Sons in November. By wheels-down time, much of English Graffiti will be sounding super slick following European shows to support the release of their third album. Slick is the word. The West Londoners have eschewed the snarling, disaffected rock of their debut and 2012’s Come of Age. Vocalist Justin Young is almost unrecognisable, dropping his lackadaisical delivery for a warm tenor that shows he really does care. Producer Dave Fridmann has pulled the band from their “too cool for school” slumber as has co-producer Cole M Greif-Neill. At first it’s a confronting shift in sound but rewards do come in the shape of the booming Dream Lover, Blur-esque finesse of (All Afternoon) In Love and the souled-up Strokes-lite of Minimal Affection. But it’s the crooning Maybe I Could Hold You and power-pop of Give Me A Sign that are festival anthems in the making.

Matt Connors

ROCK

Wire, Wire

(Popfrenzy) ***1/2

Wire’s 1977 album Pink Flag is one of the lasting classics to emerge in the punk years, and their first three albums hold up as well as anything from that period. Wire are still operating, still writing songs about alienation from the modern world, still have an ear for a sharp melody, although suitably for men of their vintage their music doesn’t have the acerbic edge of their youth. They can even get away with a song called Blogging, even though it might send your children (or grandchildren) into a rage. With bands of this type I always ask, would I think this was good if it dropped from a new band? You bet. Those clean lines and sharp angles are still there although in softer focus on songs like Shifting, where Colin Newman’s delicious wordplay matches the sonorous glide of the music. The songs are longer now than those early sub-two-minute diamonds from the ‘70s, although Joust & Jostle is short and sharp while the dreamy Burning Bridges, with a cascading riff Jeff Lynne would have loved, shows their pop instincts are undimmed.

Noel Mengel

CLASSICAL

Dvorak, Complete Symphonies

(Warner Classics) *****

To play one symphony by a composer who wrote nine is like reading one chapter of a book and never knowing how it ends, so this seven-disc set of nine symphonies, Legends and Slavonic Dances by Bohemian composer Antonin Dvorak is the complete “book’’, a collection that allows a full appreciation of his piquant symphonic style from start (in 1865) to end (1893). Uruguay-born conductor/composer Jose Serebrier directs Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in this exhilarating musical journey. He captures the composer’s glowing spirit inhabiting the romantic overtones of Symphony No 1 in C minor: The Bells of Zlonice, the emotional powers of Symphony Two in B flat major and the pulsing drive of the third. Dvorak returns to his Bohemian roots in his fourth ahead of the final five symphonies that reach a grand climax in the New World Symphony No 9 where Bohemian melodies morph into the familiar musical idioms inspired by his experiences in America. It closes an experience to savour.

Patricia Kelly

Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats

COUNTRY

Various Artists, Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City

(Sony) ****

Kenny Buttrey, Norbert Putnam, Charlie McCoy, Jerry Reed, Ben Keith. If you’re the kind who reads the back of the record cover, you know who they are, the session players, the Nashville Cats, who played on hits beyond number. This two-CD set explains the cross-pollination between rock and Nashville: Dylan’s friendship with Johnny Cash led him there, followed by everyone from The Beau Brummels to Country Joe McDonald, The Byrds and Neil Young. There is a sweet balance between big names (Dylan’s Absolutely Sweet Marie, Leonard Cohen’s Bird On a Wire, Ringo’s Beaucoups of Blues) and harder-to-find treats like Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans and John Hartford’s Gentle on My Mind, the writers performing songs soon to be hits for others. You probably didn’t realise some of these had the Nashville stamp, like Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer and George Harrison’s Behind That Locked Door. Also included: The Monkees’ Some of Shelly’s Blues and Linda Ronstadt’s Silver Wings. That’s your next car trip sorted.

Noel Mengel

ROCK

Richard Thompson, Still

(Proper Records) ****

Here the folk-rock legend heads for Chicago to record with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. As a producer, Tweedy has a gentle touch (see Mavis Staples’s recent work) and the sound here is all Thompson, with lashings of his crisp, clean electric guitar work and few production flourishes. Opener She Never Could Resist a Winding Road is the kind of devastatingly emotional tune that could have graced Thompson’s best work with then-wife Linda Thompson; Josephine adds another to his bulging bag of meditations on ill-starred lovers; Where’s Your Heart? cuts like a scythe and No Peace No End rocks with fevered intensity. Some might see the closing Guitar Heroes as an indulgence: a stop-start workout that finds Thompson playing in the style of Django Reinhardt, Les Paul and Chuck Berry. But since most Thompson fans agree he is one of the finest players on the planet, they won’t demur. He’s writing and playing as well as ever (and his career started as teenager in Fairport Convention in 1967). Here’s hoping he finds his way back here soon.

Noel Mengel

ROCK

Born Lion, Final Words

(Four/Four) ****

Sydney four-piece Born Lion have been going from strength to strength since forming in 2012. They won a slot on the main stage at Sydney’s Soundwave festival in 2013, were one of the highlights at Brisbane’s Bigsound music conference the same year and have since opened for the likes of The Bronx and Karnivool. The band’s musical influences aren’t too hard to pick, with opener Break the Curse taking cues from Fugazi and The Hives and providing a good indication of what’s to follow. Sucker For Punishment is one of the most visceral songs on the album and the lo-fi, drum-free Violent Soul reveals the band in a slightly mellower light. Tracks such as Too Cool to Party give the lads a chance to showcase their acerbic wit. D For Danger and Good Times Jimmy, which have both received considerable airplay, are further highlights, as is Rest in Pieces, but there isn’t a weak link among these 11 tracks. If the quality of this debut full-length is any indication, you can expect to be hearing more about Born Lion sooner rather than later.

Daniel Johnson

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