Some bands break the mould. They may sound like they’re obeying the rules but in subtle ways they’re careening all over the road. Today’s artists tweak the formulas, game the genres, and do their own thing. All in all, a very good thing.
Forget Fortitude Valley, inner suburb of Brisbane, Australia. Now Fortitude Valley says pop-punk goodness in the form of the Durham UK band’s dynamic self-titled debut album. Band leader Laura Kovic may be channeling a bit of her Ozzie roots (Fortitude Valley is her home town) but the record is more than that, vibing a bit of Weezer, The Beths, even Juliana Hatfield’s smooth pop vocal stylings here and there. You can hear a whole lot of those influences on the dissonant but still hooky opening cut, “Baby, I’m Afraid.” I can’t decide what I like better here, the addictive melody-rich lead guitar work that threads through tracks like “It’s the Hope That Kills You” and “All Hail the Great Destroyer” or the light endearing vocals defining cuts like “What You Wanted” and “I Won’t Survive.” Then there’s songs like “The Right Thing (Part I)” and “Forget About Me” that launch from a punky space but can’t keep their innate poppiness from coming to the surface. In the end, it’s “Wreck” that’s the obvious should-be hit single material with its stunning lead guitar and very Primitives vocal work. The edgy guitar instrumental break just perfectly offsets the song’s winning hooks. On the whole, Fortitude Valley is a highly listenable long-player whether you put it on random or just let it play through.
What is Chicago band Gosh Diggity’s sound anyway? Lofi electronic? Kitchen techno? Bedroom pop? My gut says something like ‘Casio-drenched poprock’ would be a good label – that distinctive keyboard sound is layered in everywhere on their new album Runaway Rocketboy and it is just so cool. Opening cut “Wings” is a representative sample of what this band does: deft keyboard interplay, understated but alluring vocals, and a marquis instrumental focal point, in this case the addictive MGMT keyboard lead line. But then, surprise surprise, the very next tune “Rad Summer” breaks out some manic rhythm guitar, later swamped (of course) by a swirl of hooky keyboards. “Patch 1.0” even works in some classic 1980s video game keyboard sound effects. Yet this record is not just an homage to retro keyboard motifs, there’s some pretty clever music hiding behind the spare sonic landscape. Check out the Kenny Burrell jazzy guitar forms framing “Burnett’s and Diet Coke” or the Everything But the Girl sophistico-pop vibe on “True Crime.” And this is a band that knows how to throw in a head-turning instrumental break, like the 1980s video-game keyboard-freakout on “Lettering” or just the delicate bells adorning “A.B.B.” A needle-drop skate across this record will tell you Gosh Diggity probably hang with some pretty wild musical company on their own time. But with Runaway Rocketboy they’ve got a record that is eccentric, accessible and just plain fun.
Russell Edling’s Cherry was a going concern with a few EPs and a long-player on the musical resume. But too many bands with the Cherry moniker led to a rebrand this time out and – voila! – Cherry has become Golden Apples on the new LP Shadowland. The sound pretty much remains the same, a slow-burn, almost-Americana-at-times indie rock and roll. But what appeals to me here is Edling’s ability to subtly bury sweet melodic hooks in an otherwise indie rock musical landscape. You can hear it in the sweet dirge-like opener, “Theme from Shadowland,” though in so many ways that’s a misdirection. The next track “Garbage” is more in tune with the thrust of the record, a bit more discordant rock and roll with a Kevin Devine kind of acoustic-meets-electric drive. The album features a few atmospheric sketches like “Reggie” or “Jack” but on the whole delivers a raft of tunes – “Forever Hollow,” “Banana,” “Tamara Lee” – that start with a bit of discord but eventually turn more luminescent, adding harmony vocals and other melodic adornments. “Futureperfect” sounds like a single to me with its rippling, hypnotic lead guitar work maintaining the song’s tension, only to resolve in the hooky chorus. Other songs like “Fun II” and “Wildflowers” are a broody mix, cutting dark musical textures with lighter melodic currents. The overall effect reminds me of Toronto’s Hayden at his melodic moodiest.
Back where the Mersey river flows Kirby’s West Coast Music Club bring together their recent drip released singles and a wide variety of new material on a just-released LP, Take a Deep Breath. Talk about variety! Sometimes the band just rocks out, like on “Human Vulture” and “Girl.” The rocking out gains considerable subtlety on cuts like “Long Goodbye,” which crashes in like the Beatles’ “Rain” but quickly shifts to a more psychedelic Bryds groove. The album’s mellower material accents the poppier side of the band’s songwriting, apparent on the acoustic guitar-based “Life of Lies” or bouncy “Jenny’s Still Got (What it Takes).” Love the subtle Rolling Stones flourishes on the latter. Then “The Jokes on You” rides a driving lead guitar line that anchors the tune while “Thinkin’” has an almost Moody Blues bit of guitar ring to it. Or check out how “Whatever It Takes” puts us into solidly 1970s jangle-folk rock territory. But possibly my fave here is the should-be hit single “Me and a Friend” with its almost Billy Bragg-ish, brash-yet-melodic lead-guitar hooks and endearing vocal intimacy. From the first guitar notes it radiates ‘classic’. Take a Deep Breath is truth in advertizing, a truly breathtaking affair.
Colour choices can be so subjective. Which crayon is the right one? Well, at least the music’s sorted. Post artwork provided by Swizzle Gallery’s Rob Elliott.