Blood Red Shoes – Water EP
Laura-Mary and Steven muddy the waters with a harder, fuzzed-out sound on their latest EP, an emphatic nod to hard rock and garage rock styles. The inherent exuberance and defiance found on their earlier output is bogged down on Water by a sludgy sonic brew where the melodies and guitar hooks aren’t particularly memorable. The duo, however, still whip up a stormy sturm und drang on opener “Red River”. The drumbeats bludgeon, the rhythm is quick, and the agitated riffs are brief and fuzzed up. Laura-Mary takes over the main vocal line on the short-phrase verses, with Steven coming in for support on the chanting choruses. This stab at straight-up hard rock, with its primitive song structure and sound, suit the pair, but the vocals lack the ferocious bite expected with this type of music.
Steven takes to the fore on “Black Distractions”, sing-talking on extremely short verses that immediately move into exciting choruses with Steven singing in a sinuous tone “When you close your eyes I’ll be there to / summon the devil inside of you.” Growling and crunching guitars are surrounded by a pushy drumbeat, cymbal clang, and Laura-Mary’s sporadic vocal accompaniment. “Idle Hands” delves deeper into the turbid mire with bashed drums, smashed cymbals, and Steven sing-talking in a darker, lower tone to “Just stare in the water / Reflection so cruel” against Laura-Mary’s lighter ooze – Oops! – “Ooohs”. An extended moment of intense guitar frisson and cymbal-shower creates a compelling catharsis.
The Cannanes – Small Batch EP
Frances Gibson and Stephen O’Neil formed The Cannanes in Sydney 29 years ago, running through an ever-revolving line-up and coming into prominence on the indie music scene in the 1990s with other Australian bands like Hydroplane, The Cat’s Miaow, and Huon. Anyone who was into indie music at that time has probably heard of The Cannanes, but many may not have actually *heard* the band. Small Batch, the duo’s first official release in 11 years, is as good an intro as any, since Frances and Stephen’s MO seems to be the same now as it was in the 1990s, with the added bonus now of Frances singing on all the songs.
The 6 songs on Small Batch stay true to the EP’s title and aren’t earth-shaking in the least, but they do create tiny tremors of stylistic recognition and sonic reassurance. In consummate indie fashion, Frances and Stephen create casual, lo-fi songs woven through with Frances’s light, unassuming, sing-talking vocals. That isn’t to say the songs are simple; there is much detail to the aural fabric, whether in the form of synths, horns, keyboards, or guitars.
“Bumper” shimmies with an upbeat rhythm that incorporates tambourine shake, a touch of horns, drum machine feel, and unfortunately a dated synth organ sound. On “Crawler” a semi-despondent Frances slowly sing-talks that “I won’t say it again / There’s no good reason why we shouldn’t end.” She’s accompanied by laconic guitar strum that deepens with the addition of a soft bed of horns and synth buzz.
A darker bass line winds around “Molecule” and is disrupted by rattling noises and spoken vocals by Frances that recall songs off Ladytron’s debut album. The standout “Tiny Compartment” beguiles with its blend of Ladytron and Hooverphonic elements (Ah, but who influenced who? The Cannanes existed well before both those bands…) of airy atmosphere, percolating electronics, strummed guitar, and Frances’s cool-tone vocals as she posits “Five hundred feet up / you’re whirling around / It’s your luxury apartment.”
A Small Batch Remixes EP is expected in April, with a big batch…errr, full-length album titled Howling at All Hours scheduled for release sometime this year on Chapter Records.
SPC ECO – Push EP
Dean Garcia is a master of the ‘art of noise’; that is, taking noisy sonics like low-end gear grind and busy electronic blips and making them into aurally palatable textures that blend with the flow of a song so as not to be disruptive or irritating on the ears. Dean achieved this as part of Curve with Toni Halliday on vocals and he maintains this style as SPC ECO (pronounced ‘space echo’) with daughter Rose Berlin on vocals.
The feeling of floating in an expansive, yet contemplative dreamworld is the hallmark of each song, which is further imbued with Rose’s benevolently breathy vocals that move from blissful to mildly perturbed in tone. No inch of aural space goes to waste in Dean’s world, as light washes contrast with darker undercurrents. The Push EP is the latest in an extended run of self-released EPs and albums from the duo.
The title song is shaped by a softly reverberating pulse, moving along at a slow lope while a deeper, crisp, clacking beat and beeping electronics are used as percussion. Rose’s echoed vocals are airy at the start as she smoothly floats through verses that come off more like choruses in their melodicism. Her vocals are half-buried in the mix, with the chorus sections the inverse of the verses, containing more (indiscernible) lyrics than on said verses. Rose sings in time to the pulsating march of the song, shedding her usual innocent, angelic tone as she sighs “Push…until you get it on…” The vocal effect, however, is that of a playful schoolgirl instead of a dangerous seductress. Dean’s former collaborator, Toni Halliday, is needed to give the lyrics an edge of sexy menace.
Remixes tend to tread tricky territory, where most are unnecessary additions to an artist’s canon. What is the purpose of a remix anyway? Is it to showcase the artist in a different light (Usually, for better or worse.), rework a song into a version that surpasses the original (This is rare.), or promote the remixer (Always.)? Remixes aren’t usually too daring or daft, but end up as ‘dancefloor remix repetition’ that does nothing for either artist except push them in the clubs. “Push (Lady Barcelona Remix)” ups the dance remix quotient, but is varied enough to retain interest. The wordiness of the original song is removed and replaced by kinetic rhythms, quirky electronic squiggles, a hint of starry sprinkle that recalls “Lucky Star” by Madonna, and the swirled word ‘push’ being repeated a whole lot.
The last 2 songs on the EP are low-key, slowly paced, and need a keenly- tuned ear to pick up the nuances. “Talk Him Down” emits a nocturnal aura with Rose’s pensive vocals elongating over a soft, steady shuffle of drums and little blue curls of guitar. “Escape From Earth” is deceiving because it’s not on a stratospheric trajectory like the song title suggests. It’s an almost-instrumental of measured, globular drum beat, bright, extended sonics, and Rose’s wordless vocals sustained over long intervals of time, creating an ambient atmosphere.