Short Takes on 2 Albums and 2 EPs

Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy - You Are Everything

Steve Kilbey & Martin Kennedy – You Are Everything

 Steve Kilbey & Martin KennedyYou Are Everything

Call it music and words; call it magic.  Steve Kilbey and Martin Kennedy’s third and final album together is everything their collaboration stands for.  The alchemy that exists between the two artists is palpable, and where separately each is mighty (re)fine(d), when combined, their sonic union is sublime.

You Are Everything comes out on June 11th in the U.S. and its overall mood is dreamy, reflective, and melancholic.  Through transporting soundscapes of  bright, expansive synths, strummed acoustic guitar, reverb guitar, and strings and piano notes, Steve sing-talks contemplatively, at times emotionally intimate and at others stoically.  His vocals are occasionally manipulated or doubled and backed by a guest female vocalist.  Songs alternate between lush, rarified air tracks (“Lorelei” is a perfect example of this.) and more stripped down, subdued numbers.

Opener “I Wouldn’t Know” whisks by on a brisk beat, wavering guitar accents, alluring female vocals, and Steve’s enigmatic intonation.  The languorously swaying “I Find” bridges the gap between laid-back island vibes and Twin Peaks-like guitar noir.  Meditative “Brother Moon Sister Sun” builds slowly with acoustic guitar strum, pulled strings, and Steve’s hushed vocals.  “Can’t Get Free” takes a turn on the dancefloor with a darker, sleek pace and the sing-along adage “You can’t get free / if you don’t let go.”

“I Wouldn’t Know”:

Lost Animal - Ex Tropical

Lost Animal – Ex Tropical

 Lost AnimalEx Tropical 

Ex Tropical has been out in Australia since 2011 and only recently made its way to U.S. shores via Hardly Art.  Jarrod Quarrell creates his own sonic niche by combining laid-back island rhythms with synth notes, unusual instruments like marimba, his astringent, rueful to hopeful vocals, and lyrics that focus on breakups and heartbreak.  The island influence comes from Jarrod’s upbringing in Papua New Guinea as a child and it adds a refreshing spin to the singer-songwriter style.

Jarrod’s expressive vocal delivery, however, is the main hook that lures listeners in.  His halting phrasing, where he sways through and then delays the release of his words recalls the enunciation of artists like Bob Dylan and The Church’s Steve Kilbey (but with The Church’s Marty Willson-Piper’s sharper, nasal tone).  First single “Say No To Thugs” features Jarrod trying to rekindle a burnt out relationship, pleading “Can you stand by me / for just a little bit longer?”  “Don’t Litter” is a subtly sinister slice of cocktail hour trip-hop noir set in a space capsule (Huh?).  Another highlight, “Lose the Baby”, breezes by with Jarrod sing-talking some rough lyrics (“I’m gonna sharpen up my tongue / and really cut you up.” in an achingly sidling tone.

“Lose the Baby”:

Bloody Knives - Death EP

Bloody Knives – Death EP

 Bloody KnivesDeath EP

Contrary to its violent name, the Austin, TX band doesn’t so much slash as astral thrash with an extreme scintillation built up from a constant barrage of cymbal crash ‘n’ burn, sustained, high pitched synth lines, NIN-like grimy electo undercurrents, and a dreamy coagulation of vaguely melancholic vocals and elongated sighs from frontman Preston Maddox.  This third EP is comprised of 6 consistent-in-tone tracks and is only available on 7” vinyl from Saint Marie Records.

Some of the incorporated sonic elements are too referentially recognizable, like the dated, psychedelic organ notes on “Not Alone” and “Kill You All”, but when Bloody Knives hit it right, like on “Peeling Away the Skin”, the listener will get a spine-shivering thrill.  The off-putting song titles and video imagery paint a gruesome picture, but thankfully the sound doesn’t follow suit.

“Peeling Away the Skin”:

Ka Mate Ka Ora - Violence EP

Ka Mate Ka Ora – Violence EP

 Ka Mate Ka OraViolence EP

The Italian band, which appropriated its name from the New Zealand chant of “’Tis death!  ‘Tis life!”, knows its way around a shoegazer-inspired guitar riff at times.  The self-described “slow-core-shogaze” sound of the trio (Stefano on vocals, guitar, and piano, Carlo on bass and backing vocals, and Alberto on drums) shines through in the tempest-tossed atmosphere of EP opener “Flowers”.  The scouring guitar swirl and cymbal tap recalls My Bloody Valentine and forms a near-constant sonic upheaval.   The ending sing-song break of exclamatory “la-la-las”, however, mars the looming propulsion.

Next track “We’re Finally On Our Own”, unfortunately, is not as transporting as “Flowers” and lead singer Stefano’s vocals veer into a sneering, Liam Gallagher-like tone (Well, Oasis fans will rejoice at that.). The last two songs tread more lightly, vocally and sonically.  “Birdy” stays grounded with a snare drum marching beat, finger-picked reverb guitar, and Stefano singing in a softer tone.  On “Last Words”, slices of guitar growl with feedback, sometimes becoming more expressive than Stefano’s vocals.