Archive for the ‘Ought’ Category

Matthew Stoff’s Top 10 Albums of 2015

Saturday, December 19th, 2015

Regular LIFE IS NOISE contributor Matthew Stoff shares 10 of his favourite releases from the year that was.

Ten albums seems like way too few for a year as packed with great releases as 2015. Because of that, I wanted to talk about the albums that I keep coming back to, rather than trying to come up with a more definitive list of albums of the year. You might not think of these as the best releases of 2015, but they’re the ones that spoke to me the most. With that in mind, here’s my end of year list:

1. Algiers – Algiers
Cold wave, Marxism, and soul might seem like a funny combination, but after Algiers self-titled album I can’t imagine what my life would be without it. This is one of most innovative albums of the decade, and its hard-hitting, courageous, and challenging political commentary is the icing on the cake.

2. Gold Class – It’s You
I can’t get enough of Gold Class. They’re smart, passionate, and totally authentic. Their live show is amazing too. Gold Class are indisputably the best traditional-sounding post-punk band in Australia at the moment. Maybe even in the world.

3. Sleater-Kinney – No Cities To Love
Sleater-Kinney’s revival album could have been a lot of things. It could have been out of touch, or lacking energy, or just a simple rehash of their old material. What it was, was nothing less than a masterpiece. It feels as though they’d never left at all.

4. Ought – Sun Coming Down
Sun Coming Down is a weird album. It’s post-punk, but it isn’t really post-punk, with atypical vocals, rambling song structures, and pop-but-not-really-pop-at-all melodies. A singular experience.

5. Heat Dust – Heat Dust
Heat Dust play traditional post-punk really hard and really fast, and I liked this album a lot more than the similarly inspired recent release from Protomartyr. Your results might vary. They’re both incredible, high-octane albums, even if this is the one that made my final list.

6. Ceremony – The L-Shaped Man
Some people might see this album as a contentious choice. It’s pretty generic, and looking at reviews after the fact, it feels like mine is one of the only ones that presents the album in a positive light. But nostalgia is powerful thing, and my nostalgia for the indie pop-infused post-punk revival of the early 2000s is very strong indeed. The mix of that and Ceremony’s lingering hardcore influences gives this album a novel sound that keeps me coming back for more.

7. Deafcult – Deafcult
As far as dream pop goes, these guys are the reigning kings. Dense, melodic shoegaze with great production, played at ear-shattering volume from a Brisbane band. What’s not to love?

8. Mourn – Mourn
Everything about this band is so unlikely. Their place of origin, their age, their musical inspirations: everything that makes them who they are. But that’s why this release is so important. It’s got a youthful sound to it. A sense that anything is possible. And it largely succeeds at all things it’s set out to do. A truly inspiring album.

9. JuliaWhy? – Wheel
I reviewed this album once for 4ZZZ and never mentioned it again, probably because it falls between the lines of various genres, and was hard to compare with anything I wrote about for LIFE IS NOISE this year. But I wanted to mention it here, because it’s a fantastic album, combining high energy delivery with lo-fi production, and subtle feminist politics. My choice for sleeper hit album of the year.

10. Metz – Metz II
Sure, it’s a little shallow and not too different from the first Metz album, yet the brutal but fantastically melodic noise rock of Metz still brings a smile to my face whenever I hear it, and that’s enough for me.

Ought — Sun Coming Down

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

Ought’s second album Sun Coming Down is a deeply nihilistic release, but more in the way that Nietzsche talked about it his books than the way it’s often used by music critics to describe a sense of hopelessness or existential dread. Ought are aware that life lacks an accessible meaning, and instead of simply being sad about it, they want to use it as an excuse to smash down or ignore the dominant hierarchies, most of which are based upon some pretty shaky rational foundations. They sum it up in the final track, the cynically titled “Never Better”, where pseudo-optimistic lyrics like: “This is the high watermark of civilization,” are at odds with the violent energy and apocalyptic sound of the guitars. The mood is one of apathy and insanity, of a world that’s coming to an end. But the song itself is entirely different, strong in its convictions. And when taken as a part of the world that it describes, this satirical, progressive track can be seen as a little self-defeating, especially when it’s placed within the context of a year with a number of other innovative, high quality musical releases produced by other bands who, like Ought, are neither apathetic, nor willing to give in to despair. Ought describe the present state of things to turn against it, using it as motivation to create a better world. This focus is reflected by their music, which doesn’t really fit the mould of any pre-existing genre category.

Ought’s sound can be compared with Suicide for its rambling, narrative lyrics, Television for its vocals and guitars, even Talking Heads for its satirical, observational wit, but they don’t sound like any of those artists. “Men for Miles” bears a stylistic similarity to that energetic, semi-traditional post-punk of Australians like Soviet X-Ray Record Club or Gold Class, but the chorus is weirdly upbeat, and what semblance there is of structure emerges slowly, almost randomly along its 5 minute run time. “Passionate Turn” could almost be a pop song, with its bright guitars and catchy, rising choruses, but its melodies are atonal and repetitive and its vocals strange and alienating, making it difficult to imagine the song being satisfying to any kind of mainstream audience. The closest Ought get to a traditional structure is in the very long single track “Beautiful Blue Sky”, a mix of hypnotic repetition, ringing guitar tones, and introspective lyrics bearing close resemblance to “Once in A Lifetime” by Talking Heads. But it’s almost the singular example of a track that sounds like anything we’ve heard before. It doesn’t quite fit the mantle of post-punk, it’s too bleak for new wave, and too psychedelic for you to really call it punk.

In fact, the only thing it sounds like is Ought’s debut album, More Than Any Other Day. Sure, the sound is better, the structure of the songs is more precise, and there are some refreshing bursts of digital noise and lo-fi synths on “The Combo” and “On The Line”, providing evidence that the band are looking beyond their guitars to build a bigger version of their sound. But conceptually, the albums are the same. Ought are leaving post-punk altogether, assuming they were ever there to begin with, and moving out onto a separate genre that’s related to, but fundamentally different from, the ones that came before. They are a force unto themselves, a sound without a name, and while spiritual connections might be made with the soul-infused agitprop of Algiers, they don’t sound much like those bands either. But even if it doesn’t have a name yet, the sound Ought are making here is incredibly engaging, and they do it even better than they did on their debut. Who says there’s nothing new under the sun?

Sun Coming Down is out now through Constellation Records.

Noiseweek: My Disco, Ought, Heat Dust, Black Wing

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

The sights, sounds and words of the week in noise.


Hit Charade: Meet the bald Norwegians and other unknowns who actually create the songs that top the charts | The Atlantic

“Millions of Swifties and KatyCats—as well as Beliebers, Barbz, and Selenators, and the Rihanna Navy—would be stunned by the revelation that a handful of people, a crazily high percentage of them middle-aged Scandinavian men, write most of America’s pop hits. It is an open yet closely guarded secret, protected jealously by the labels and the performers themselves, whose identities are as carefully constructed as their songs and dances. The illusion of creative control is maintained by the fig leaf of a songwriting credit. The performer’s name will often appear in the list of songwriters, even if his or her contribution is negligible. (There’s a saying for this in the music industry: “Change a word, get a third.”) But almost no pop celebrities write their own hits. Too much is on the line for that, and being a global celebrity is a full-time job. It would be like Will Smith writing the next Independence Day.”

The slow death of music venues in cities | The Guardian

““It often starts from a relatively benign decision. The Troubadour in London is up for sale because they had a noise complaint related to their use of the garden. Kensington and Chelsea borough said they couldn’t use it after 9pm, their drink turnover went down substantially, and now there’s no guarantee it’ll be a venue in future. Someone wants to build next to the Fleece in Bristol,” he continues. “Bristol city council have fought hard for them, but they don’t have any support in law and flats are going to be built 20 metres from the main stage. In the next couple of years there will be noise complaints that will cost the Fleece £12,000 to £15,000 to handle, and it’s not making that in profit. The Point in Cardiff: they installed £68,000 worth of acoustic baffling to stop the complaints from a new development, and servicing the loan put them out of business. These little things just build up.””


My Disco — 1991

The second single from My Disco’s fourth album is the opposite of what a single is supposed to sound like. 1991 sees the trio exploring the same sparse sonic territory hinted at on Severe’s first single, King Sound, but here, that aesthetic is taken to its extreme. While Little Joy was all sunny, mid-ranged guitars, 1991 suggests Severe is ritual music — ominous, reflective and reverent, made not just to be heard but felt in the flesh. I can’t wait to see this new material live. Severe is out through Temporary Residence on October 30.

Heat Dust — I Warm My Hands

I’m putting it out there: The Flenser is the best record label in the world right now. No one else is putting out such a diverse swathe of exciting music, from extreme black metal to conceptual doomgaze to genre-bending electronica. Take a look at that stellar roster: King Woman, Black Wing, Planning for Burial, Sannhet, Kayo Dot and Wreck and Reference. Heat Dust are one of the more conventional additions to the venerable collective, but by the sounds of the brooding, cerebral post-punk on I Warm My Hands, they’re an ideal fit for such quality company. Heat Dust is out


Black Wing — Luther

This one’s all kinds of fucked up. Agent Cooper and Laura Palmer become pawns for a Windows Media Player visualisation filtered through a conspiracy theorist’s fever dream in the clip for the opening track of Black Wing Is Doomed. There’s nothing more to say about this one.

Ought — Sun Coming Down

The title track from Ought’s second full-length album is all jarring rhythms and discordant guitars, so it’s fitting the video match that mood with narrative dissonance and uncomfortable lightning cuts. Three girls ride bikes on suburban streets, shooting heavy looks over icecream and milkshake breaks. Shattered plates and glass flash in time with the beat. It’s uncomfortable and unknowable yet somehow welcoming, much like everything we’ve heard from Ought so far. Sun Coming Down is out now through Constellation Records.

Noiseweek: Nardwuar, Blank Realm, Ought, Gold Class & Minor Victories

Friday, July 31st, 2015

The sights, sounds and words of the week in noise.


33 1/3 have announced the longlist of pitches from their latest callout. Bloomsbury received a whopping 605 submissions for its call for submission which closed earlier this week. Included in the list were 8 pitches for for Tori Amos’ Boys for Pele, 6 for Weezer’s Pinkerton and 4 for Guns ‘N’ Roses Appetite of Destruction. There’s a fine selection of gems and modern classic’s in the list — Coil’s Scatology and Gold is the Metal (With the Broadest Shoulders), Failure’s Fantastic Planet, two submissions for Fugazi’s In on the Kill Taker, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists… and The Cure’s Disintegration amongst the highlights. You can check out the full list here. Series editor Ally-Jane Grossan says she plans to compile a shortlist of 100 titles within two months before making the final selection of titles by the end of November. Check out the full long list here.


30 Years Of Eclectic, Eccentric Interviews: Nardwuar On Nirvana, Snoop Dogg, Blur And More | NME

“Time and time again people don’t take Nardwuar seriously — they either wish to end the interview or simply become dismissive or antagonistic. But gradually Nardwaur will charm them into submission. This approach has created some incredible interviews over the years: his research left Pharrell utterly speechless whilst it caused Slipknot to walk off mid-interview. He’s asked Iggy Pop and Henry Rollins about their penises and become a personal favourite interviewer of Snoop Dogg. Dave Rowntree of Blur, meanwhile, managed to put in one of the most horrifying on-camera interviews ever committed to tape with Nardwuar. Trying to sum him up in words is tough though: “I have a hard time explaining myself to myself, so I can’t imagine people trying to explain me to others,” as the man himself explains… ”

Turning Bridges into Music | The New Yorker

“As part of her research-and-development process, Di Mainstone has experimented with the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Omaha, Nebraska, which produced “a beautiful zapping noise,” she says, like “Star Wars” lasers. She has experimented with Tower Bridge, in London, which made “the sort of sound that would make your ears bleed, static and screechy.” She has experimented with the Brooklyn Bridge, in New York City, including a movement test using modified dog leads for strings. Currently, she is organizing a road trip across America—a “mobile laboratory,” during which she will test and refine the Human Harp prototype on bridges and other structures all the way to the West Coast. “Imagine a farmer playing a giant grain silo in Idaho,” Mainstone says. “Or a musical old lady playing a wind turbine in Colorado!” Her ultimate goal is to release the Human Harp as an open-source design, allowing others to build their own version of the instrument so they can play any resonant structure in the world, from a submarine to the Eiffel Tower.”

How to put on a mega-gig: the production manager’s story | The Guardian

“It used to be different. Up until 10 years ago, the record companies would give us money to fund tours. Now, touring is the main income, which is obviously good for my business. It’s almost snowballed, in that bands have needed to play bigger venues to generate more income. The productions have had to become bigger to catch up. This has driven an industry of companies who design massive productions and have created the means of taking them down and putting them back up again very quickly. If I can do two or three more shows a month than another tour, we’re going to be making lots of money, and by creating greater income, you can move things very quickly. We’ve got to be able to build a massive stadium show from grass pitch to doors opening within around 48 hours and we’ve got to be able to take it down within four hours, and clear the pitch for the next day. As a guitarist finishes with one guitar, someone will be packing it away. We turn smoke machines and whatever that aren’t going to be used any more off, and they’re in their cases before the show is over.”


Ought — Men For Miles

The second track from Sun Coming Down sees ought frenetic and scattered, but it’s that unpredictability that makes the Montréal outfit so compelling. Tim Darcy may never sing like a regular vocalist, but he boasts a remarkable range, at once fragile, confident, disaffected and threatening over Men For Miles’ six minutes. Sun Coming Down is out through Constellation on September 18.

Blank Realm — No Views

Ever-evolving Brisbane outfit Blank Realm are a restless psych-punk war machine on No Views, the raucous, harmonica-laden single from the forthcoming Illegals in Heaven. That record takes its name from the present refugee crisis in Australia and the batshit response from all parts of the political spectrum, as the band explain in an interview with Noisey. No Views feels like a head rush, an eruption of pure adrenaline speeding down the Autobahn where destinations don’t matter. Illegals in Heaven is out September 4 through Bedroom Suck Records.


Minor Victories — Film One

Film One isn’t strictly a music video. Nor is it a short film, a teaser trailer or a preview, but all of these things at once. Minor Victories is the new collaboration from Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite, Editors’ Justin Lockey and a series of co-conspirators-to-be (including Mark Kozelek), and this intimate piece — half of which is virtually silent — does a great job of building intrigue in what’s sure to be an excellent collaboration, especially if the track that starts at 2:30 is anything to go by. Colour me very interested.

Gold Class — Life As A Gun

Adam Curley is disaffected as the Christ figure in this knife-play-heavy clip for Life As A Gun. It’s a trait reflected in his vocal delivery — distant, at times overwrought, somehow disconnected yet always compelling as he plumbs emotional depths over a barrage of jaunty rhythms and nervous guitars to create a post-punk noir tapestry. The single is taken from the group’s debut, It’s You, out September 4 through Spunk.

Noiseweek: Windhand, Scalphunter, Making, Ought

Friday, July 10th, 2015

The sights, sounds and words of the week in noise.


NME is set to become a free weekly magazine. In a blog post on Monday, editor Mike Williams outlined the magazine’s plans to rebrand, expanding its focus to cover cinema, politics and technology, and increasing its circulation to 300,000. The new edition launches September 18.


The entire archive of pioneering punk zine Slash Magazine has been uploaded online at Circulation Zero. The LA-focused punk zine ran from 1977 to 1980 and birthed the punk label Slash, which put out records from Fear, L7 and X in its earlier years. We can thank Austin-based archivist Ryan Reynolds for the upload, who was also responsible for the digitisation of Star Magazine and a number of other prominent early fanzines.


The Wall of Sound | Motherboard

“It was a signal moment in the history of sound that set in motion a years-long work in progress that would culminate in what’s arguably the largest and technologically innovative public address system ever built, and it started not with a bang, but with something of a casual, stoned proposition. This singular work of engineering would come to weigh over 70 tons, comprise dozens and then hundreds of amps, speakers, subwoofers, and tweeters, stand over three-stories tall and stretch nearly 100 feet wide. Its name could only be the Wall of Sound.”

The Anxious Ease of Apple Music | The New Yorker

““These services treat you like a criminal,” Steve Jobs said of streaming-music companies, in an Apple keynote address in 2003. “And they are subscription-based, and we think subscriptions are the wrong path. One of the reasons we think this is because people bought their music for as long as we can remember.… When you own your music, it never goes away.” Jobs was introducing the iTunes Store, which updated the old model of the recorded-music library. Purchasing a digital track or album, Jobs said, was now “the hottest way to acquire music.” For some years, it was. Then streaming services began to claim an ever greater share of the market, even as they struggled to turn a profit. Last week, surrendering to the apparently inevitable, Apple introduced Apple Music, its own subscription music bundle. For $9.99 a month, you win unlimited access to a library of more than thirty million tracks, from Michel van der Aa to ZZ Top.”

Why Films About Musicians Leave So Much Music Off Screen | NPR

“Music-focused cinema could provide something radical: a close view of the processes of composing and performing that reveals the work behind what seems, to listeners, like magic. Instead, like almost any other kind of cinema, it tends to focus on human relationships: on the interpersonal, not the inner personal. This understandable tendency has resulted in many great explorations of how musicians get along with each other, cope in the world, affect social change and build legacies. Yet it means that most music films (with a few exceptions) still sidestep what’s unique about music-making: the mix of obsessive practice and spontaneous experimentation; the balance between listening and self-expression; the sensual experience of living through the ears. Making music a character allows us as viewers to relate to these narratives, but it also simplifies something worth keeping complicated.”


Windhand — Two Urns

This week’s doom fix sees Richmond, Virginia outfit Windhand merge shoegaze and hypnotizing fuzz into a rich and dreamy sonic tapestry. “Two Urns” is the first cut from Grief’s Infernal Flower, the quintet’s third record, which is out through Relapse Records on September 18. This radio edit clocks in at a drivetime-unfriendly six minutes, but wouldn’t your daily commute be so much better when with tectonic riffs like these?

Ought — Beautiful Blue Sky

Ought are nervous and Wirey on this oddly catchy preview from the forthcoming Sun Coming Down. Tim Darcy repeats the meaningless platitude of small talk over feverish guitars before uttering the song’s central line: “I’m no longer afraid to die / because that is all that I have left,” before a prolonged wind-down. It’s relieving to know amongst all the post-punk revivalists who sought to dilute the genre with forced hooks and asinine lyrics about dancing to Joy Division, there are still bands like Iceage and Ought using that aesthetic to write off-kilter, moving and vital music. Sun Coming Down is out September 18 through Constellation Records.


The View From Here: Scalphunter

Part nine in RTRFM’s 12-part video series moves out of the studio and into the courtyard of The Bird a raucous 15-minute set from Scalphunter.

Making — Come 2 Me

Maybe it’s just the cold front coming in but I got chills watching this kaleidoscopic visual headfuck. While everyone’s talking about the surrealism of Google’s Deep Dream, Making are constructing technopocalyptic visions that Google couldn’t even summon in its nightmares. It’s a long time coming for the Sydney noise rock outfit — on a Facebook status posted yesterday, the band detailed the label woes that delayed the release, the long and short of which is that the album was finished a year ago and pressed by October with a national tour lined up to support it, but radio silence from the label pushed the process back a year. Now, with the support of TRAIT Records, Making next record is going to print again.

Jack Payet’s Top 10 Albums of 2014

Friday, December 19th, 2014

From the experimental to the ethereal, Antennas to Heaven columnist Jack Payet counts down his favourite releases of the year.

10. VESSEL — Punish, Honey

Punish, Honey is a weirdly chaotic journey reflected through human and robotic spheres. With the members of Vessel having produced and built many of the instruments on here, the whole affair wouldn’t be out of place on a freakish alien rave party on Mars, albeit one in which the partygoers are all under the influence of some hellish futuristic drug.

9. SHABAZZ PALACES — Lese Majesty
Easily some of the most ambitious music to come out this year, Shabazz Palaces deliver less of an experimental hip-hop album and more of an intergalactic journey via “songs” and tripped out vignettes of production wizardry. Combined with Ishmaels Butler’s smooth flow, they give the whole thing a feeling of zero gravity, taking Shabazz Palace’s medium and blasting it into the stratosphere.

At times wholly crushing, Becs can bludgeon with the force of the most abrasive electronic music — see the drudging pistons of ‘The Liar’ a lobotomy via jackhammer. But just as soon as it’s likely to unsettle you, Becs will offer up the most perfectly sculptured waves of static noise that you’d swear you weren’t ten minutes earlier about to have a panic attack. Such is the nature of Fennesz’s latest offering; a duality that has the power to make you feel either very safe or very scared, but never nothing.

7. BATTLE TRANCE — Palace of Wind
Some of the most moving pieces of music likely to be released this year have come from an instrumental album – no less an album centred around saxophones – yet perhaps it’s unsurprising given the enormous mental and physical strain the members have invested. In the year we celebrate the 100th anniversary of jazz legend Sun Ra, it’s fitting a release such as Palace of Wind arrives to highlight the continued lifespan of one of music’s most human instruments.

6. TUNE-YARDS — Nikki Nack
Merril Grabus has that special ability to convey the ugly truth with the welcoming arms of great pop music, a wildly eccentric character whose vision rings true on Nikki Nack: a gloriously freewheeling ride of a multi-colored palette and a contrast to the black and white opaqueness of protest in modern pop.

5. PERFUME GENIUS — Too Bright
Mike Hadreas once crafted deeply personal tales portrayed with such stark frailty you almost expected him to collapse half way into a song. On Too Bright, we can remove all notions of the shy introvert and replace it with a bombastic troubadour who’s upended his sound and in turn elevated the quality of his work enormously.

Whether it’s on the electro crazed jig ‘Grid’ which features the most unsettlingly desperate howl you’ll hear in a long time, or the creeping truck stop blues of ‘My Body’. Hadreas is a man who knows what he wants to say how he wants to say it, even if that means making a few people uncomfortable along the way.

Lose is the moment everything clicked for Cymbal Eat Guitars, their noodling tapestry of ambitious indie rock was always enjoyable but at times a little scatterbrained. On LOSE, they’ve tightened things up considerably with the band producing a much more focused and enjoyable listen, combined with lyrics on par with a Pulitzer-winning novel, Cymbals Eat Guitars have produced their finest work to date.

3. PROTOMARTYR — Under Color of Official Right
Protomartyr’s second album struts with the brazen self-confidence of Bono but with about a hundred times more justification. Inspired by some less than savory characters from their hometown of Detroit, the band draw from a rich history of garage rock steeped in a strong admiration for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. A shot in the arm for all tepid garage rock pretenders.

2. OUGHT — More Than Any Other Day
These crazy Canadians make music that rises and falls with such gleeful enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to be swept away in the ride. By focusing on the banalities of human life and channeling king weirdos The Feelies and David Byrne, Ought capture a sound that for the most part goes unexplored in modern music. Making the choice between whole and two percent milk has never sounded so life affirming.

1. ICEAGE — Plowing Into the Field of Love
Plowing Into The Field of Love is everything people love about Iceage and a whole lot more, the songs still wallow the same bleak mirth Iceage bathe in, but dense, nihilistic moods are now littered with the sounds of folk and an undeniable country swagger, which might sound odd to some fans but by damn you wouldn’t have it any other way.

The whole album is like a punch in the guts, but it’s the sort of punch you’re grateful for, the one where once you’ve managed to start taking in oxygen again you reach out and gladly ask for another. It’s bold, aggressive, mangled and so perfectly enjoyable — an example of a band leering ten feet above their contemporaries.

Check back next week as our writers continue to count down the best records of the year.