Friday is here, which means it’s release day for a bunch of artists at home and around the world. With so many hot releases out there to tuck into, we’ve compiled some of the best to present to you for the weekend.
For the last week of April, we’re tucking into an absolutely packed release schedule to check out an uncanny artistic rebirth from Australia’s own Julia Stone and the impressive sophomore effort from Brooklyn dream pop act Crumb, plus new releases from KUČKA, Big Scary and Liz Stringer.
She might be best known for her work alongside her brother Angus, but after one listen of Sixty Summers, it’d be incredibly naff to simply group Julia Stone into the indie-folk box. A triumphant creative statement that defies form, genre and all expectations, Sixty Summers showcases a side of Julia Stone that we’ve barely been privy to throughout the 15-odd years she’s been working in music, and holds up as one of the most unique Australian releases to land so far in 2021.
Created alongside A-List musical minds such as Thomas Bartlett and Annie Clark of St. Vincent – whose distinctive guitar playing is used to strategic effect at various points across the record – Sixty Summers is stylistically fluid, melding genre and influence without overshadowing Stone’s presence.
The effervescent opener ‘Break’ sees Stone and Clark channel Talking Heads to make for a killer introduction, while Stone’s vocal performance on the synth-pop-tinged title track is truly breathtaking, contorting her delivery and reaching ecstatic new heights for the song’s crescendo.
‘We All Have’ pairs Stone with The National’s Matt Berninger for the record’s most subdued cut, while the slinky grooves of ‘Free’ and ‘Who’ demonstrate Stone’s confidence and ability to dip in and out of genres with ease.
Meanwhile, the chugging guitars of ‘Fire In Me’ and the splash of Rhodes that kicks off ‘Easy’ only see Stone become more compelling as a vocalist – it’s a true joy to hear such a familiar voice as hers explore such exciting and new sonic horizons. An absolute artistic triumph from an artist who, despite the success of her prior releases, only looks to be getting better and better on her own.
Crumb – Ice Melt
In 2019, Brooklyn-based indie outfit Crumb impressed critics and fans with their debut album Jinx, drawing upon low-key neo-soul, psychedelic rock and dream-pop to present an all-too-pleasant alchemy of sound. They’re back again now with Ice Melt; a follow-up that sees the band develop the sonics of their first album and adopt an intimate approach towards production, and by all accounts, it’s a success.
Opener ‘Up & Down’ ebbs and flows between dreamy-pop and thumping kicks with a psychedelic reversed saxophone imposed atop, with guitarist and vocalist Lila Ramani’s breathy melodies and fretboard dexterity taking charge. ‘BNR’, ‘Seeds’ and ‘L.A.’, while lacking the dynamic energy of the opener, see Crumb lay down a vibey bedrock of instrumentation and opt for enchanting harmonies to match them with, before ‘Gone’ picks up the pace with an addictively melodic bassline.
Clocking in at a scant ninety seconds, ‘Retreat!’ is a slight slice of funky fun before Crumb delve into shuffled grooves and and gritty vocals on the hazy ‘Trophy’, while ‘Balloon’ almost sounds akin to Innerspeaker-era Tame Impala.
‘Tunnel (all that you had)’ is a delightfully echo-drenched late album highlight before the album fittingly ends with the title track, wrapping up another short – yet certainly satisfying – release from the young band.
KUČKA – Wrestling
Following a string of EPs and collaborations with the likes of Flume, A$AP Rocky, Vince Staples and SOPHIE, KUČKA emerges in strong form with her debut record Wrestling. Pulling from glitchy IDM, future garage, R&B and everything in between, it’s an album that casts her as a boundary-pushing producer and a dynamic vocalist alike, highlighting the LA-via-Perth artist as one of Australia’s most unique electronic acts today.
Tracks like ‘Contemplation’ and ‘Ascension’ see KUČKA put a twist on contemporary electronic and R&B styles to maximum effect, while early album highlight ‘Drowning’ marries saturated sub-bass with skittish hi-hats to make for a tune that you just know is going to slam in a live setting.
‘Afterparty’, meanwhile, sees KUČKA deliver a dynamic vocal performance atop of a flurry of arpeggios and darting electronics, while the record’s freakiest moment comes in the form of ‘Joyride’ – merging abstract vocal samples and polyrhythmic percussion with a trance-style synth pad underneath.
‘Your World’ nearly verges on ballad territory thanks to its heartfelt vocal and gorgeous chord progression, while ‘No Good For Me’, with its cleverly programmed drums and rich chord stabs, holds up as Wrestling’s most danceable moment – it’s an absolute banger.
Ending resolutely with ‘Eternity’ and the blissful soundscapes of ‘Patience,’ Wrestling is a victory lap for one of Australia’s most underrated collaborative talents, and it leaves us more than excited to hear what comes next.
Big Scary – Daisy
Trading in the guitar-driven indie style explored on prior releases for synthesisers and drum machines, Melbourne duo Big Scary opt for a twisted take on disco-tinged indie-pop with their new album, Daisy. Although it does feel a little too short, it’s a worthy trade-off given the quality of songwriting and production across the album, with Tom Iansek and Jo Symes both reminding of us their creative chemistry over nine joyous, slightly spooky tunes.
Kicking off with two ambient piano cuts, Daisy really starts to come into its own with ‘Wake’ and ‘Love To Love’; the former sees Tom deliver an outrageously cool vocal performance atop of an instrumental that glides between subtle and bombastic without warning, while the latter almost functions as an extension of ‘Wake’ thanks to its sonic palate and low-key vibe.
Daisy picks up pace in the mid-stretch with ‘Stay’ and ‘Get Out!’, which boasts an excellent synth bass sound and some intricate percussion work, while Jo Symes assumes co-vocal duties for the album’s final three cuts with ‘Kind Of World’, the euphoric, shoulder-shaking funk of ‘Bursting At The Seams’ and the hushed closer ‘One In A Million’. A welcome return for a beloved duo, and a pretty impressive stylistic switch-up to boot.
Liz Stringer – First Time Really Feeling
Often dubbed as one of the country’s most underrated singer-songwriters, Liz Stringer’s new album First Time Really Feeling is a cathartic, triumphant release that underscores her knack for penning emotive tunes with well-placed instrumental flourishes.
The title track of the album is nothing short of sensational – perhaps even bordering on magnum opus territory – with its War On Drugs-style instrumentation and vulnerable lyricism, continuously building until its incredible final peak. ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Big City’ share similar styles and thematics, with each song sounding increasingly urgent as it blooms – a testament to both Stringer’s songwriting and the talent of her band.
Meanwhile, ‘The Waning Of The Sun’ and ‘The Meteorologist’ both offer spacious cuts that spotlight Stringer’s vocals as she waxes lyrical on her emotional journey and struggles with addiction, while ‘The Things That I Now Know’ seems to address Stringer’s experiences of coming to terms with the atrocities of Australia’s colonisation.
Perhaps due to her recording the album in Canada, Stringer’s relationship with Australia appears in abundance across First Time Really Feeling – on ‘Little Fears, Little Loves’, she sings ‘Sydney’s on fire, so pretty it hurts my eyes / The jewel in our ever rotting crown’. It’s lyrics like this that make the record all the more inviting for local listeners, and helps to make Stringer’s own journey seem more personable along the way – and if that’s not the mark of a true storyteller, I’m not sure what is.
Creativity and fame is a funny thing. Some artists thrive in the limelight and feed off the fame; others tend to flourish in the shadows, lending their talents to the former and happily honing their craft in studio sessions without an overt aura of celebrity hanging over their heads.
For the better part of a decade, KUČKA – born Laura Jane Lowther – has been a fine example of the latter.
Emerging in 2012 with an eponymous EP that merged woozy synths and oddball vocal treatments with elements of glitch, post-dubstep and IDM, it was apparent from the get-go that KUČKA had star potential, and her production chops were quickly noted by both local contemporaries and international heavyweights alike.
In the years to follow, KUČKA would tailor her craft as a truly distinct sonic architect alongside the likes of A$AP Rocky (‘Fashion Killa’, LONG LIVE A$AP’), Fetty Wap and fellow Australian wunderkind Flume, her creative partnership with the latter resulting in keynote appearances on tracks with Vince Staples, Kendrick Lamar and the late SOPHIE.
All the while, KUČKA continued to release a host of stylistically ambiguous EPs and navigate the global touring circuit, relocating to Los Angeles and beginning the process of finalising her debut record, Wrestling; out today via Soothsayer / LuckyMe.
A densely curated package of compositions that emanate confidence, technical skill and sheer creativity, Wrestling is the byproduct of nearly a decade of toil on KUČKA’s behalf, and far and wide, it stands out as her most defining work yet.
Songs like ‘Joyride’, ‘Ascension’ and ‘Eternity’ spotlight KUČKA’s ability to fuse obscenely chopped-and-effected vocals with pop aesthetics with ease, ‘No Good For Me’ is an irresistible UK Garage-flavoured number that’s destined to soundtrack dancefloor debauchery, and ‘Your World’ and album closer ‘Patience’ demonstrate the multi-talented artist’s emotional journey over the course of her career.
Across 12 tracks, off-kilter electronic grooves collide with gleaming synthesisers and hard-knocking sub-frequencies, with KUČKA’s distinctive vocal treatments swirling and floating above the mix to make for one of 2021’s most dizzying electronic projects yet.
With the album out now, we spoke with KUČKA to find out more about the album’s long-winded incubation period, her approach towards collaboration and the creative process behind Wrestling.
Tell us about how Wrestling all came together – I understand you wrote more than 50 piecesof music whole working towards the project? How long did you spend working on thealbum?
I spent waaaay to much time alone in the studio over the past few years. But I believe that everything you work on has its benefits. Even if no-one else ends up hearing it, you might have worked out a cool little way of modulating a synth, or experimented with a new weird way of re-sampling a vocal, so I do like to experiment on tracks even if they end up sitting on my computer forever.
I love the gradual evolution your production style has undergone over the past few years,and I think it’s particularly prevalent on this album. What’s motivated you to embrace sucha fluid approach towards production, and how does that pertain to Wrestling?
I have really had time to focus on my production during the writing of this record and I think I’m getting better at creating the sounds that I’m envisioning. I don’t think you need to have good technical skills to
make great music but for me finding my own personal rhythms has been helpful as I can get my ideas down quickly and really capture the mood that I’m aiming for.
Describe the interplay between your songwriting and production process. Do you start things off with an instrumental, vocal or lyrical idea? Are you triggered creatively more by making music than you are writing or arranging vocals?
I would say my writing style is kind of unpredictable as I always start with something different. When I’m feeling particularly emotional I find it’s a good time to write lyrics, and if I’m a bit tired then I can work on production as I don’t have to think about it so much, I can kind of feel it in my body.
Wrestling also navigates some incredibly complex and personal themes lyrically. Werethere any songs in particular that were really challenging for you to write?
I found it super cathartic to work through things with my lyrics. I’ve realised that I need a lot of time to process things and writing music has really allowed me that personal introspective time.
Paint us an image of your own studio space. Are you working with hardware, or all in the box? Are there any particular pieces of equipment or software that are absolutely crucial to your process?
I’m mostly using soft synths these days, but I do like to jam on hardware synths to get melodic ideas down. I would say that my microphone is the most important piece of equipment. I bought a Sony c800g a few years back and it made recording so much easier as I can immediately get the tone that I want, without having to worry about adding too many effects.
What about when it comes to vocals? The way you layer your own voice across the albumis seriously impressive – are you engineering yourself while you work as well?
Yes, I think engineering my own vocals has been key to me developing my own sound. It means I can record when my voice is at it’s best and I’m never in a rush to get them down. I can change the
inflections, lyrics and melodies as I go without external pressure.
I’m also a huge fan of your drum programming and choice of samples – everything hits so well, and the timing and placement of your percussive patterns is really refreshing. What’s your secret for creating such distinctive rhythmic interplay?
I like to lay out each sample on its own track so that I have control of every individual waveform. That way you can slightly change the samples where you need to and create slight variations in a way that is harder when you are working with a midi instrument or drum machine.
You’ve also collaborated with a number of prominent hip-hop and electronic acts – namely, A$AP Rocky, SOPHIE, Vince Staples and Flume. Is there any single production you can pinpoint as being your favourite collaborative experience, and what’s the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from someone you’ve worked with?
I always love working with Flume as I feel like there’s never a huge amount of pressure to create a ‘song’. The past few times we’ve hung out we’ve spent a lot of time jamming and playing around with some modular hardware, looping it etc and that’s been super fun. I love making music with people when I feel really comfortable.
Now that you’ve got the debut album in the bag, what are you planning on working towardsnext?
I’ve done a few collaborations that will be coming out this year and I’m also working on new KUČKA which is really exciting.
Wrestling is out now through Soothsayer / LuckyMe.
Liz Stringer had just moved to Canada in winter 2018 when she began writing the bulk of First Time Really Feeling, her sixth studio album and first via Milk! Records. Without a doubt, it’s her most honest and personal album yet.
“A lot happened for me in the years between 2015 and when I made the album. Just personally one of those things was getting sober and I think I just hadn’t had much access to myself, to my inner world before that” Liz says.
“There’s a couple of songs on there that I wrote in 2016 which I had just been playing live. I sort of do that thing when I say, ‘I feel like it’s time to make an album and I wanted to go into the studio.’”
Stringer says that she feels this way every two years, even though the last album All the Bridgers was released in 2016, “the recording was still to that pattern, but I hadn’t released it until three years after that.”
She says she’s had First Time Really Feeling sitting on a hard drive since 2018, waiting for it to feel right to release but says that “for various reasons, it wasn’t the right time to put it out, or to attempt to release it.”
Perhaps surprisingly, COVID-19 wasn’t the reason for the delay though. “We weren’t planning on releasing it last year, that was never on the cards. Now, it feels like the right time for me as a person,” Stringer explains.
While in Canada, Stringer met Toronto-based producer Chris Stringer (“weirdly, no relation”) through a mutual friend, who ultimately approached her about making an album. Although it wasn’t quite what Liz had in mind for the album at the time, the pair bunkered down to complete the record at Union Sound Company, a spacious facility set-up and co- founded by Chris in Toronto.
Liz is quick to praise Chris for his production and engineering contributions to the record, describing him as someone who was “a good balancer, was supportive and made sure they were both equally invested.”
“It’s his record as much as it is mine,” she says, noting that her music is “very melodically rich and it requires to be quite dense and quite layered.” Thankfully, Chris managed to pick up on this, and the results were nothing short of spectacular.
“When I heard the first mixes, I almost started crying cause it was the first I really heard my sound really realised,” Stringer says with gusto.
Describing the band she worked with as “amazing”, the band who worked with Stringer on First Time Really Feeling included Joshua Van Tassel on drums, Devon Henderson on bass and Adrian Gordon Cook on the keys, with Adrian previously performing guitar with her in a prior version of her live band.
“The first three or four days we were in there together with the band, and then the next five or
six I was there just with Chris,” Stringer says of the recording process, reminiscing on the positive atmosphere as snow fell outside while they worked. “(There were) a couple of moments recording where the band just got really locked in and it was a really beautiful experience.”
First Time Really Feeling also marks a unique departure from Stringer’s older material, as she made the decision to turn her songwriting inwards instead of looking out towards other people’s perspectives and their lives.
“I’m just really interested in human stories and human condition,” she explains, noting that she had to do a lot of inner work on herself and ‘face some demons’ during the record’s creative cycle.
“Sort of ironically, I couldn’t write on my own human perspective so that’s the thing that’s really changed,” she says.
“Music has always served that function for me, and songwriting to a great extent. It became even more necessary for me to even be able to process what was going on for me.”
Another influence upon Stringer’s songwriting came through her move to Toronto, which allowed her to have space “geographically and emotionally from living in Melbourne.”
“Things were pretty sketchy for me mental health wise and dealing with being sober,” she confesses, noting that even though she found it hard missing family and friends back in Melbourne, the move acted as a much-needed reprieve.
“Ultimately, it gave me this beautiful space to really just deal with shit and write with less self conscience.”
While Toronto might have shaped the sounds of First Time Really Feeling, Liz managed to escape back
to Australia in time for the pandemic, recalling how lucky she felt to be able to live with her family while Melbourne in lockdown.
“As an artist I know the music industry suffered and continues to suffer greatly, and I was in a middle of a tour and half of that got canned. Lockdown was hard, but for many people it was way harder,” she says, noting that she used her time by reading, writing and learning how to self-record, which she wouldn’t have time to do under normal circumstances.
For now, Liz is excited to see gigs are coming back. She’s just finished performing alongside Midnight Oil (“A waking dream, it was crazy!”), and is looking forward to touring Australia with her new band later in June (“I’m loving the way it feels and sounds”), saying that she has no doubts that the music industry will bounce back after the hard hit it got from 2020.
An avid AFL fan, she says she’s also excited for football to be back in Melbourne, noting that “it’s a pretty grim city” without all the cultural entertainment Melbourne has to offer.
“Those are the two things that give the city so much personality. I think it’s a big part of the recovery of Melbourne having the football back for sure.”
One thing was clear to Royal Blood at the end of touring their second album: something had to change.
Of course, 2017’s How Did We Get So Dark? was not without its successes. It went to number one in the UK and Scotland, just like its predecessor. It spawned two number-one singles on the UK rock chart, just like its predecessor. It boasted leather-jacket cool and capital-R rock, just like its predecessor… are you starting to sense a theme here?
Despite achieving so much commercially, creatively it was an album that ultimately achieved very little. In hindsight, it committed the worst crime a second album can commit: it didn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know.
Lead vocalist and bassist Mike Kerr is the first to admit that Royal Blood was all at sea for a period there – and it was up to him and drummer Ben Thatcher to reclaim it as their own.
“I didn’t really know where I wanted it to go,” Kerr confesses from his Brighton home.
“I was pretty lost in terms of where the band was going. Once I got sober, though, my whole life changed. It wasn’t ‘til eight months after that clarity descended upon me. I had a kind of awakening of what kind of album I wanted to make and where we should go.”
Said clarity prompted Kerr to write the song ‘Trouble’s Coming’, which would end up as the lead single to album number three, Typhoons.
As both a mission statement and a comeback single, you couldn’t really ask for a better concoction.
The snarling bass and pounding drums of Royal Blood’s past was present and accounted for, but with it came a new spring in the step. Groove-oriented, incessant and unfathomably catchy, it quickly turned heads upon its release in September 2020.
“To me, it just made perfect sense,” says Kerr of the song. “I felt like the language I was using was what I needed to say. Suddenly, I found that I wasn’t really scrambling for words anymore. In fact, I found I had a lot to say.
“Before that, I was barely staying afloat as a human being. I felt like I was trying not to drown in the band. I saved myself in order to save the band – and the other way around. It was like my mind was full – it was fully powered for the first time in ten years.”
With ‘Trouble’s Coming’ in the can, Kerr and Thatcher returned to the well to see what else they had coming. Their timing of working on the new album, however, coincided with the world entering lockdown – which, as you might guess, isn’t the most fertile creative environment for rock & roll.
If anything, however, this pushed the duo to double down on their dancier musical direction for Typhoons.
“I was having this weird juxtaposition between what was going on in the outside world and what was going on internally,” he says.
“Suddenly, these songs felt like a bit of an antidote to the chaos and depression that was outside of the studio. Everything got fucking grim last year, but I felt great within myself after getting sober. I had this spring in my step. It definitely was this weird juxtaposition.
“It’s funny… if you go back and look at the covers of the first two albums, they’re both in black and white. If you look at the cover for this album, it’s like a fucking acid rainbow.”
For all the changes afoot in the Royal Blood camp, one thing has stayed the same: Mike Kerr’s bass still sounds as churning, distorted and guttural as ever. The band’s sound is still centred around it, just as it was when they rose to prominence in the mid-2000s.
The heaviness in Kerr’s playing, however, has more to do with volume rather than anything to do with the pedalboard.
“When I was making the demos to the songs, I didn’t have any of my pedals on me,” he says. “I was just plugging straight into this tiny little amp that I got for like 30 quid on eBay.
“It sounded like a wasp in a crisp packet. I would just point a mic in front of it, go straight into Logic and start playing over these really dancey beats. I was drawn to the simplicity of that, really – especially when I had it on really fucking loud. Because there were no pedals, it meant that all my playing was just like tighter and quicker.
“Everything felt like more like a fist, rather than an open hand. I started changing my behaviour as a player around the way my bass sounded. The parts suddenly sounded tight as nails, and they made me really lock into these beats. I was like, ‘wow, I’m playing riffs – but I’ve never heard it like this.”
This back-to-basics approach would filter into the rest of Typhoons, with Kerr opting to maintain a consistent tone throughout.
“I found myself using like one pedal on a whole song, rather than five or six,” he says. “On the second album, I was so into shape-shifting my sound every ten seconds.
“On this one, it felt like every song had its own aesthetic and I stayed true to that throughout. I felt like more secure as a bass player – I didn’t need to keep changing the sound.”
Soon enough, Thatcher coined a name for the band’s new sound: ‘AC/Disco.’ Think the brute-force of the Young brothers in their prime matched with the dancefloor-filling urgency of Studio 54 and you’re just about there.
If you’ve been intrigued by the singles thus far – ‘Trouble’s Coming,’ the Supergrass-aping title track and the upbeat inferno of ‘Limbo’ – Kerr is happy to report that you’ll love the rest of Typhoons.
“I think once we had that term – AC/Disco – it was like, that’s the album,” he says.
“It started out as this happy accident, and then it became this total revelation. I was like, ‘let’s just fucking make this.’
“I hate when you hear the first two singles from an album, and it has a sound and a vibe, but when you buy the album it’s not there for the rest of it. My attitude was that if we were gonna do this, we had to commit. Let’s make a party playlist.”
As Kerr and Thatcher burrowed further into their niche while making Typhoons, it also became apparent that they would have to take on an additional role in the process.
As such, aside from one track with old friend Josh Homme and two with Paul Epworth, the band largely produced the album themselves.
Though the pair have co-produced on previous albums, it’s never been as comprehensive and hands-on as it has here – which, as Kerr attests, is entirely by design.
“I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone we’ve worked with in the past,” he begins. “Having said that: It was a bit of a relief to produce this album ourselves. This was the clearest vision we’ve ever had for a record and for our sound.
“For us, we knew what we wanted to do. We knew how we wanted to do it. We knew where we were going to do it. We didn’t need someone to blame if this went wrong, and we didn’t need to put anyone in our way.
“I would love to work with a producer again at some point, because I think it’s an incredible dynamic to have.
“For this record, though, it immediately felt different. It was almost like we were producers by default. We’d get to the end of the demo, and suddenly it was like, ‘…oh, it’s done.’”
Kerr points to the title track as a key example of this. “I finished the demo, thinking it was maybe a little scrappy but it got the point across,” Kerr recalls.
“When I showed it to Ben, though, the very first thing he said once he’d finished listening was ‘don’t change a fucking thing.’ I was pretty shocked – I was like, ‘I could play that part a little better’ and ‘I could sing that part a little better.’
“Ben immediately shut me down – ‘Just leave it,’ he said, ‘I’m gonna play drums.’ We tracked the drums the next day, and that’s what you hear on the album.”