The end of July sees the music world gearing up for August’s big releases, but this fortnight has given us some brilliant guitar music from the likes of Phantastic Ferniture, emo newcomers No Better, and Mississippi garage rock bastion Bass Drum of Death – as well as a lone electronic album from deep house darling Ross from Friends. In the same vein, we’ve got recommended listening from earlier this year that cuts straight to the heart of no-fuss six-stringed rock a la Ty Segall. Get ready to do some headbanging; this fortnight’s gonna have your head bopping in no time.
Phantastic Ferniture – Phantastic Ferniture
Indie rock was never dead, is not dying, and probably will never die – at least, not for as long as Australian songstress Julia Jacklin stays in the game. After her 2016 debut Don’t Let The Kids Win introduced her as a force to be reckoned with in the international indie scene, 2018 sees her return at the helm of remarkably versatile four-piece Phantastic Ferniture. Sun-drenched guitar licks with a sprinkle of reverb abound on their self-titled debut, rounded out by some absolutely fantastic basslines from bassist Liz Hughes – arguably the backbone of the entire band. Jacklin’s craft as a songwriter shines through on Phantastic Ferniture too – her lyrics crackle with wit and wisdom, and the songs are still ever-so-catchy; each track fizzing with so much life and energy that you’d need to get up and dance as the music passes over you.
It’s not all sparkles and sunshine with Phantastic Ferniture, though. Beneath every track on the nine-song record is an undercurrent of darkness, or at the very least, displeasure. Romantic abandonment, in general, is a running theme on the record, but Jacklin and co. hardly stop grooving to feel sorry for themselves – runaway hit single ‘Gap Year’ boasts a toe-tappingly upbeat tune even as the lyrics lament a lover’s inability to embrace commitment; while ‘Fuckin’ N’ Rollin’ sees Jacklin do a 180 on heartbreak, announcing that “fuckin’ n’ rolling just feels right” in a breezy, carefree about-turn. Album standout ‘Bad Timing’ is also a wonderfully scathing take on “breaks” in seemingly committed relationships – “When you get back, would you let me know if sleeping around set you free?” sings Jacklin, her lilting voice betraying just the tiniest amount of sarcasm. Even when the riffs do grow brooding and dark, they strut along with a sense of defiance, such as on the skeevy blues-rock number ‘Take It Off’ and its quieter, huskier younger sister ‘Mumma y Pappa’. Give Jacklin a crown and call her queen of the dance floor – indie really is alive and kicking, and Phantastic Ferniture are here to stay.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Bad Timing’, ‘Take It Off’, ‘Dark Corner Dance Floor’
Bass Drum of Death – Just Business
It’s been a long time since we last heard from John Barrett aka Bass Drum of Death – after 2014’s Rip This there’d been nary a word from him, and the garage rock scene was all the quieter for it. Now, after four years, Just Business sees Barrett make a welcome return to, well… business, with yet another rip-roaring collection of garage punk anthems. This time, however, Barrett is done playing the brat. On this new record, you’d be hard-pressed to find traces of the chauvinistic and sometimes controversial rock-star persona that embodied Bass Drum of Death’s previous output (see 2013’s ‘White Fright’, whose chorus begins with a cry of “Ooh, I wish that girl was white, now”). Gone are the days when a Bass Drum of Death record was all about smoking weed and womanising – Just Business is a record that sees Barrett mostly turn the tables on his own songwriting; going from bratty aloof Casanova to lovelorn punk waxing lyrical.
Don’t let the mild change in direction put you off if you’re looking for some good old rock n’ roll. Just Business has as sharp a bite as its predecessors, with better production value to boot. The record opens with ‘Third Coast Dreaming’, a garage jam that would have the room shaking if you blasted it to the back row. “When did night time get so tame?” sneers Barrett, before launching into a riff that even Ty Segall would envy. There’s no shortage of these licks across the rest of the album, either – ‘Diamond in the Rough’, ‘Just Business’, and ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’ all deploy searing riffs that would give you whiplash if you attempted to headbang to them, even as Barrett sings of being the confused, moonstruck friend-with-benefits. On the record’s flipside, ‘Odds Are Good’ and ‘I Thought I Told You’ sees a more laidback side to Barrett, with the latter using a whoa-oh chorus a la their San Diego contemporaries Wavves to bid a former love an amicable goodbye as their interests diverge. The only real departure from Bass Drum of Death’s signature sound comes on ‘Heavy’, a dewy-eyed almost-ballad which sees the addition of a church organ (!) to Barrett’s otherwise simple guitar-drum setup. But experimentation with a new sound hardly equates to growing up and calming down – a fact that Barrett has, perhaps, just discovered. Either way, there’s no denying that business is going good for Bass Drum of Death, even after their long sabbatical. It’s not unpaid leave if all that time away pays off, right?
Put these on your playlist: ‘Third Coast Dreaming’, ‘Too High’, ‘I Don’t Wanna Know’
Ross from Friends – Family Portrait
If this is the first time you’re hearing about deep house producer Ross from Friends, don’t sweat it – the man doesn’t share many similarities with the vilified sitcom character apart from the tongue-in-cheek moniker. Where David Schwimmer’s Ross spent his time swooning over dinosaurs and mistreating Rachel, Felix Weatherall’s Ross from Friends layers dreamy electronic synths over tropical-house drumbeats and woozy half-whispered vocal samples that sound like they could be being broadcasted from the other side of an undulating wall of water. Family Portrait can be best described, in my opinion, as the deep house record you’d get if Caribou and Bonobo had a lovechild that also happened to take the form of a robotic lizard from the future. I’m not even saying this because the album’s second track happens to be called ‘Thank God I’m A Lizard’ – which, fittingly, has a reptilian voice repeatedly hissing “Thank god I’m a lizard!” over a raw, industrial backbeat and melodic samples so eerily compelling that they would give Grimes a run for her money. There’s something sinister slithering through the whole of Family Portrait; something that gains strength with every beat and every reverberating chord, sucking you in deeper even if you try to escape.
Much like his fellow deep-house producers, Bicep (who spawned one of 2017’s best electronic albums), Weatherall makes a name for himself through the eccentricity of his samples and sound, which jump into focus and leap back out again in short, unexpected intervals; making for some very absorbing tunes. ‘Wear Me Down’ and ‘R.A.T.S.’ are prime examples of Ross from Friends’ hallmark traits – beats that zip around sonically like gas molecules on high heat; turning up the pressure with every passing second. But Weatherall is also more than capable of expanding his gaze. ‘Pale Blue Dot’ and ‘Back Into Space’ are cosmic in every sense of the word, breaking down the walls of Weatherall’s signature tightly-pressed sound; making his music vast and ethereal. All this comes to a head with the unforgettable ‘Project Cybersyn’ – the album’s throbbing, thumping heart; a hypnotic homage to the darker side of vaporwave and deep house that sounds like what electronic music could be if it had an underground, eldritch subsect. Altogether, Family Portrait is more than just a record. At times, it feels like a living, breathing thing; like watching the ground slowly heave beneath you and realising that you’re standing on something that is very much alive. All that remains is the question – if you pull back the curtain on the album, will you just find reptilians… or something much more uncanny?
Put these on your playlist: ‘Project Cybersyn’, ‘R.A.T.S.’, ‘Parallel Sequence’
No Better – It Felt Like Glass
It seems like there’s always at least one band out there holding the torch for emo music – and this year, the torchbearers are none other than Californian four-piece No Better. They may not hail from the Midwest like the rest of their emo brethren, but It Felt Like Glass sounds as familiar as any other record from the genre; laden with the movement’s signature melodic polyrhythms and earnest, tuneful vocals. Sure, it’s hard to bring anything truly groundbreaking to the table in emo, especially not while the shadows of American Football and Sunny Day Real Estate still loom over the scene, but No Better sure as hell try, and do a very good job of it too. Perhaps, most notably, their lyrical content does well to steer clear of the stereotypical awkward-teenage-boy narrative that most Midwest emo bands subscribe wholeheartedly to – instead, It Feels Like Glass is a trepidatiously positive record; one that goes a step further and says, “I may not like who I am now, but I’m trying to change that.” So goes the opening track, ‘Poise & Light’ – an ode to self-improvement and openness to change that sets the scene for the rest of the record.
No Better’s influences are clear throughout the album, but this gives the fledgeling pop-punk outfit a strong foundation to launch off. The opening notes of ‘Seconds Race’ unashamedly borrows from American Football’s ‘Never Meant’, but the song progresses past that to a satisfyingly heavy chorus; every chord and note backed up by choral harmonies or airy synths courtesy of the band’s unique feature – a keyboardist. Elsewhere, No Better pick up the pace, borrowing from the energy of emo colleagues Modern Baseball and Tigers Jaw. ‘Keep You Closer’ and ‘My Love Says Always’ are sentimental love songs down to a T, but power through what would otherwise be unbearable saccharine sweetness with lolloping riffs and simple, sweet sing-a-long choruses. However, it is the album’s title track, closing off this whirlwind of bittersweetness, that is also the record’s standout song – ‘It Felt Like Glass’ reads like a much-awaited story narrated to you by a close friend you haven’t seen in years, while sounding like the culmination of No Better’s musical talents and influences in one song. While the foursome still have plenty to learn, they’re clearly willing to embrace that – as embodied by the message within this first record. Let’s hope they stay in this game for the long run.
Put these on your playlist: ‘It Felt Like Glass’, ‘Remember This, ‘Seconds Race’
Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin
If you know anything about the Los Angeles DIY scene, you’ll know about Ty Segall. Famous for being incredibly illustrious (the first half of 2018 has already seen him put out two albums) and boasting some of the slickest riffs on the East Coast, Segall is more of a deity than a man to any garage rock musicians out there, and he certainly does not let down the myth on Freedom’s Goblin. This time, Segall sets his sights on the stars with this ambitious double album – neither does he fall far short. After years upon years of dabbling in every genre that his musical prowess would let him, Freedom’s Goblin sounds like the amalgamation of everything Segall has learnt over the years; a declaration that do-it-yourself music really doesn’t get any better than this.
Freedom’s Goblin opens with all the pomp and circumstance of ‘Fanny Dog’, a bombastic, trumpet-backed number that would sound more at home on a Beatles record than a Ty Segall double album, yet it makes a point – we’re not in Kansas any more, Toto. Segall does revisit familiar territory on the scuzzed-up riffs of ‘When Mommy Kills You’ and ‘Every 1’s A Winner’, the latter turning the Hot Chocolate classic into a distorted fever dream that snarls as it struts, as well as on the scalding hot licks that form shouty post-punk number ‘Meaning’. However, that’s as far as he goes back to his roots – on Freedom’s Goblin, Segall has truly released himself from his own reputation as a garage rock godfather. ‘Cry Cry Cry’ is the sonic equivalent of Segall gatecrashing a Hawaiian luau only to make a lamenting speech about the world’s woes, while the delightfully dizzy ‘Despoiler of Cadaver’ takes a leaf from the book of fellow LA psych-rockers Thee Oh Sees; processed retro synths and all. There’s nothing that Segall doesn’t try on Freedom’s Goblin, and even country music isn’t completely immune from his Midas touch – the gently rolling finger-plucked guitar on lo-fi ballad ‘You Say All The Nice Things’ speaks for itself. The phrase “music will set you free” is often used in hyperbole, but with Freedom’s Goblin it more than rings true – Segall is a musician in his prime, and on this record, has clearly risen far beyond the boundaries of genre and style. And if you don’t believe me, this record makes kazoo solos sound good. Chew on that.
Put these on your playlist: ‘Despoiler of Cadaver’, ‘Every 1’s A Winner’, ‘Meaning’