Review: Troubadour Tales, Chapter 1 by Johnoy Danao

Troubadour Tales, Chapter 1 by Johnoy DanaoThis is going to be a weird review, because my comments won’t really be about the music Johnoy Danao makes. We all know what he does best: songs that ooze sincerity and pack nice turns of phrase – the non-cheesy kind of kilig, if we’re going to be pedestrian about it. On Troubador Tales, Chapter 1 – his first release with OC Records – he continues the template, but this time adds more layers to it, layers of the fading, scratchy kind. (Vocal group Baihana pops up on two tracks, which does wonders.) It’s the good kind of rusty old, the sort of thing we liked from Ryan Adams until those allegations surfaced. (Can we still make that comparison?) However, this release is definitely just part one of perhaps three or four; after these three tracks, I imagine there will be more, with a full album getting a physical release soon. Not a complaint: it’s nice to hear new material from him after a few years away. But just as I was being wrapped in a warm blanket at the end of “Ang Panata”, surprise key change included, it’s over. It’s like having the rug pulled from under your feet. I was in the middle of the build-up, and there’s nothing more? Well, I want more. [NB]4/5

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Review: Self is Universe by Ourselves the Elves

Self is Universe by Ourselves the ElvesHere’s my perception: Ourselves the Elves have always felt elusive. In my harried life, juggling so many things, they’re a band I always hear of, then forget, then hear of again. They’ve been around since 2011, and have released two EPs. People in the know love them. I have yet to listen to them. That’s a handicap easily overcome with their first full-length record, Self is Universe. The record also tells you a lot about the unusual yet compelling dynamic of the band’s music. It sounds like 80s lo-fi, but it doesn’t. It sounds like shoegaze, but it doesn’t. It sounds like that brief moment in the 90s when jangly pop was coming back, but it doesn’t. The album may be a bit too long but they’d be forgiven for finally having all this space to stretch and, more importantly, to flit around vibes without effort. But where Ourselves the Elves excel is capturing this certain mindset, one you wouldn’t necessarily have but one you totally understand once you give the record a chance to set in. Self is Universe claws through uncertainties and differences to find that common thing, at least momentarily – and they do so in a way that makes even this clueless outsider welcome. Ultimately, it always feels nice to know that, for under an hour, you’re part of the club. [NB]4/5

Review: Lux Prima by Karen O and Danger Mouse

Lux Prima by Karen O and Danger MouseKaren O and Danger Mouse have been prolific collaborators across the years: the former has worked with the likes of Ezra Koenig and Michael Kiwanuka if she’s not fronting the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, while the latter is one-half of both Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells, apart from his long production list. It was inevitable they’d meet, although we kept that possibility in the realms of fantasy festivals. But, well, here it is, and it’s as glorious and messy as we expected it to be. Lux Prima sees the two find an intersection in the cinematic side of the 60s: Danger Mouse’s music has leaned towards that many times, while Karen’s got the vocals for that. The record finds itself so deeply immersed in that sound that it can feel like just a study in textures rather than an effort to make pop songs, which is not a criticism, but can be a frustration. Everything is sprawling, but not too much, things punctuated by some smart funky turns in production, but most especially Karen’s voice, which adapts well to whatever is thrown at her. But I shall not complain, for this might not happen again. When two frequent collaborators finally come together, the result will be tasty no matter what. [NB]3/5

“I worked too hard for this chance to not be biting the hand that feeds the hate.”

“Old Man” by Stella Donnelly | I’ve been wondering this lately: what’s it with me and female Australian artists lately, and why am I slightly gravitating towards them? Like, I’ve just written about Julia Jacklin, and I had an Alex Lahey phase, and now here’s Stella Donnelly. She is from Perth, and just last week she released her debut album, Beware of the Dogs. I actually got wind of her the week of the release, but didn’t have the time to squeeze her into the reviews queue; in fact, I have yet to fully listen to her album. It’s one of those moments when both Shalla and I stumble upon her, separately, at the exact same time. And here I am, writing about “Old Man” (as it’s the first song of hers I heard) and I am just realizing how this is about sexual harassment. [NB]

“Just say anything to me.”

“Say Anything” by Mobs | I may have made some sort of accidental theme for these last two posts: something a bit grounded in the 80s (okay, this one is very much grounded in the 80s) and some sort of call-and-response thing going, too. Meet Mobs, a band from Melbourne who started as an acoustic duo and has transitioned into this, something really glittery and somewhat glammy. But you can still hear the softness in their music, judging from how atmospheric “Say Anything”, from their recently released EP Bad Love, is. It floats like most of the more memorable 80s stuff do: ethereal, and then the percussion comes crashing and you’re a bit grounded again. Float, sink, float, sink. Just the way it’s supposed to be. [NB] (Have things I should hear? Drop me a line here.)