New Music Through Old Ears — Flaming Kimbra’s Rancid Barber

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It’s New Music time as entertainment editor John Turnbull checks out new releases from Kiwi songstress Kimbra, die hard punks Rancid, professional weirdos The Flaming Lips and Canadian troubadour Del Barber.

New Album by a New Artist

Kimbra — The Golden Echo

You might remember Kimbra as the ying to Gotye’s yang in the catchy but insanely overplayed hit Somebody That I Used to Know.

Born in Hamilton, New Zealand in 1990, Kimbra Lee Johnson developed a love for music at an early age, writing songs from the age of 10. A member of her high school jazz choir, Kimbra won second place in the national music competition Rockquest when she was 14 and went on to win the Juice TV award for Breakthrough Music Video in 2007 for her song Simply on My Lips.

Like many New Zealanders, Kimbra moved to Australia as soon as possible, signing with Melbourne independent label Forum 5 in 2008. She recorded the infamous collaboration with Gotye in 2010 after a ‘high profile Australian’ artist (rumoured to be Sarah Blasko) dropped out at the last minute, and followed up shortly after with debut album Vows.

A frequent collaborator, Kimbra has recorded songs with artists as diverse as Daniel Johns, Miami Horror and John Legend. It would seem that these collaborations, in combination with a heavy touring schedule have been worth the effort, as new album The Golden Echo reflects far more light and shade than its predecessor.   

Lead single 90’s Music combines Kimbra’s distinctive vocal delivery with slick electronic production and a bombastic hook, while follow-up Miracle has a hint of classic 80’s pop, which is somewhat ironic considering that Kimbra wasn’t even born in the 80’s…

Best tracks: Miracle, As You Are

Sample lyric: ‘Wanna keep this sacrosanct, but we can’t keep our hands from moving.’ (Teen Heat)

Verdict: 7/10 — probably not to everyone’s taste, but well worth a listen for fans of artists like Imogen Heap and Kate Miller-Heidke.

New Album by an Old Artist

Rancid — …Honor Is All We Know

True story: I once almost died at a Rancid gig.

It was at the famously sweaty Hordern Pavilion on a 38 degree day and I made the somewhat unwise decision to dive into the moshpit.

Ten songs later, I crawled out of the maelstrom with my heart beating like a poorly tuned engine and collapsed.

Punk, right?

Formed in California in 1991 from the ashes of punk legends Operation Ivy, Rancid gained widespread acclaim with the 1995 album …And Out Come The Wolves, featuring the singles Roots Radicals, Time Bomb and the somewhat awesome Ruby Soho. 

Led by the dual vocal attack of Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen ‒ along with bassist and sometime singer Matt Freeman ‒ Rancid have never really been about good singing. This is a good thing, because Tim and Lars are far from good singers — although they make up for it with passion and shouting.

Often lauded by hardcore fans for their independent approach, Rancid copped some criticicm with the 2002 Warner Brothers release Indestructible, featuring the single Fall Back Down. While the track wasn’t at all bad, the film clip co-starred faux-punks Good Charlotte and oxygen thief Kelly Osbourne, which apparently made grown men with pink mohawks very angry.

Produced by longtime collaborator Brett Gurewitz, new album …Honor is All We Know is unlikely to provoke the same rabid reaction, as it’s pretty much a hardcore punk album with no concession to commercial appeal.

At 14 tracks and 33 minutes long none of the songs hand around for too long, but unless you’re a died-in-the-wool punk this probably isn’t going to appeal to you.

Best tracks: Back Where I Belong, Collision Course

Sample lyric: ‘Raise your first, against the power.’ (Raise Your Fist)

Verdict: 6/10 — does what it says on the box

Album I Expect to Suck

The Flaming Lips — With a Little Help from my Fwends

It’s not that I dislike The Flaming Lips. I just don’t really understand their appeal. On the other hand, this album is a track for track interpretation of iconic Beatles album Sgt Peppers, so at least the source material is good.

Led by eccentric substance aficionado Wayne Coyne, The Flaming Lips got together in Oklahoma way back in 1983. The band had their first and only commercial hit ten years later with She Don’t Use Jelly, a slice of quirky alternative pop that stood out like a sore thumb from the generic grunge that filled the charts at the time. 

Known for innovative live shows and extra-long song titles that reference science and philosophy, the Lips 1997 release Zaireeka skirted the line between art project and massive piss-take. The album was released on four compact discs that were meant to be played simultaneously, ignoring the fact that most people don’t actually own four CD players.

After multiple lineup changes and an unfortunate incident where guitarist Steven Drozd almost lost his arm due to heroin abuse (he initially blamed a spider bite) the band released a pair of albums that critics loved and audiences sort of liked, 1999’s The Soft Bulletin and 2002’s Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The latter album featured a track called Fight Test which so resembled the Cat Stevens/Yusuf track Father and Son that Coyne immediately agreed to pay rolayties, despite claiming at one point that he’d never heard the original track…

As you’d expect, With a Little Help from My Fwends bears little resemblance to anything the Beatles ever produced. Guest stars including Miley Cyrus, Maynard James Keenan from Tool and Tegan & Sara add some competent singing, but the deliberately obscure takes on the Beatles classics are almost unlistenable to my ear.

Best tracks: Try the originals, they still hold up.

Sample lyric: ‘I get high with a little help from my friends.’ (With a Little Help from my Friends)

Verdict: 1/10 — might be good if you’re on heroin, but I have no desire to find out.

Ch-check It Out…

Del Barber — Prarieography

Del Barber sings Country and/or Western music, but manages to do so without referencing relationship breakups, deceased pets or how much he likes trucks. Because of this, Prarieography is an album with potential appeal beyond traditional country fans.

Inspired by a youth spent growing up on the Canadian Praries, Barber’s fourth long player is something of a concept album, taking influences from the land to add richness and depth to the songs. Ambient sounds from combine harvesters and threshers provide a soundscape upon which Barber builds a narrative filled with love and nostalgia.

With influences from folk, blues and boogie-woogie, Prarieography is an album that rewards repeat listens, revealing layers of depth beneath the sometimes deceptively simple song surface.

Best tracks: Living With A Long Way To Go, Walking in a Straight Line

Sample lyric: ‘You know how times, they can get hard.’ (Yellowhead Road)

Verdict: 7/10 — a bit like a Canadian Bruce Springsteen with a hint of Steve Earle

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