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Pop CultureMarch 17, 2017

The Album Cycle: Bush come back when they shouldn’t have & more!


New albums from Human Resource, Bush, The Shins and Charli XCX.


Human Resource – Human Resource
Auckland political industrial post-hardcore debut.
Over the past five years or so, there’s been a rich seam of music from … well, nobody likes or consents to be called a ‘scene’, so let’s say an inchoate assemblage of artists working in a post-industrial vein (the shadow of Palmerston North’s Skeptics freezing-works psychedelia looms large), some of which are associated with labels like, well, Freezing Works and Muzai Records, or documented in Land of the Long White Stain. It’s in this context I hear the debut EP from Auckland band Human Resource – four great tracks, post-hardcore inflected by industrial drone, that shift like a Magic Eye the more you listen to them. One moment there’s the intensity and political engagement of Wellington anarcho-punks Unsanitary Napkin, the next the blown-out psychedelia and abject meditations of Girls Pissing On Girls Pissing – a band who’d appreciate how Human Resource interpolates Rimbaud’s ‘Le Forgeron’ (‘The Blacksmith‘) with its blend of visionary action, blasphemy and scatology. As Tali Williams sings later on ‘Glory, Glory’, “Everything you try to ignore / Comes burning like never before”.
The use of poetry can recall the literate, discarded-object doom-folk of i.e. crazy, as opener ‘The Master’s Hand’ interpolates Canadian poet/spoken-word artist Clive Holden’s ‘Tell Me The Truth’ (from the collection Trains of Winnipeg, who Williams had earlier drawn from in her guest spot on Diana Tribute’s ‘Neighbour Walk Softly‘), but lines like “This is a system that can afford to lose you / This is a system that can’t afford to lose you” as easily evoke the life-under-managerialism sneer of Ron Gallipoli. The vocals range from the disarmingly plainspoken to a throat-shredding intensity forged in Williams’ early-aughts Wellington hardcore/metalcore bands Pedal Faster and the Deadline (not to forget the late aughts Jesus Lizard-y DIAL, who’d fit well into our Pissed Jeans present); musically, there’s both a lightness of touch (some of the tracks have extended near-ambient openings) and a chunkiness that can anchor the feedback. A great EP, and hopefully we’ll get an album out of them before their Belgian hoover-rave namesakes catch up to them. – Stevie Kaye
Human Resource

Bush – Black and White Rainbows

The post-grunge stalwarts are back. Again.

Unlike the Stone Temple Pilots, who were also critically reviled at their peak, Bush have never experienced (and surely never will) any kind of revival nor retrospective respect for their talents. Listening to the band’s seventh album Black and White Rainbows, it’s easy to hear why. This should be Gavin Rossdale’s big D.I.V.O.R.C.E record following his split from ex-wife and pop superstar Gwen Stefani, but while every song outwardly seems to deal with relationships and their breakdown, the album is utterly devoid of passion. Lyrically, Rossdale mumbles through a litany of soft alt-rock cliches so generic the words simply meld into the music, and sonically it is so polished, sanded and buffed that it simply glides by almost without notice.

It’s hard to not to view the record as simply a cynical ploy to get some product out in the market while Rossdale still has some sort of an audience to sell to (a suspicion reinforced by the UK release; where Rossdale currently presides as a judge on local edition of The Voice, and where the album was marketed as “Bush with Gavin Rossdale”). In that guise, Black and White Rainbows is about as substantial and satisfying as a particularly average early morning coffee – it’s not offensive in any way, but it’s so banal and ephemeral that it is completely forgotten once it’s gone. (Interestingly, the behind-the-album playlist accompanying the album Spotify is much better than the record itself – though what Nick Cave, Rihanna, Bowie, and Savages have to do with inspiring the snooze-fest contained within the main event it somewhat baffling). – Pete Douglas

Charli XCX – Number 1 Angel

Hard-hitting mall pop.

Charli XCX’s recent collaborations with Lil YachtyYasutaka Nakata and PC Music’s SOPHIE, have strongly influenced the direction of this latest album. Her last was pretty much indistinguishable from your average Carly Rae Jepsen effort, but finally here we have something that pokes its head out from the trenches of radio pop. The songwriting is hit-and-miss, but the general production is a dangerous cocktail of sugar and heaviness. I mean, this hits hard. Just listen to how ‘Blame It On You’ starts off as a typical slow jam and builds into something quite brutal. The aggressive autotuning pushes her voice beyond the pop sweet spot and into “It’s for ART” territory. Even vaporwave influences are apparent here – the mall-soft synths on ‘Drugs’ are dead giveaways. When this album gets good, it gets very very good, and even when it isn’t, you have to give it props for being so goddamn brave. – Mitchell Houlbrooke

The Shins – Heartworms  

Zack Braff’s faves return.

Looking back, it is odd just how massive The Shins were at their peak. Their third album, Wincing the Night Away, debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 in 2007, an event helped by indie rock’s chart ascendancy, the band’s prominence in a ubiquitous Zach Braff movie, and the general critical exaltation of their first two records – Oh, Inverted World and Chutes Too Narrow.  Rather than being a brave new phase of mass success for either the Shins or for post-Y2K indie rock, that release actually ended up being their peak in popularity, rather than a step along the ladder upwards.

It took bandleader James Mercer (the rest of the band were all relieved of their duties somewhere between albums three and four) a full five years to follow up with Port of Morrow, an okay redirection of The Shins sound which somehow managed to disorientate faithful listeners a little too much while also failing to progress a new direction for the group quite enough. And so, with another five years passing, Mercer returns with Heartworms. The familiar elements are in place, Mercer’s keening vocals, jaunty and often simple arrangements of fairly simple and heartfelt guitar pop songs in the tradition of 80’s college rock bands. Heartworms works better than it’s predecessor because it has a sharper set of songs, and a playfully neat variety of sound which helps elevate it over just another cute guitar pop album. It’s not a major statement or comeback from Mercer, but it’s a good move in the right direction following a period of being a little lost at sea and a nice reward for faithful fans. – PD 

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