SJD – Saint John Divine (2015)

SJD - Saint John DivineSean “SJD” Donnelly may never have really troubled mainstream New Zealand’s musical consciousness, beyond the quirky tune or two that were sold for use on television commercials. But over the last decade or so each album he’s released has been critically acclaimed, deservedly so. And this run of superb song writing and production continues with the release of Saint John Divine, his seventh album.

SJD’s prior album, 2013’s Elastic Wasteland, won the Taite Music Prize as New Zealand’s most creative of that year for its collection of dark bedroom synth-pop. But where Elastic Wasteland swaddled Donnelly’s masterfully whimsical and moody songs in claustrophobic and bleak synths and drum machines, for his latest album went into Neil Finn’s Roundhead Studio with a full band, including Finn himself.

The album that’s resulted, Saint John Divine, showcases Donnelly’s songs in perhaps the most produced and confident fashion yet, but with all the warm atmosphere and all the rich arrangements squarely presented in service to the songs themselves.

The album’s opener, ‘I Saw The Future’, harks back to the melancholy beauty of Berlin-era Bowie; a sparse, almost shapeless lament; “I saw the future, summed up in a few short lines”, before a staccato riff of strings ties the track before it shifts into the gorgeous bouncy pop of ‘Little Pieces’. But this smart little pop duet with Julia Deans reveals and revels lyrically in a morose subject matter, of things being pretty messed up, of lovers and friends who let you down.

That’s always been SJD’s way, he’s too smart and too thoughtful to let his lyrics slide into the trite or meaningless, he’s a song-writer first and foremost, as well as a masterful producer of pop and electronic music.

And so it goes with Saint John Divine. ‘Jet Planes’ yearns in a very New Zealand manner for travel to foreign places most of us will likely never see. Strings join Donnelly’s plaintive voice, before in the chorus both strings and voice soar in joy, excitement, as the character Donnelly’s singing through expresses excitement about one day riding jet planes and bullet trains to places you’ll never know, and may never go.

The upbeat, almost-garage rock of “I Want To Be Foolish” comes close to a Lou Reed-like snarl in places, this character Donnelly is voicing want to kick out of the softness of middle age by a trip to the pub and a bit of controlled chaos.

‘Helensville’ perhaps forms the centrepiece of the album; moody and gothic, drenched in reverb-laden guitar which conjures a rainy night away out northwest of Auckland, while Donnelly sings of being left behind, abandoned in a small town. There’s a desperation to the sound, even as the intricate and rewarding arrangements propel the listener forward into the next stage of the tale, in ‘Invisible Man’. Donnelly appears to write mostly in the voices of characters who aren’t him, though might almost be. But, with ‘Invisible Man’ he seems particularly personal as he sings about playing bass guitar in sixteen bands but still no one knows his name.

That’s probably true, however. For despite how good Donnelly is as a songwriter, and how superb each of his albums has been, how respected he is by his peers and by his cult audience, he’s probably never going to get the name recognition afforded the likes of Neil Finn or Don McGlashan – despite being a frequent collaborator with both, and both being happy to sing his praises every chance they get.

Donnelly’s body of work deserves that praise, and Saint John Divine might be his best yet – and being able to surpass the superb chamber-pop genius of 2007’s Songs From A Dictaphone is no mean feat. And, happily, the listener is left with a sense that Donnelly’s not done yet, because Saint John Divine ends with ‘Was I Always Here’, one of the most beautiful string-driven songs you’ll ever here; uplifting spirits and ensuring this album will stick in the mind and the heart as an emotional journey and a musical celebration of one of New Zealand’s finest talents.

Beer match: Well made, touching on “commercial”, but made on a smaller scale and, perhaps too smart and just too good to ever be accepted by a mainstream that likes things simpler. An alcoholic equivalent of Saint John Divine might be found in one of the beers put out by North End Brewing, a small brewery nominally based out of Waikanae (but, at the moment, contract brewing at Panhead in Upper Hutt until North End’s kit is installed and ready to go).

North End’s Keiran Haslett-Moore knows his beer, and knows how to make good beer, and appears far more interested in making beer that is reliably good rather than jumping out to grab the latest trend or to make over-the-top beers featuring outrageous ingredients – just as SJD knows how to write a good song to a particular song-style, without needing musical stunts to sway the audience.

Saint John Divine, then, might be accompanied by North End’s Amber. Like the album it’s almost a mainstream commercial product but – and it’s an important ‘but’ – it’s made superbly, with smarts and personality that result in it perhaps being both too good to ever really break out to be a best seller. But, maybe, one day one of North End’s beers; like one of SJD’s songs, will make that breakthrough. They certainly deserve to.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

Asunder, Sweet and Other DistressGodspeed You! Black Emperor (or, often, GSY!BE) are a Canadian post-rock band (or, perhaps, collective). They’re purveyors of a style of post-rock where guitars, bass, drums and (usually) violin are strung together into soaring soundscapes that build to crescendos of noise; full of melody and harmony amongst the walls of sound. They’re not unique in either sound or genre, but since they first appeared in the late 1990s they’ve been considered forerunners of the modern wall-of-guitar post rock.

Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is GSY!BE’s fifth studio album, and the first featuring new material since their return in 2010 from a long hiatus. Their prior album, 2012’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! was put together of music they’d been playing live up to a decade previously, and melded closely to their prior recorded sounds of wall-of-guitar mixed with lengthy found-sound, tape effects and drone segments.

Here, immediately as Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress kicks off with the opener, “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!” there’s an audible sense that the band has moved on – perhaps not to a new sound, but to a different way of expressing musically the emotions they’re attempting to capture. Raw, live-sounding drums start the track off, mixed clear and upfront, before in comes three (or more) electric guitars playing a heavy stoner-metal riff. The riffs build and build, loosely played, taut yet not exact, the guitars and bass swarming over the loping guitars before a violin joins in, lifting the timbre and allowing the guitars to spread even further beneath. The melody is gorgeous, uplifting, spine-tingling.

Then, just as the opening track reaches a climax, the sound collapses into the the album’s next two tracks, “Lamb’s Breath” and “Asunder, Sweet”. These two tracks are ominous drones, guitars trembling and looming, washes of feedback sliding in and out. Together, the two tracks are enthralling, seemingly not going anywhere but, each time your attention flicks back to them the sounds have modulated and crept elsewhere. Dark, sometimes even terrifying, with the mid-section of this album GSY!BE are inhabiting a space they’ve hinted at before, but usually with found-sounds. Here its guitars, drones, and violin, feedback and natural sounds from amps, rumbling and rolling over each other, drawing the ear ever closer and closer.

Until the catharsis you know is coming arrives, with the album’s closing track “Piss Clowns Are Trebled”. There’s no gap or break between the tracks on the album thus far, but here a single droning guitar comes in, hinting that the previously fifteen minutes of noise is about to evolve. A violin shrieks, and the background wall of sound drifts away leaving a sole, overdriven, bassy guitar sliding between two notes.

A steady, thumping drum beat joins, while another guitar rings out a distorted trebly note above, mirroring the droning riff, as the violin begins to sway with a complex little pattern. With the violin providing the anchor the drums expand, the bass returns, and with a jarring note a lurching guitar riff overpowers the scene. It’s back to a near-stoner rock sound, swaying, rumbling, the focus all on the riff. Power through repetition, the instruments and the ear all finding ways to add or subtract sounds from the riff, as the track stomps on a huge climax of sound, walls of distortion, feedback providing soaring melodies and a release from the dark terror that filled the album’s middle.

Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress’ sound is remarkable – the guitars are front, centre and dirty, the drums present and cavernous, the whole album possessed of a very live sound. But within the grit and intertwined walls of instrumentation is space and clarity. Each instrument can be heard, and heard to be played live and sympathetically with the other instruments. There’s nothing meticulous or clean about the sounds, but it still manages to be intricate and precise.

It’s very much a guitar album, certainly the heaviest entire album this band’s done – they’ve touched on this level of heavy guitar and 70s-influenced stoner rock before, but here it’s the centrepiece of the sound.

Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress is, quite simply, superb. By choosing to focus on a live-sounding recording of loud guitar, drums, bass and violin, GSY!BE have managed to create a post-rock sound that could almost be described as timeless. Walls of noisy, stoned guitars are nothing new in rock music, but with this album GSY!BE having managed to combine their ability penchant for epic soundscapes with that style of immediate guitar rock, to create something that almost could sound like almost anything else but, really, could only be produced by this band at this time. There’s a lightness and playfulness amongst the dark heaviness, uplifting, exciting, inspiring.

Absolutely worth checking out.

Beer match: An intense interplay between light and dark? A sound hinted at by others but could really only belong to this band? A uniquely light interpretation of something that, on surface appearances should be dark and heavy? Epic’s Apocalypse IPA tastes like this album sounds. A perfectly matched pair. And I’ll think I’ll have some more to say about that beer in another blog post shortly…

Darren Watson – Introducing Darren Watson

Introducing Darren WatsonFull disclosure – I don’t really know a lot about the blues. While it’s a style of music that clearly pervades so much of what I choose to listen to, I’ve rarely dug into the genre proper beyond a few of, I guess, “the classics”. And that’s despite having played in a blues band for a number of years in my late teens.

That was when I first met Darren Watson, one of New Zealand’s blues greats. Though he really was just a few years older than us, his exemplary talent and relative success with Smokeshop was an inspiration, and he was always available as a mentor, with encouragement, and slinging a few support gigs our way here and there.

Watson’s never gone away, always working, producing an album every few years, each better than the last (2010’s Saint Hilda’s Faithless Boy was one of my favourite albums of that year, a real highlight of Watson’s career up to that point). But you’d likely be hard pressed to find that many people who were aware of or had heard his music; especially outside of Wellington. A living musical treasure who, for the most part, never troubled the average Kiwi.

Until ‘Planet Key’. Watson’s never been politically silent; he’s a passionate lefty, and the last six years of this National government have seen him more and more outspoken on issues he cares about. So, in the lead up to this year’s election he released ‘Planet Key’, a satirical song poking fun at the Prime Minister, accompanied by a scything video.

Suddenly, Watson’s name was back in the media, on the radio and television. Comment, discussion, a “quite professionally done” review from John Key himself. Then a complaint to the Electoral Commission, a decision that the song was an election advertisement that required a promoter statement, a subsequent ban on airplay, leading to even more discussion and debate. Until eventually a day in court. “I fought the law… and the judge reserved their decision”, as Watson himself says.

All the while Watson was putting the finishing touches on his latest album, the crowd-funded, home-recorded, Introducing Darren Watson. The title itself a little joke, surely. A welcome to all the people who’ve either forgotten about Watson or never heard of him at all over the three decades he’s been slinging his guitar and singing the blues until ‘Planet Key’ thrust his name, face and voice back into their awareness.

But the title also fits, because if you’ve never heard Watson’s brand of versatile, grooving blues then Introducing… is a damn fine place to start. Because on this latest album Watson’s continued his growth as a musician and songwriter to produce what is surely his best album yet.

It almost goes without saying that Watson’s an excellent guitar player, whether locking down a slow blues jam on an acoustic, or bending the notes with a sexy shimmer while soloing on the electric. Yet on Introducing… he’s slinging that axe better than ever, accompanied by a sympathetic, not-too-clean production that lets you hear the bends, the pick hitting the strings, the rattle and hum on the frets; intimate nuanced, exciting, and very bluesy.

Even more than the guitar playing, however, is the singing. Watson’s voice is finer than I’ve ever heard it before, across this album’s ten songs. Age continues to mellow and roughen his voice, a sultry timbre slinking into tenor voice, adding a soulful turn to the little tremolos and lifts that mark the singing of a fine blues vocalist.

And the songs – ten of them, eight self-penned by Watson with two more from the great Bill Lake. Funny and smart, with a lot of sexy sass – ‘Slow Cooker’, in particular, does that sultry thing of taking a song about food and making it just shy of being obscenely, hilariously filthy – “oh, please, baby spread the salt on the fish, you know I like to taste that thing.” But also, happy; apart from the two gorgeous, slower Lake songs (‘Thought I’d Seen It All’ and ‘I Wanna Be With You’) the songs on Introducing Darren Watson are mostly sweet, fun and uplifting. I suspect Darren’s in love, and it’s showing…

His band on the album is great too; just as much as Watson’s guitar it feels impossible to imagine this album sounding so superb without the rambunctious piano playing or soulful Hammond of Alan Norman. Or, perhaps even more so, the shuffle and groove bought along by Richard Te One’s drumming – a particular stylistic flourish of Watson is a blues grove that shuffles and almost stumbles, drawing your body with the beat until you’re dancing almost unconsciously, and that just wouldn’t happen without the drummer finding a groove to lock it all in and move the beat forwards while the song sways above.

Introducing Darren Watson is a great album, a fun, fantastically produced and performed blues album that will provide a great summer accompaniment, for listening to in the ‘Southern Sunshine’, as Watson himself celebrates on one of the album’s most upbeat tracks.

And it’s available now, from Watson’s bandcamp page. Get it. And head there now to check out how it sounds – normally at this point I’d embed a video; but so far none have come out for any of the songs on Introducing…, so I’ll leave it up to your own ears.

Beer Match: A groovy, fun blues album needs a fun, easy-drinking beer; something to enjoy on the deck on a summer’s afternoon as it pumps out of the stereo. And something local, too – a Wellington beer for a Wellington musician. I’d take this album out on the deck with a glass of ParrotDog’s ‘FlaxenFeather’, a smooth, easy-drinking, 4.7% golden ale, with just enough fruity hop flavours to keep the taste buds tingling while you put your feet up and soak in the blues with a smile.

Jakob – Sines (2014)

12 Jacket (Gatefold - Two Pocket) [GD30OB2-N]

It’s been a long laborious journey, a tale of failed record labels, broken equipment and broken hands but finally, Hawkes Bay post-rock band Jakob have returned with their fourth full-length album, Sines.

And it’s a return I welcome. Their three prior albums are amongst my favourite albums, both post-rock and of New Zealand artists, but not having heard anything from them for so long had me wondering if this band had quietly faded away, like some of their epic soundscapes can fade away with a shimmer of echoing guitar.

But no, they’re back. Rumours began to swirl mid-year, early copies of the album were released to some media and influencers, and the day the album went onto pre-sale I ordered my copy. Then, a few weeks ago, it arrived in the letterbox, and since then I’ve been listening to it frequently, letting it seep in, letting it reveal its full beauty.

Because this is a beautiful album; full of the emotional intensity, tension and release that has marked the sound of this trio over the last decade or so. The songs build from subtle beginnings, washes of trebly guitar accompanied by rolling drums and looming bass, before exploding into layers of distortion and noise.

The album’s opening track, ‘Blind Them With Science’, sits well within the style that Jakob most commonly inhabit, and from within which they produce some of the best music of their genre. Building slowly with Jeff Boyle’s layered, swooping guitars before Jason Johnston’s drums and and Maurice Beckett’s bass lurch in, like a looming behemoth lumbering in through the mist. Then, Boyle’s guitar opens up, digital delay drenching a percussive, trebly sound, rising from under the rhythm until it expands and soars. The guitar flying free as Johnston starts to bring the cymbals into the mix.

But from as early as the album’s second track, ‘Emergent’, it becomes apparent that on Sines Jakob are spreading their musical wings, finding new musical words to express their post-rock language. Here gorgeous strings arranged by Rhian Sheehan provide the core. Boyle’s guitar and Beckett’s bass simply circle around a repetitive, hypnotic motif, as the strings creep in, gently at first, then swelling, soaring, letting the musical landscape bask as if under a rising sun.

The strings also make a heart-wrenching reappearance on ‘Harmonia’, the song concluding with their aching sadness where, in the past, Jakob would’ve let the guitar spiral down to bring the song to a fade. It’s a maturing of their sound, a grasping of other colours within the sonic palate that allow them to paint their musical soundscapes with colours both brighter and darker than ever before.

Still, I can’t quite grasp the album with as much adoration as some others have. It’s great; and a great ‘next-step’ for this band that’s been a long time coming. However, I somehow get a sense that it could’ve perhaps been even more. Hearing about the equipment failures that occurred during recording at Roundhouse, and the insufficient time allowed for both the initial recording and mixing makes me wonder if this album is really all that it could be.

Or perhaps that’s just the lingering feeling I’m left with after the album ends with the title track, a five-minute drone of guitar swoops and swoons that feels formless, unshaped. While it’s moving, and moody, it makes me wonder if the song ‘Sines’ – and the album itself – could’ve been even more.

And that leaves me with hope. I’m not frustrated that Sines leaves me wanting more; rather I’m excited. I hope that this album’s long-awaited release indicates that we will both see and hear more from Jakob in the near future. Boyle’s indicated he wants to get back into the studio soon, and with with what Sines has shown Jakob are now pointing themselves towards I’m going to be very eager to here what they do next.

But, in the meantime, if Sines may not be the finest album Jakob have yet done (for me, that’s still 2008’s Solace), with ‘Resolve’ they’ve presented what may be their finest nine minutes of music ever. Because, after three minutes of build this song explodes into a massive wall of sound with Boyle’s guitar hitting a percussive, sharp tone he’s never achieved before. And as his guitar clatters along, lurching drunkenly, prettily above the rumbling drums and bass, I throw my head back, bask in the sound. Vast; massive; the beauty of the sound of open spaces and darkness complete.

Beer match: I’d pair this album with the ‘Freyja’, a “California Common” or “Steam Ale” from Christchurch’s Valkyrie Brewing. This beer is rich, deeply dark, but with a generous hop profile that arrives in the mouth with a crisp snap, before leaving a long, lingering, beautiful aftertaste. It matches the build; the release and fade of Jakob’s instrumental songs well.

Jordan Reyne – Mother (2014)

coverJordan Reyne’s recently released Mother, the second EP in her “Maiden Mother Crone” trilogy, an examination of the role the ancient archetypes play in modern narratives of women. Unlike Crone, where the songs were held together by spare, darkly industrial vocal loops, on Mother Reyne’s bought her acoustic guitar to the fore.

But that doesn’t mean it’s an album of pretty folk-style guitar picking. Because when playing in this mode Reyne’s guitar figures are repetitive, simply altered chords that slide into each other to form a sound that is reminiscent of the drone of a bagpipe. Over this Reyne layers her Celtic-tinged vocals, full-throated, alternatively seductive or sinister, Dorian-scaled. With some basic acoustic percussion adding a counterpoint the end product is a sound that feels as ancient as the roots of the mountains, yetcontemporary and vital.

In the five songs on Mother, Reyne takes us through the journey of her character, beginning with ‘Don’t Look Down’, where the mother croons sweetly, defiantly to someone (her child, one assumes), that she’s going to save their life, because “no one can do this alone.” As more vocals are layered on in loops, the song becomes insistent, almost triumphant, a cry of certainty.

Which almost immediately crashes into reality in the second song, ‘The Ever Afters’, where the mother discovers the betrayal and pain that comes when a beloved (the father?) moves from the “happily” to the “every after.” “Then came the day you smiled to the smell of new perfume,” Reyne snarls, “don’t touch me, don’t touch me.” Her voice constricting with venom, while the guitar drones and the percussion thumps, as the Mother realises she’s surrendered her childhood hopes and dreams for the love of someone who no longer needs or wants her.

The Mother’s tale as told by Reyne is a harsh one; held up to criticism by a world that feels entitled to judge her, an object for men to observe as they make deals with the mythical ferryman to forever journey between duty and vice. Someone who feels the pain and sadness of a world into which they’ve bought new life, only to see the men who hold power do nothing but further destroy it.

The EP’s closing track, ‘Rulers of Men’, is a short, heartbreaking coda as the Mother reflects on all the promises made by men to fix the world’s problems, political and environmental. “Then they watergated wires to stop the questions and the talking,” laments Reyne, before concluding with a sorrowful lament that her boy is burning, right in front of her, the Mother. Powerless. Outraged at the deceit.

Mother is yet another powerful collection of songs from Reyne, hypnotic, enthralling, emotion-full music, and a powerful statement. Together with the Crone EP, Reyne has now put out, on a very limited budget and with little but social media for promotion, ten of the best songs she’s ever recorded in her career. And with Maiden due to also be released before the end of the year, taken together the three EPs might form together to make one could be one of my favourite “albums” of 2014. I’m looking forward to the third instalment.

Mother can be purchased, both for digital download and on CD, from Jordan Reyne’s Bandcamp page.

Beer match: Smokey, celtic-tinged, deceptively complex. Sounds to me just like the Tāne, from Herne Brewing. I recently had this off tap, and it’s great served that way as well as from the bottle I tried before its official release. Keep an eye out for it. Even better, listen to some Jordan Reyne while you drink it, the match really works!

The New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers

Brill BruisersWhat a difference a good single, with a good video can make, eh?

Since encountering them via the linkage with frequent vocalist Neko Case, Canadian indie power-popsters The New Pornographers have been an firm favourite of mine. But, that said, I wasn’t much of a fan of The New Pornographers’ 2010 album Together. It was okay, I guess, but I found the songs an odd combination of too cutesy yet also too long. It didn’t hold my attention, and I’ve barely played it since it was released, while the rest of the band’s back catalogue still gets lots of playtime.

When word of a new album by A.C. Newman and his talented offsiders emerged earlier this year, I didn’t give it too much thought. I knew I’d check Brill Bruisers out, inevitably, but there was no sense of “must have”, no excitement from me.

Until I saw the video for ‘War on the East Coast’. Then I got excited.

The single-take video is masterful. Smart, entertaining, and funny, abounding with sly jokes of a very-Canadian post-apocalypse, matching the lyrical wit of the song. (One in-joke is that the writer/singer of the song, Dan Bejar, isn’t the one singing in the video – that’s A.C. Newman, while Bejar’s the hairy guy walking alongside him.)

Then there’s the music; the chugging, propulsive guitar, the hugely catchy chorus, the effervescent keyboards, the smart-and-poppy danceability of it all. It promised good things of the album.

And the album delivers. With Brill Bruisers, The New Pornographers have hooked into a keyboard heavy pop sound full of hints of some of the best smart pop music of the late 70s on. New Wave and Britpop elements spring forth as a natural consequence of songs that revolve around strong, catchy keyboard parts above an anchor of bright rhythm guitar, while the drums lay down a danceable foundation with clever little syncopated fills making your hips twitch.

Above, gorgeous vocal harmonies lay down the chorus after hooky chorus, the band’s many talented vocalists (not just Newman, Case and Bejar – all the band sing, keyboardist Kathryn Calder in particular providing crucial backing vocals on most tracks) all on top form communicating the band’s usual lyrical theme of the oddness of being, well, working musicians.

Brill Bruisers provides superb power pop, taking music that could be a bit old fashioned, and instead fashion something entirely contemporary. Unique, yet through the magic of the structure of the pop song, instantly familiar.

A joyful chorus of vocals kicks the album off with the title track, giving more than a little hint of the pop-history this album’s mining with a reference to the Brill Building song-factory. And the joy, the sound of celebration continues throughout, through songs with just enough variation in tempo, length and theme to keep the ear interested through repeated plays.

But again, as I listen to the album, it’s the keyboards provided by Calder and Blaine Thurier that catch and entice. Moved right to the front of the mix, throbbing, swirling, hooking in with sounds both bright and rhythmic, the keyboard parts (and, beneath them, the jagged guitar) anchor Brill Bruisers into an almost synth-pop sound. But not the moody, dark synth-pop that has been delved into by a few indie bands of late; here The New Pornographers are using the timbre and brightness to bring a smile, to get you dancing. Culminating with ‘You Tell Me Where’, the album’s closing track that hangs one of the most catchy choruses you’ll ever hear over the power-pop keyboards that characterised the last few albums from The Who.

It’s a pure pop head rush, timelessly contemporary, and might be one of my favourite albums of 2014.

Beer match: Bright, bubbly, but a lot smarter than it may appear at first glance. Just like the Garage Project Hapi Daze I wrote about not too long ago.

Jucifer – L’Autrichienne (2008)

Jucifer - L'Autrichienne

The description of some albums just raise an eyebrow. And, if you’re like me, perhaps raise your interest. I’d never heard of American sludge-metal wife-and-husband Jucifer before someone mentioned L’Autrichienne to me as a recommendation a week or so back. Such a band doing a sprawling 21-song epic concept album about Marie Antoinette? Ok, count me in.

Iif you’re not like me, maybe such a description would turn you off listening to such an album. And, if so, you’d be missing out on one of the most interesting, exciting, diverse rock albums I’ve heard since, well, since Maximum the Hormone’s Yoshu Fukushu.

The shear range of music on display here is mind boggling and ear bending. It’s all “rock” of some variety, but then the Soundgarden-esque riffing of the opening track ‘Blackpowder’ ends only to throw the listener into screamed ultra-fast hardcore punk of ‘Thermidor’, which just thirty seconds later warps into the gorgeous, melancholic trance of ‘To The Earth’. And that song ends with the sound of a dropped drum stick; an idiosyncratic touch of as-live-as recording that just makes the album more fascinating.

Because, throughout these 21 songs, Jucifer never sits still, and hurls a wide range of rock, metal and punk at the listener, but all done with a stripped back, rawness that reminds that this band really is just a two-piece – drummer (and sometimes bassist) Edgar Livengood, and Amber Valentine, who can treat her guitar like a beast or a beauty, as well as possessing one of the most flexible voices I’ve heard utilised on a rock metal.

One minute Valentine will be screaming out incomprehensible roars over a violent thrash, next she’ll be crooning over a single strummed electric guitar like she was Kristen Hersh. While singing in French. Other times Valentine will be roaring along with some slow doom metal, only for the next track to showcase her transcending scales, adding an edge, becoming reminiscent of 1990s PJ Harvey or Courtney Love.

To keep up the 1990s women-in-alt-rock theme, there’s ‘Armada’, which features a thumped kick drum, a lurching fuzzed guitar, and a lazy, multi-tracked vocal, closely harmonising with the guitar. It could be off The Breeders ‘Last Splash’.

Yes, it is a concept album, but the smart, interesting lyrics do nothing but further fascinate. ‘Armada’, that fuzzed out Breeders-like song, features the hook line “to smash your arrogance on The Rock of Gibraltar.” And, as the album leads us from Marie Antoinette being the glamorous, desirable centre of the French court, through war and revolution, to capture and eventually execution, words and tales can be made out that keep drawing the listener back in, to find out more.

And, sometimes, they trick us. My favourite song on the album is ‘Window (Where The Sea Falls Forever)’. It starts out with a spiky, snotty grunge rock (hi, Juliana Hatfield?) where Antoinette is spits at herself with disgust, for not seeing the signs of revolution, and also for not doing enough to defend herself and her position.

But then ‘Window’ changes, the guitar becoming shrill and Valentine alters her voice, sliding into a husky high register, singing sweetly. The words “beyond the kingdom and the love of mankind I am gone, to the edge of the earth beyond” are heard. Is this regret, is this Antoinette feeling guilt or seeking redemption before her execution.

Oh, no. Because then the words in the sweetly sung, closely-harmonised chorus reveal themselves. “Beyond, beyond there’s another world waiting to be lead, beyond, beyond I’ll have everything again.” Antoinette doesn’t regret a thing; her sadness is for the foolish people who decided to stop worshiping her.

And it’s smart musical and lyrical juxtapositions like that, the huge range of rock music on show here, and the huge wall of sound this band create even in their quietest moments that have made L’Autrichienne a quick favourite. Worth checking out – it can be obtained easily from Jucifer’s Bandcamp page.

Beer match: This album is big, fun, and very interesting. And, yet, it’s a direct and straightforward rock album, mostly just guitar, drums and voice. Is there a style of beer that is “rock music”? Probably pale ales or IPAs. But, this album deserves something a bit more interest. Something that stands up well as a great example of the style. So, my recommendation for this would be Parrotdog’s recently released ‘Jurassic Pale Ale’, a hoppy pale ale that carries both sweetness and fruity hops superbly into one of the best of the style I’ve tasted. And it’s got dinosaurs.