Johnny Casino albums are a treat for the converted and a revelation for those less fortunate. If you’re one of the latter, “Trade Winds” is as good a place as any to start.
It’s been way too long between records for Johnny - both this album and its predecessor "Time and Time Again" are old recordings woodshedded for later release - but well worth the wait. The big fella from Sydney’s Northern Beaches makes Spain his home these days, where he plies his dual trades of tattooing and playing music.
“Trade Winds” was recorded before he emigrated a couple of years ago with a crack band in North Fremantle, Western Australia. Drummer Warren Hall (The Volcanics, Datura 4, The Drones), a longtime Casino sideman, joined with Martyn P Casey (Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds /The Triffids/Grinderman) played bass. That’s as fine an engine room as you’ll find.
One definition of a convolution is “a twist”, and there are more of those in the history of Donovan’s Brain than Donald Trump’s Twitter stream.
Starting as a garage band in 1986 - playing Thunders and Stooges covers - the Brain has evolved into a shape-shifting, back woods psychedelic musical collective, with nine albums and 26 past or present members. “Convolutions” covers 1991-2017 and generously spans three discs. That’s 49 songs and a touch under four hours of music.
The only constant in the Donovan’s Brain story is Ron Sanchez, a musician, radio host, restauranteur and producer who relocated many years ago from the US West Coast to the bucolic and relatively remote location of Bozeman, Montana.
They’re not its most prolific band but they’re one of Sydney’s best. The Straight Arrows seem like kids but have been around for nearly a decade and this is only their third long player. It’s doubtful they care about keeping score and neither should you.
What you need to know is that “On Top” is uncomplicated, nicely raw and melodic. Two guitars, bass and drums and well-crafted, economical songs. Tight but loose. Cleaner-sounding on this record than before but still rough enough around the edges.
Owen Penglis writes good songs, alright. Cock an ear to the grinding yet light fuzzfest of “The One” or the buzzsaw burst of album opener “Nothing To Me”. They’re instantly catchy - like early Ratcat to cite a band that was around before these guys were born. Penglis and Al Grigg weave curtains of fuzz with their guitars and the energy level never sags.
It's a long time between Penny Ikinger records but the results are usually worth the wait. "Tokyo" follows "Penelope" (2010) and "Electra" (2003) and is as evocative as ever but with a slightly rockier disposition.
"Tokyo" was recorded with a batch of top-notch Japanese psychedelic musicians, with heavy input from Radio Birdman's Deniz Tek. The latter's influence is evident - not just in some flammable splashes of lead guitar but also in the odd lyric. That Four Winds Bar sure has done some mileage since being name-dropped by Blue Oyster Cult all those years ago...
Even so, "Tokyo" is very much a Penny Ikinger record. Gone are the days where she needed to be referenced as "a past member of Wet Taxis" or as "Nico defrosted". As clever as that last marketing line was, Nico ultimately shut out the world. Penny embraces its musical possibilities and has her own distinctive voice.
Unless I’ve blinked and missed them, it’s been more than a decade since King Brothers appeared on Australian stages and 20 years since they started as a band. Time is rarely kind to any of us, however King Brothers' trademark brand of brutal “hardcore blues” not only remains intact but has blossomed.
“Wasteland” might be their sixth or seventh full-length album - background is hard to dig up on the Interwebs when you don’t read Japanese - and it leaves little to the imagination.
King Brothers are a two-guitars-and-drums trio from Nishinomiya City whose sound has been called “the Germs backing Howling Wolf”. Eric Oblivian reckons they’re the best band in the world and they tour the world constantly.
It's been 15 years since I first laid ears on Sweden's Dee Rangers via their mighty "Pretty Ugly Beat" album, so smear me with a bowl of IKEA meatballs and mashed potato for thinking they'd broken up. Au contraire, to mix European languages in an almost Brexit world, they are very muich alive and kicking.
"All You Need Tonight" is album number seven for a band whose membership has stayed largely stable since they formed in the mid-'90s. You'll recognise their influences as soon as you hear their music. Firmly rooted in the '60s but blurring the stylistic boundaries between pop and garage, it's a potent distillation of what made Scandi music great for a very long time.