There’s something to be said of any band that can hop flawlessly from rock to reggae to drum and bass and back again and take a crowd of people along with them for the ride. And that is that they are undeniable rock stars. That’s just what I’d call New Zealand band Six60 who managed to effortlessly transition between genres this past Friday when they hit the stage at The Metro in Sydney to a sold out crowd.
Opening with their light hearted reggae anthem ‘Don’t Forget Your Roots’ the energetic 5 piece captivated the audience thanks to their boyish enthusiasm and playfulness on stage. Six60 made it clear that they love what they do. In return the crowd assured them that the feeling was mutual by singing (or screaming?) along to almost every note of every word of every song that they played throughout the show. It didn’t matter whether the guys were tackling honey-coated reggae or gutsy rock tinged tracks the crowd was with them every step of the way, and the atmosphere of the show felt a lot like one hell-of-a-party.
Lead singer Matiu Walters’ vocals remained flawless through out the show, despite the fact that he jumped around the stage with boundless energy for 90% of the show and the fact that he’s the only singer in the band – there’s no backing vocalists to help him out. I couldn’t help but ponder how much warmth extra vocals and harmonies would add to the bands sound, but Walters looked like he didn’t mind carrying all the vocal responsibilities at all. And I quickly forgot about my love of harmonies as Walters’ vocals gave more than most do; he was honest and subtle when required on the stripped back numbers but switched to bold and strong on command. All of this delivered with his cheeky devil-may-care attitude, which was perfectly in tune with the rest of the bands mood.
By the time the show got to its encore of ‘Someone To Be Around’, thanks to the crowds unusual chant choice of “Whoop there it is!”, Six60 had delivered a strong show that managed to have the dynamic energy of a stadium rock concert while maintaining the personable, down to earth vibe of your local pub gig. But as humble and carefree as Six60 may appear they are far more than just a pub band. Six60 make having the musical equivalent of split personality not only look easy, but very much like something that every band should take a stab at. After all why should we have to stick with one genre if we can enjoy a mash of them all in one show by one talented band? If Six60 keep dishing out their brand of rock-roots-reggae with a dash of dub then I’ll gladly keep making room on my plate for more of their treats.
Life lessons, life’s ups and downs, life regrets, life loves, and the stories that come from living a ‘real’ life are the prominent themes in Melbourne based vocalist Jess Harlen‘s latest album Park Yard Slang (Obese Records). Behind Harlen’s individually sweet yet haunting voice are songs that scratch below the surface, and have real meaning.
After the short introduction of “Get Ready”, Harlen jumps straight in with the title track “Park Yard Slang”. This keys lead track is a definite highlight of the album, where the laid back soul sound is a vehicle for her to remind us that we are stronger than we realise; “If we are so fragile, why is it we walk so many miles”. The track is catchy; evocative, setting the theme for the journey Harlen takes the listener on throughout the album.
A glimmer of pop sensibility is shown in “Let You Down”, with the hand clapping, sing-along, smile on your face, heart warming and fun track providing a respite from the often-somber tone of the album. If there is any track that has the ability to cross the soul to pop divide and introduce Jess to a more mainstream audience it is this track.
The album continues on with stand out tracks “Colliding”, with smooth horns adding a distinct, different texture to the sentimental sweetness of this track, and “Beautiful Struggle”, where soulfully heavy-hearted vocals float over strong beats. The subtle darkness created invites the listener into the sorrow of every note that Harlen sings, creating an image of a conflicted spirit.
Although the album can sometimes drift along into melancholy territory, Jess is always encouraging in her lyrics, which balances out the pain that is evident in her vocals. She relates to suffering, while seeing the brighter side and pushing beyond the drab greyness of the everyday obstacles that everyday people face in life.
Weaker moments on the album include the dance hall, Caribbean tone of “Plantation”. Harlens strength lies in her storytelling ability. She soars on tracks where she is singing truthfully & honestly and transcends all barriers to touch the listeners’ soul. The weaker tracks are only weak because you are aware by this point that Harlen has so much more to offer than this.
The production on the album, by Plutonic Lab, matches each track; harsh & dark instrumentation used where necessary while in other tracks such as the ukulele driven ‘Daydreamer’; light, intricate, delicate touches are used to facilitate Jess’ storytelling. The production, Jess vocals and narrative are faithful to each other, never being out of sync throughout the album, always complimenting each other and effectively drawing the listener into her authentic, honest picture of the trials and tribulations experienced in life.
With Park Yard Slang, Jess Harlen takes the listener on a journey through folk, soul & hip hop inspired rhythms and sets herself up to be one of Australia’s brightest songwriters & an asset to Australian soul music.
Review Score: 4/5
Jess Harlen’s ‘Park Yard Slang’ Tour 2012
For more information visit Jess Harlen’s facebook page www.facebook.com/JessHarlenMusic