“Don’t be concerned about what’s going on outside,” Romy Vager sings on Perfect Day. It’s an apt line for the current times, offering hints of hope amid darkness. Vager’s band, RVG, exists in this space between the real and imagined, crafting songs with lyrics that span absurdism and intimacy; that dream up whole worlds for the listener to inhabit. Jangly guitars are the backdrop to deliciously strange songs on the Melbourne post-punk band’s second record: Christian Neurosurgeon’s title alone is intriguing, and its uncertain narrative adds to its charm. The band’s influences largely lie within the 1980s, with references peppered among the lyrics and hints of the Go-Betweens, the Cure and the Smiths in the sparkling instrumentation. The highlight is I Used to Love You, a deceptively simple track which pares right back to guitars, spare percussion and Vager’s strikingly intense voice articulating a relationship’s breakdown. There’s no greater pleasure than seeing RVG spellbind small but devoted crowds with their tight performances and captivating songs. We won’t do that for quite some time, but until then, this beautiful record is a balm.
–GISELLE AU-NHIEN NGUYEN
Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs
VISCERALS (Rocket) ★★★★
With modes of distraction currently in high demand, now is as good a time as any for one’s senses to be clobbered by the ferocious riffs of doom-laden stoner rock, and the fierce, guttural scream of Matt Baty, frontman of this Newcastle-Upon-Tyne five-piece known colloquially as Pigsx7. With their third album, the band has settled into the sound established on 2018’s King of Cowards, and moved further away from the impenetrable relentlessness of their three-track 2017 debut Feed the Rats. The brutality remains, yet, as with King of Cowards, something faintly bluesy drifts in and out of these high-octane songs (Rubbernecker and Halloween Bolson being highlights), begging comparison with Black Sabbath and Hawkwind – alternatively, imagine Pink Floyd’s rare foray into heaviness, The Nile Song, as the basis for a band’s entire oeuvre. An accomplished musicality is also on show, as you would expect of a band with two members who play with the peerless Richard Dawson. Viscerals straddles the ever-vague line where hard rock ends and metal begins; fans of either will be enthralled by its blunt, emotional cacophony.
Michael Jordan has dug his own musical garden, and now the flowers are blooming. His conceptions as both composer and drummer are uniquely intertwined, his pieces exploring the melodic potential of a large kit of Roto-toms tuned to specific notes. But let’s put the rigour underpinning the methodology partially aside to concentrate on the art. In Motian is a tribute to drummer Paul Motian, among the all-time great bandleaders for drawing out the best in other musicians. He smeared an abstracted vision of the time on to the sonic canvas, without cluttering the music – as Jordan does here with the exceptional Barney McAll (piano) and Julien Wilson (tenor saxophone). The following Cezanne has Jordan’s drums creating the illusion of bass lines, while his cymbals bathe the piano and Wilson’s bass clarinet in an almost sacred radiance. A solo drum adaptation of My Romance enchants, before Jordan broadens the palette with a string quintet, against which he uses mallets to voice eerie chords on his kit. His imagination and phenomenal craft level has resulted in wondrously varied, wildly compelling (try Gilberto!) and often otherworldly music.
WIEN (Sony) ★★★★
Jonas Kaufmann is so versatile as to be masterly in forms that are thought to be mutually exclusive. A singer is not supposed to be a Wagner heldentenor, yet equally at home in the dramatic and spinto roles of Verdi, French Grand Opera, the verismo school and even Mozart. For many, including me, he’s probably the world’s leading tenor right now, and this album shows his mastery of yet another genre, Viennese operetta – he can even whistle perfectly! He offers a selection of operetta arias – Johan Strauss junior, Lehar, Kalman, Zeller and Weinberger – and several Viennese songs in a well-chosen program of favourites and rarities. Some might find his tone on the heavy side, but this averts the risk of a suffocating, saccharine gemutlichkeit, of too much whipped cream and Sachertorte, to which this genre can fall prey. His Rolls-Royce tenor is matched by excellent, idiomatic companions in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Adam Fischer. Soprano Rachel Willis-Sorenson is luscious in three duets, coquettishly singing of the pleasures of an open marriage in Vienna Blood. The printed texts are, oddly, only in English: the arias are all sung in German.
John Shand has written about music and theatre since 1981 in more than 30 publications, including for Fairfax Media since 1993. He is also a playwright, author, poet, librettist, drummer and winner of the 2017 Walkley Arts Journalism Award
Barney Zwartz, a senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity, was religion editor of The Age from 2002 to 2013.