Tag: Australian Guitar

L.S. Dunes: Travis Stever’s yang to Frank Iero’s yin

Image credit: Mark Beemer

Travis Stever talks a lot.

That’s not an insult – the 43-year-old New Jerseyan just has a lot to say, and virtually all of it is fantastic. He’s impressively storied: most would know him as the lead guitarist in Coheed And Cambria, but he’s popped his head through many a musical window over some three decades: side-projects include Fire Deuce, The English Panther, Davenport Cabinet and Zero Trust (per Wikipedia, but I’m certain there’s more out there), and he also played lap-steel on My Brother’s Blood Machine, the 2006 debut from The Prize Fighter Inferno, the solo folktronica project of Coheed frontman Claudio Sanchez.

Stever’s latest project is L.S. Dunes, a post-hardcore supergroup* I can only accurately describe as “every mid-to-late 2000s emo fan’s wildest pipe-dream come true”. Stever plays guitar alongside Frank Iero (of My Chemical Romance, and his own mountain of side-projects), while Anthony Green (Circa Survive, Saosin) sings, Tim Payne (Thursday) plays bass, and Tucker Rule (also Thursday, but for a short time, Yellowcard too) plays drums. I write “supergroup” with an asterisk because although L.S. Dunes are a supergroup, etymologically, when I interviewed Stever for Australian Guitar #151, he fucking hated that I called them one. 

Nevertheless, we got along like a house on fire, and I had a blast chatting with him about his new band and their debut album, Past Lives (out now on Fantasy Records). It was hard not to be engaged with everything he said: watching him wax lyrical about his impenetrable love for music, even over Zoom with our video link presenting him at approximately three pixels per inch, the glimmer in his eyes and wideness of his smile made it clear, Stever is living his dream. He’s just a kid that fell in love with rock ‘n’ roll, started jamming out for the hell of it – not to make bank, but simply because it was fun – and somewhere along the way, wound up turning it into his full-time gig (no pun intended). 

It doesn’t seem to have gotten any less fun for him since then, either. Usually artists with careers as weighty as his appear at least a little burnt out on the music industry. You can tell when someone’s passion is genuine, and Stever’s certainly is.

The proof in the pudding, for me, was just how goddamn much Stever had to say about any and every topic. Our interview in Australian Guitar #151, spanning five questions across a hair over 1,000 words, was cut down from a transcript about four times as long. His unedited answers to those questions ran a solid 600-850 words apiece – well over 1,000 for the first – and there were still a few topics that we had to shave off for page space. One of those was actually my favourite from the entire chat: the creative chemistry that L.S. Dunes unlocked between Stever and Iero.

I opted not to run with that in the printed story because what did make it to the page is a lot more relevant to the origin story of L.S. Dunes and how that led to Past Lives shaping up in the way it did – which is ultimately the story I wanted to centre. But I think what Stever said about his creative dynamic with Iero – and how they each pushed the other to venture outside their comfort zones – adds a lot to the narrative surrounding L.S. Dunes. It also adds a twinge of contextual colour to songs like ‘Blender’ and ‘Sleep Cult’, which makes for a more gratifying listen when you really stop to soak in and digest Past Lives.

Ultimately, I think one of the coolest things about the “supergroup” concept is how idiosyncrasy can germinate when two artists of similar mind collaborate. Both Stever and Iero come from backgrounds of punk, rock and post-hardcore – even if their writing and playing styles are quite dissimilar – but when they joined forces to form L.S. Dunes, they started writing music that neither ever thought they would. And that’s so fucking cool.

So below is Stever’s commentary on his chemistry with Iero, as well as a couple of other offcuts from my interview with him. I’ve included those as well because at a base level, as a fan of music at the end of the day, I love reading about my favourite artists’ plans for the future – even if they never come to fruition – and about how they feel in the lead-up to a major release. I know that latter topic is now entirely irrelevant, because Past Lives came out a week ago, but, like, fuck it, it’s my blog, I make the rules.

You should read the Australian Guitar piece before you hit the jump, because it offers some solid context on exactly what L.S. Dunes is, how their collective ethos plays into everything, and why Stever and I were even talking to each other in the first place – and because the latter two of the three questions here were asked after the ones printed in AG, and some lines might be a bit confusing without that context.

So we’re about a month away from getting our hands on Past Lives. How does it feel to be here in the home stretch?
You know, you’re always going to feel a little on edge when you’re about to release something that you poured your heart and soul into, no matter how much you believe in it. It’s exciting, but at the same time, you can feel the the vibes of danger – the danger of exposing the art that you created with your brothers, you know? And knowing that people are going to judge it. But that’s the gig, right. That’s the game. You know people are going to receive it however they choose to – but I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback from everybody I’ve showed it to, so that’s a good sign!

Being the two guitarists in L.S. Dunes, how did you and Frank coalesce in the creative process?
It goes back to what I was saying before, how there was no expectation. It’s really intriguing, because we communicate with each other through the guitars. And we were doing it over streams, online, through email [and] text – and we just knew, as soon as we started sending each other ideas, that it was going to work. And then, you know, it was just as relieving to get into an actual room together and be able to know that the spark was there [in real life], too.

I’ve got to be honest, after working with Frank [on this record], I had to go back and revisit a lot of the things he did in My Chem, and even a lot of his solo stuff – not that I didn’t fully respect everything he does before, but you know, after you see a person in a new light, you understand their musical language more. And I am so honoured to be in this band with him. He comes up with these riffs that are completely different from anything I’ve ever heard before. They’re all over the map – because you can say, “Oh, he comes up with these, really awesome, like, edgy punk riffs,” but that’s not true. 

There’s a song at the end of the album that he wrote, ‘Sleep Cult’, where Anthony’s vocals almost have a doo-wop kind of feel. Frank had written that chord progression – that fingerpicking kind of thing – and I heard it while I was working on other guitars; we were in pre-production, getting ready to go over to Will Yip’s, and it was at the end of the session, we’d been working all day, and all of a sudden, he started playing this really beautiful chord progression. And so we recorded that, just as a rough little idea, but we wound up rolling with it. I just added some lap steel and some really delicate chords to it, just to give it a little nuance. 

There are numerous parts on the album like that, which I think are probably the best parts of it. Another one that started out with Frank – which is probably my favourite [track] on the album right now – is ‘Blender’. I don’t want to get too dorky about it, but you know, that song is a really good example of what it was like to work with him. I sent him the guitar parts, and he really liked them – I think he was already fine and excited with everything I’d laid down… Because you know, that can always be a touchy thing. I mean, he pretty much had a hole-in-one with the ideas I would send him, and I always loved what he was playing – but I was open to him switching whatever he wanted.

In this case, I had written all the guitars that I was going to play, which was based on what he was playing and what Tim was playing. There were no vocals yet. And I’m so glad that we took our time with that song, because at the very last minute, I just switched it up completely, and I wound up harmonising a lot of the guitars [Frank] was playing instead. It was a completely different approach. That’s one of the things I loved about working on this record – the amount of time we were able to take to really think about it.

I’m not going to speak for Frank, but I think he was probably able to step out of his comfort zone [on this record]. Because there’s things he played on it where someone would probably be like, “Wow, I’ve never heard him play like that!” And for me, that feels really special because I got to [work with him] on those songs. And the same goes for me – there are a lot of [parts] on the record that are very different to [the parts] I would usually write.

We’ve already gone way over time, but I want to wrap up by looking to the future: what are your plans for Australia, and what’s the vibe on a second L.S. Dunes album?
Believe me, we want to tour everywhere we can. I can only hope that we’re able to bring [L.S. Dunes] over to Australia – that would be amazing. As for other material… I mean, like I said, there’s just been an endless flow of material. There’s no shortage of stuff that we’ve been sending back and forth, and we already have a lot of surprises up our sleeves. But I just want to pay my respects to the album we’ve already created before we move on to the next thing, you know? I think it’s important that we get out there and show people what we can do on the live end… When everybody’s able to! And if we were able to bring that over there to Australia… I mean, yeah, of course we will!

Past Lives by L.S. Dunes is out now via Fantasy Records – click here to check it out.
The print edition of Australian Guitar #151 is out on November 28th – keep an eye out for that here.

CD Review: Tiny Little Houses – Misericorde


Band: Tiny Little Houses
Album: Misericorde
Label: Ivy League
Release: November 19th, 2021

Rating: 9/10

The tagline for Misericorde boasts that it chronicles Caleb Karvountzis’ “search for salvation through suffering”. That’s enough to lure in any emo worth their eyeliner, but what’ll keep them buckled in are the gristly, jacked‑up pop guitars, brute-force beats and razor-sharp honesty. 

Three years removed from Tiny Little Houses’ debut (2018’s Idiot Proverbs), Karvountzis has levelled up from a tinnie‑slamming sad-boy to a cosmopolitan family man. Thus – and yes, we acknowledge how cliché this is to say – it’s a notably matured album. Such is tangible in the gravity of Karvountzis’ songwriting, but even moreso in the band en bloc’s musicality: the riffs are bold, crunchy and calamitous but never grating or obnoxious, and the hooks, while buoyant and catchy, wield a striking emotional weight.

Please note: this review is also printed in #145 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.

Misericorde is set for release on November 19th, 2021 via Ivy League. Click here to pre-order.

CD Review: Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time


Artist: Courtney Barnett
Album: Things Take Time, Take Time
Label: Milk! / Remote Control
Release: November 12th, 2021

Rating: 8.5/10

CB’s 2015 debut was brisk, bright and lively, like a summer’s day at the beach. Its follow-up was sharp, ripping and acerbic, like the storm that night. So, naturally, LP3 feels like the morning after: foggy and humid, debris from the wind scattered over the lawn. It’s clear Barnett is much more comfortable in her storytelling these days – the songs are reflective, inspired, and distinctly human.

Production is loose and experimental; percussive clicks and pops meld with raw, cerebral fretwork. The soundscape is overall very sparse and relaxed, letting tracks like the drowsy, pseudo-celestial “Here’s The Thing” and the groovy, buoyant and punchy (if far too short) “Take It Day By Day” really shine.

Though certainly not as immediate or memorable as Barnett’s earlier work, Things Take Time is beautiful and brilliant in many ways. 

Please note: this review is also printed in #144 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.

Things Take Time, Take Time is set for release on November 12th, 2021 via Milk! / Remote Control. Click here to pre-order.

CD Review: Snail Mail – Valentine


Band: Snail Mail
Album: Valentine
Label: Matador / Remote Control
Release: November 5th, 2021

Rating: 9/10

Equally as glittery as it was melancholic, Lush – the aptly titled debut from Maryland indie stalwart Snail Mail (aka Lindsey Jordan) – had a notable ‘lightning in a bottle’-esque quality. It wowed with meticulous production and conscientious songwriting, but it also shone for its blithesome looseness and brazen confidence, Jordan committing herself wholly both as a classically trained musician with an ear for technicality and a dorky queer teen living in the peak of meme culture.

Three years on, Jordan doesn’t try to recreate that magic. It would seem she isn’t so keen, either, to reinvent herself – she knows she has a niche, and she’s happy to lean into it – but there’s a clear determination to evolve and experiment. Where warm, fuzzed-out Jaguar chords laid the groundwork on Lush, they’re just one small chunk of a much broader, more vibrantly vegetated soundscape on Valentine. We open with the title track, filmy and ethereal synths flooding the mix as Jordan’s cool, honeyed rasp dances over them – until about a minute in, when she and her band erupt into a bold and emphatic chorus. 

There’s a fierce, St. Vincent-channelling swagger on “Ben Franklin”, and a dip down into the doughier, more pensive indie flair of Jordan’s early work on “Headlock”. In succession, these three tracks paint an orphic and arresting picture of the album as a whole: rich, soul-baring songwriting twined around poignant and pictorial – and above all, interesting – melodies.

But as the album continues to unwind, so too does it continue to surprise – whether it be via the folky acoustic fingerstyle and warm violin on ‘Light Blue’, heady tinges of blustery ‘90s pop on ‘Forever (Sailing)’, or subtle, smoky prongs of bass guitar on ‘Madonna’, tastefully accented by eerie stringwork and a warbling synth. Even the most zealous fans are bound to blindsided by something unpredictable – yet entirely welcomed – as not a second of Valentine feels like it was penned without the utmost care and consideration.

Jordan’s use of space is especially admirable. A track can have two guitars, a kinetic beat, strings and synths in abundance and her own dryly sung, kaleidoscopic quips, yet never feel cluttered. In fact, the record often sounds distinctly lowkey, Jordan maintaining a prudent tact throughout despite such a dense array of colours and tones at her disposal. 

This, too, is reflected boldly in her lyricisms – sharp and stormy, but delivered in such a way that makes Jordan come off as down-to-earth and reticent. She never teeters on vaudeville, but the dramatisation of her inner turmoil is always gripping and grandiose. She drums up a wealth of emotion, potent and impassioned, and makes it all look effortless in the process.

So, on Valentine, Jordan doesn’t look to recreate the magic she made with Lush; instead, she makes a whole new kind of magic – one that is endlessly more… Uh… Magical.

Please note: this review is also printed in #145 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.

Valentine is set for release on November 5th, 2021 via Matador / Remote Control. Click here to pre-order.

CD Review: Mastodon – Hushed And Grim


Band: Mastodon
Album: Hushed And Grim
Label: Reprise / Warner
Release: October 29th, 2021

Rating: 8.5/10

Whether it really makes the most of its 86-minute runtime is debatable, but immediately clear is that with Hushed And Grim, Mastodon have thrown all caution to the wind – it’s epic both in size and statue, stacked to the brim with fretwork as striking as it is sophisticated. In the six-minute “Sickle And Peace” alone, the band employ mind-boggling technicality, walloping shreddery and a truly empyrean solo.

Throughout the record at large, they expertly balance the prodigious might of their narrative prowess with the ashy bleakness of their sludge metal roots – there are stoutly cerebral moments that call for deep, contemplative reflection, but just as many moments that beckon an instinctive whipping up of the horns and thrashing of the head. It’s not a “heavy” record, per se, but it is positively intense.

Please note: this review is also printed in #145 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.

Hushed And Grim is set for release on October 29th, 2021 via Reprise / Warner. Click here to pre-order.

CD Review: Every Time I Die – Radical


Band: Every Time I Die
Album: Radical
Label: Epitaph
Release: October 22nd, 2021

Rating: 8/10

In the five years since Every Time I Die dropped Low Teens, shit has, to say the very least, hit the fan. Radical concentrates those five years of social disarray and capitalistic chaos into the Buffalo group’s most vicious and evocative album yet, laden with brutally intense riffage and visceral, incendiary rage.

It’s the more artful and considered moments that stand out, though: the swampy, pared-back plucks on “Thing With Feathers” and the soaring melodies on “Post-Boredom”, for example, or the white-hot angst of closer “We Go Together”. These tracks make some of the more straightforward hardcore stompers (“Hostile Architecture”, “Distress Rehearsal”) fall a bit flat – there’s certainly some mud amongst the opals here – but to say Radical ever overstays its welcome would be patently false. 

Please note: this review is also printed in #145 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.

Radical is set for release on October 22nd, 2021 via Epitaph. Click here to pre-order.

CD Review: Thrice – Horizons / East


Band: Thrice
Album: Horizons / East
Label: Epitaph
Release: September 17th, 2021

Rating: 8/10

A sinuous odyssey through all the lustrous highs and pummelling lows of Dustin Kensrue’s psyche, there’s a gauzy, intoxicating cloudiness that lurks around every corner on Horizons / East. It ebbs and flows between a meditative calm and a baleful storminess, twining glimmers of thrashy and visceral punk-rock with the glittery, pastoral flavours of shoegaze and prog.

The rusty, shred-centric steeze of early cuts like “Scavengers” and “Summer Set Fire To The Rain” pave way for the record’s lighter and more silvery back-end to bloom; riding on the back of the blood-rushing highs of “The Dreamer”, “Robot Soft Exorcism” feels therapeutic – the calm after the storm, if you will, with a soaring and cinematic crescendo that makes the silky, dreamlike lulls of “Dandelion Wire” and “Unitive / East” all the more impactful.

Please note: this review is also printed in #145 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.

Horizons / East is out now via Epitaph. Click here to get around it.

CD Review: The Buoys – Unsolicited Advice For Your DIY Disaster


Band: The Buoys
Album: Unsolicited Advice For Your DIY Disaster
Label: Spunk
Release: October 13th, 2021

Rating: 8/10

Lacquering their youthful, sunkissed power-pop jams with lyrical barbs that shoot straight for the heart, The Buoys’ sophomore EP would feel just as much at home roaring from the PAs at next year’s Splendour In The Grass as it would through a pair of AirPods during a casual quarter-life crisis.

Zoe Catterall and Hilary Geddes’ yin-and-yang fretwork sears with a frisky, jangly grunt, contrasted wonderfully by Courtney Cunningham’s rounded and propulsive basslines. Teeming with energy even at their lowest point, the band often veer scarily close to the edge of overkill – you know what they say: if you ain’t redlining, you ain’t headlining – but they always know just when to reel it back in. Case in point: the dizzying bends and bubbly hook on slow-burner “Lie To Me”. 

Please note: this review is also printed in #145 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.

Unsolicited Advice For Your DIY Disaster is out now via Spunk. Click here to get around it.

CD Review: Sam Teskey – Cycles


Band: Sam Teskey
Album: Cycles
Label: Ivy League
Release: October 8th, 2021

Rating: 6.5/10

On his long-awaited solo debut, Sam Teskey eschews the blues in favour of hazy, fuzz-laden psychedelica. Albeit rather derivative – Teskey mines the ‘60s like a proud fanboy, but adds little of his own flair to the fray – the talent employed on Cycles is undeniable; from the Hendrixian swagger of “If The Dove Is Sold” to the Dylanesque twangs of “Til The River Takes Us Home”, or the Floydian fizz of “Let The Sun Bring The Light” and “Then Love Returns”, Teskey nails every strum, pluck and solo like the seasoned virtuoso he is. 

We could’ve done without the plodding intros and outros (which occupy over a quarter of the album’s real estate), but they’re not entirely egregious. All in all, Cycles makes for a decent Sunday evening apéritif. Serve chilled, preferably at dusk. 

Please note: this review is also printed in #145 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.

Cycles is out now via Ivy League. Click here to get around it.

CD Review: Turnstile – Glow On


Band: Turnstile
Album: Glow On
Label: Roadrunner / Warner
Release: August 27th, 2021

Rating: 10/10

Virtually anyone could whip themselves up a decent burrito, but it takes a true master of the culinary arts to make a great burrito. It’s not just about all those ingredients snuggled up under a soft tortilla, but their quality, their source, how they’re seasoned and prepared; the intermingling of textures and collision of flavours. When treated with the right care and cogitation, a concept so simple can become something so life-affirmingly beautiful.

In this analogy, the burrito is hardcore punk, and our culinary maestro is Baltimore outfit Turnstile. The band have always tackled their slate of scream ’n’ shred with an outsider’s perspective, spicing up their palate with summery grooves and kinetic percussion. But on LP3, it’s like they’ve finally cracked the code to making an infallibly calamitous, uncompromisingly headstrong hardcore album sound genuinely otherworldly.

Glow On is cinematic, riveting and rhapsodic; the sheer depth and dynamism of its musicality cannot be understated, nor Turnstile’s passion in sculpting it. It’s a notably short record at 35 minutes, but they really make every second count. “Endless”, for example, clocks in a few seconds off two minutes long, yet it takes it the listener on a full-fat adventure through a sonic forest of shimmery bass, effects-soaked vocals and tearing guitar juts.

Even ornamental quips like the empyrean synth intro on “Mystery” and the regal grand piano lick on “Fly Again” have their place, adding contextual basis to tracks like the silky, groove-oriented “Underwater Boi” and the hazy, stoner-friendly “Alien Love Call”. Then because the funky, Prince-esque energy at play on the former let us know as much could be expected, the equally biting and breezy “New Heart Design” feels homely and natural, no matter how odd its composition may sound in description (it is at once raw, gritty and eruptive, romantic, groovy, sparse and fantastical).

For the more traditional hardcore fans that just wanna cut sick to some gloriously gory riffs and wall-rattling fills, don’t worry – Turnstile still have you covered. Sharp and snarling cuts like “Holiday” and “Humanoid / Shake It Up” dot the record’s top-end, while the back-to-back belters “Wild Wrld” and “Dance-Off” inject its second half with a blast of mosh-tailored intensity.

Again, Turnstile have always been innovators. They’re one of the most interesting bands on the circuit – not even just in hardcore – but Glow On makes their previous efforts look embarrassing in comparison. This is the kind of record that makes us feel justified in spending $500 on a pair of headphones; a true masterclass in the art of heavy music. Come 2030, we’ll be looking back on it as the record that sparked a whole new wave of rebellious genre-bending.

Please note: this review is also printed in #144 of Australian Guitar Magazine, syndicated here because AG’s album reviews are no longer published online.

Glow On is set for release on August 27th, 2021 via Roadrunner / Warner. Click here to pre-order.