Seldom is it that a new band instigates a behavioural change, or alters one’s physicality in any perceivable way. An encounter with Drop Tank however, and the difference is apparent; brows raise, eyes widen, hairs stand on-end, backs straighten. This is rousing stuff.

Vice EP Artwork

Drop Tank formed in Sydney in late 2008, fronted by guitarist and singer Zebidy Tank, playing heavy, energy-fuelled rock. They honed their craft in the various warehouses and clubs of Marrickville, and now bring us their latest cut in the form of ‘Vice’.

First track ‘Saw Nothing’ opens the EP, bursting into life with a frenetic urgency, and playing host to one of the most confident vocal performances you’re ever likely to stumble across. Blistering guitars duel with impatience and purpose atop a furious and frantic rhythm, all held together by a strategically unwavering bass-line that counteracts the maniac qualities of the surrounding arrangement. The repetition of the riff is never jarring; in fact it becomes somewhat of a yearned-for companion, whose return you continually celebrate as the song progresses. The best thing for me about this track is the sheer balls of the beast; a song that isn’t afraid to scream its objective at you, and who else would dare to feature such a bombastic guitar solo in this day and age?

‘Medicine’ injects fresh attitude; a more traditional rock riff, steadier, paced and focused. This is confident head-banging territory. Double-tracked octave vocals portray an early Vines aesthetic, and the stop-start guitars provide respite from the preceding wall-of-sound. Here the vocals are elegant and tuneful, except for the beautifully sparse moments where lines are delivered with a growly snarl, and everything moves up a gear from brilliant to vital. This is a resolute track that can impress with nothing more than an ambitious drum fill and a primal scream.

The egotistically named ‘Drop Tank’ begins with a tantalising audio montage before giving way to another electric belter, reminiscent of classic Motorhead. The stability of the power chords gives the drums room to breathe here; the ingenuity and adventurousness of the fills is startling, and never approaches incoherence. There is a subtler use of guitar duelling, providing apt contrast to the striking shred-fest of a solo which progresses towards a heavily syncopated ending, where the unity of instrumentation gives real solidarity to what could have otherwise been a rhythmically cluttered section.

At this point I’d like to give mention to the production of the EP. It’s incredibly difficult to capture the raw energy of a band such as this, but here it is done with real clarity and skill, and lacks all the rough and off-putting qualities usually associated with unsigned efforts.

Closer ‘Juliette’ brings the whole EP into perspective. This is the reason ‘Vice’ exists. This is the set-closer, the one people will scream to hear. Bright, exciting and uplifting, it feels like their ‘classic’, the track where everything makes sense. A cyclical rock chord progression loops underneath a shouted refrain that feels like it should go on forever, but very stylishly clocks out at 3m 17s.

Drop Tank

The most instantly engaging thing about ‘Vice’ is how listenable to the vocals are. The dynamic contrast displayed is staggering. One moment beautifully melodic, the next pelting you with throat-annihilating screams, all astride songs that are superbly structured and fearlessly performed.

At only 4 tracks you are left wanting much more, yet musically in itself, there is nothing out of place here, no unnecessary self-indulgent noodling or studio augmentation. It storms in, does what it set out to do, then flies out the window leaving a trail of awesome destruction in its wake.

How we’d missed this performance of River Run by Sunbirds, I don’t know. I want to be in this band.


‘American (Fever) Dream’ is the third album from Seattle-based piano songsmith  Aaron English. Over the past few years buzz has been steadily building in the states, and now it seems Aaron has set his sights on breaking through overseas; England for the English as it were.

The album is a consistent mish-mash of styles. Unfortunately it was delivered to me without any indication of tracklisting, so what follows will be a study of the songs alphabetically. Radical.

‘A Northern Sort of Silence’ opens with atmospheric white noise, reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Nice Dream’, before a circular plinky-plonky piano motif enters. Aaron’s vocal rumbles in the foreground, as a trampolining bass-line stabs away in the background. Primary focus here should be on the lyrics, which deserve special attention. Unlike a lot of singer-songwriters you will come across, Aaron’s lyrics have a real poetic quality, packed with nuance and flow. The words are delivered with a punch by confident falsetto in the choruses. The overall auditory package reminds me of a more polished older-brother of Semisonic’s ‘Pleasure EP’; there is a world-weariness, skewed with conviction. The musical strength of this song is in the groove, which is allowed to tacet in the last third, cutting down to choral backing vocals, enabling the piece to float away briefly before kicking back in.

‘Anthem’ starts awash with psychedelic backing vocals delivering dense chords. The main vocal encroaches heavily into Lou Reed territory, with English’s American drawl being highly pronounced. Acoustic guitars provide an energetic double-time backbeat, a four-to-the-floor kick drum underpinning sing-along “dum dum”s. The catchy scatting may be a cheap trick, but it works. Block vocals slide back in, and Aaron’s presumably trademark electric piano makes another appearance. The chorus works very well, a natural ebb and flow with everything moving freely in tandem that is stylistically interesting in contrast to the static verses

‘Believe’ starts well with a distant sample and drums that jump-start the track with an energetic forward momentum, but too soon we are in familiar Americana territory. Lyrically it is too limited, relying heavily on repetition. An eerie slide guitar hovers in the background like the ghost of a tiny bee. One feels that the electric piano could be used a bit more sparsely here, as it clouds the delicate texture somewhat.

In ‘Doves’ the piano feels more vital, and the swing tempo is a welcome change. It gives the album some breathing room, beginning with a sparse arangment. Backing vocals bark like a sympathetic mob. The atmospherics do not detract from the initial impact, and the melody meanders and wanders creating a sensation that is heartfelt, and never over-done. The lyric “I’m coming down like a dove” will no doubt raise a titter between the Shooting Stars fans amongst you, but the vocals here showcase how much more impressive Aaron’s voice is when it reaches the middle and higher registers, enthralling as the low, gravelly delivery is. This will no doubt be the highlight of the live shows.

‘God Bless You and Your Man’ is a bit of a mixed gem. I assume Aaron is not a great UB40 admirer. The press release likens this track to Van Morrison, so if you imagine those two acts fused you might get somewhere close to visualising this track. Once again English is in his higher register here, which feels more organic, the overall vocal timbre occasionally morphing into the lovechild of Robert Plant and Brandon Flowers for brief instances. Some of the lyrics rely on primary school rhyming, but it’s all delivered with feeling. The brass is tastefully arranged, and not the constant Ronson-esque barrage that I feared it would develop into. The upbeat organ tends to push the track too far into the  novelty spectrum for it to be entirely convincing.

‘Peace’ is an apt title for this low-key piano number. There harmony follows standard pop progressions, but the vocal and lyrics are hugely engaging. Blasts of brass and wind add vitality and colour, cutting through the air like a military fanfare.

‘Sleight of Heart’ is a mood piece, propelled by groovy percussion and bass. Musically it is fairly static, so a more adventurous vocal melody would be appreciated here, but when Aaron goes for those big notes, there is a hint of Bono at his best. Synthy drip-drops in the background add more vibrancy to the texture, but it never moves too far away from the initial musical sentiment.

Light piano twinklings and low-passed drums add rhythmic definition to ‘The Name of this Song is a Secret’, which rounds off the album nicely.

‘American (Fever) Dream’ showcases a talent that is very real and proficient; he knows his strengths and he sticks to them. It would be good to see a bit more musical development, and maybe even a few pop hooks to allow the music to burrow into your brain, but what Aaron English has achieved here will surely fill you with much deserved admiration and respect.

Jazz musician Bill Ortiz’ list of credentials is an impressive read; Destiny’s Child, Tito Puente, Herbie Hancock, Lauryn Hill, Quincy Jones and Beyonce all make an appearance. With stars of this level of aptitude vying for his talents you’d be forgiven for displaying a sense of dubiety as to whether or not his solo efforts will be up to scratch.

Taken from the recently released ‘From Where I Stand’, ‘Ease My Mind’ is a soulful slice of R&B the showcases precisely why he is held in such high regard by his contemporaries.

From the churning introduction you are aware that you’re never going to wander too far from a comfortable listening experience, but it is within the intricacies of the composition that you will discover the real gold.

The main momentum of the groove is kept in order by a chugging wah-wah guitar and solid percussive backbeat; a perpetual spine from which the other musicians can freely explore the melodic depths of their instruments. The off-centre and oft dissonant chord stabs provided by the keys enable Bill’s signature trumpet to meander across the musical landscape, never quite coming to the fore with a vital motif or progression, but constantly painting colour and vibrancy into the arrangement.

The chromatic, frog-leaping bebop bass line acts as a dynamic counterpoint to the vocals, which remain as laidback and chilled as the musical bed upon which they rest.

There are times when the melodic lines seem a trifle cluttered, but the relative sparseness of the parts ensures that there is always room for the music to breathe. At the end the trumpet is finally given a chance to shine and the Ortiz stamp is at last plastered on the track.

‘Ease My Mind’ isn’t a classic ‘single’ as such; there are no major hooks to speak of, either musically or lyrically. It seems more of a mood piece, intent on evoking a sense of wistful desire, which it certainly succeeds in doing.

Bill can be found touring with Santana in Europe and the UK in the summer of 2010, and you can hear more of his work at


Amanda Abizaid’s name might not be instantly familiar in good old Blighty, but her vocal talents may well ring as few bells to a certain demographic; namely fans of hit TV shows Smallville, One Tree Hill, and Charmed. Her appearances on these programmes have gained her mass appraisal in America, so chances are that reviews of her new album ‘This Life’ (Released September 15th 2010) shall continue with the same unbridled positivity.

Opener ‘Blue Star Red Sky’ bursts straight in with an effortless sense of cool; vocal stabs and circular beats providing the backdrop to a Beck-esque slice of conversational drawl. Dub bass underpins a swirling cloud of voice, samples and sax. The melodies are strong and performed with an ounce of nonchalance, and the applied distortion recalls The Breeders.

‘Wash Me’ starts on safer ground; acoustic guitars twang, and untreated vocals evoke a more graspable singer-songwriter ethic. The draping of melody over Americana-tinted harmony is not unlike Weezer, although the post-punk undertones bring the results closer to PJ Harvey or Meredith Brooks. Cluttered beats and glittering guitars add to a Bollywood ending, the juxtaposition of Indie ballad and Bangra soundtrack working superbly competently. The Americana tradition is continued in “Undivided”, but this time accentuated by fluttering flutes and staccato keyboard brass that add colouration to the otherwise static rock set up.

“Believe It” comes as a welcome change; a wistful country-and-western barroom ballad that is oddly reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ and a Shania Twain tear jerker. It’s a very effective piece; the subtle harmonic modulations allowing the music to maintain momentum, while the meandering piano ensures that the backing is allowed to flex and shimmer underneath a powerfully understated vocal.

“How Can I Explain” begins with a mix of trippy delayed brass and prison harmonica, underpinned by an equally mesmerising drum groove. The arrangements here are far more intricate than we have yet seen; melody atop melody creating a soothing and satisfying wash of texture that acts as a creative counterbalance to the chugging rhythm, which is the spine of a song that could well be an Indie anthem in another universe.

Title track “This Life” is the centre piece of the album; it’s musically accessible (capoed open-chords, rim shots and big choruses), as well as lyrically gripping (big American clichés, emotional turmoil), and these combined factors indicate that this will be the one to watch (or listen) out for underscoring some turbulent high school relationship. It’s pretty flawless…and just plain pretty. But more importantly it showcases Amanda’s real skill and song-writing talent.

“How Much We’re Alike” reprises the trip-hop circular drumming, twangy guitars and flatteringly flitting fluttery flutes, but introduces a new device; layered vocal harmonies. The vocals on the album are all strong, but the block choral parts show another side to Amanda’s voice: its depth of timbre and flexibility.

“My Friend” is another touching ballad; yet again conversational and slightly simplistic, but the dynamic build gives it a sense of musical depth that rounds off the album. One feels that there is more musical ground that could be covered here, especially as it clocks in at 03:45, finishing just when it feels like the song is about to lift into new sonic territory.

All in all “This Life” is a solid release. By no means is it ground breaking, but the song-craft and musicianship is impressive, and most importantly Amanda’s voice remains the salient reason for her mass-appeal, and it is to be assumed that the album will be snapped up by those who recognise her talents.