Birds Of Tokyo - BRACE

Australian alternative rock band Birds Of Tokyo hit it big on their new record BRACE. It's a massive collection of both electronica and rock brought in with a unique vibe.

BRACE is the band's fifth record, and it really shows a progression. The album brings a seamless blend of electronics and rock to the table while still maintaining a core integrity. The album begins with the spooky synths of 'Harlequins,' crunchy, synthy guitar coming in with a dramatic beat before a stronger, heavier part comes in. The vocals are creepy, the dripping synths in the back adding color to the evil sounding track. Title track 'Brace' follows through with much the same vibe, instead getting to the instruments a bit quicker. The synth-laced guitar riffs are met with haunting choirs and a giant chorus to electrify the song.

There's a poppier side to the record, too. 'Empire' is more uplifting and not as industrial sounding as previous tracks were. The synths are more jumpy and hopeful, the vocals and key reflecting that. The instrumental washes over you rather than attempting to threaten you. 'Above / Below' doesn't necessarily stay purely uplifting, but its energetic synth and guitar leads give it a generally more uplifting vibe than the rest of the record, though the end does ultimately resolve into a dark, haunting ending. The Jezebels vocalist Hayley Mary features on 'Discoloured,' a smoother track that has a brooding nature but a dreamy atmosphere - combined with the sweet female vocals, it makes for a chiller track with a sweet urgency and powerful sense of melody.

Most of the record revolves around the epic, cinematic vibes the intro tracks set up, though. See 'Crown,' the pounding drums blasting with adventure and confidence as Ian Kenny sings with the same timbre of his progressive project Karnivool. The two are definitely separate entities beyond the vocals, though. 'Crown' reigns powerfully with haunting harmonies, the thick rhythm guitar sweeping smoothly but powerfully on top of the same creepy choirs from 'Brace.' The album's end is the nearly seven minute epic 'Mercy Arms,' beginning like a modern Pink Floyd before Kenny's voice brings in a searching wonder. The song builds with drive, the drum beat beginning its build as more and more powerful leads progress in each chorus. It reaches its heavenly climax before washing away like a wave, the remnants of the track slowly dissipating to conclude the record.

Birds Of Tokyo hit it huge on BRACE. It's powerful, covers a lot of ground, and develops its core principles cleanly throughout its run time, giving it both diversity and cohesion. Kelly has hit it big with his latest releases (can't wait for that fourth Karnivool record now!), and it's no surprise that BRACE is a giant record. Australia's finest is at work here.

Favorite Tracks: Crown, Discoloured, Brace, Above / Below

Least Favorite Track: Empire

Rating: 86 / 100

Tkay Maidza - Tkay

Hip-hop loves to draw from its influences. Australian hip-hop artist Tkay Maidza draws from her African background in her debut record Tkay.

The Zimbabwean born Maidza has a lot of appeal in her debut. It's not dull hip-hop we've become used to. Instead, colorful instrumentals and melodies accompany her young and refreshing voice. The album begins with the high energy, intense 'Always Been,' a big of a misleading track to open the record yet does hype it up. It's dark and dramatic, the beat strong and the delivery packed with grime influence. The bars are pretty quick fire, but there's a recognizable reference to Kanye West's 'Black Skinhead' in there that'll pique you're ear in case you can't pick up on anything else.

There are several other songs that go hard. 'Carry On,' with Run The JewelsKiller Mike on the track, throwing down above the synthy bass between the upbeat but still urgent chorus. A darker presence envelops 'State Of Mind,' bouncy synths radiating ominous vibes on top of Maidza's gun of a mouth paired paranoid harmonies.

The majority of the record finds itself being poppier. The instrumental of 'Simulation' channels Sia almost blatantly, yet the vocals' light melodies soar high above the 'Cheap Thrills' reminiscent synth. There are thicker, dancier songs like 'Monochrome' that robotically have some groove to them. The muddy instrumental helps elevate the poppier lyrics. 'Drumsticks No Guns' is a fun-loving track, infectiously cute synths bouncing happily throughout the track. 'Castle In The Sky' is the pinnacle of the album's pop tracks, the sweet melodies pairing with the strongest and punchiest instrumental on the record, dynamic brass synths pairing with various acoustic instrumentation and electronics.

Sometimes it goes a little too far. With the pop influence, there are a few annoying tracks, like 'Tennies.' The song starts okay, but there has to be a limit as to how many times you can sing "tennies" before it gets old. The beat features some cool instrumentation, some bongos sounding with a punchy string instrumental, but even those can't save the song from its muddy tendencies. The big vibes of 'Supasonic' are interrupted by pretty annoying lyrics.

Tkay has all of the the uncertainties of a debut record, but it definitely holds its ground. It's an indicator of a new threat on the block with Tkay Maidza - she's bound to be something big in the hip-hop and pop world. It's a refreshing new sound and certainly one that won't be getting old anytime soon. Now we sit back and watch a career unfold.

Favorite Tracks: Castle In The Sky, Always Been

Least Favorite Tracks: Tennies, Supasonic, House Of Cards

Rating: 73 / 100

Trophy Eyes - Chemical Miracles

Australia's rock scene is a force to be reckoned with, but besides its progressive and classic output, nothing much else tends to see the light of day. There are some up and coming contenders who are in the game to steal the limelight - the ones that have gained the most momentum is Trophy Eyes.

The Newcastle outfit has offered up their second record Chemical Miracles, continuing to develop a cross between pop punk and post-hardcore. The sound of the record is a sort of blend between Take This To Your Grave-era Fall Out Boy and the modern indie cries of Modern Baseball. Songs cross between heavy, angry screaming packed with sweaty emotions (see 'Nose Bleed') and sweet and melodic ('Home Is'). Often times, the two sounds blend between verse and chorus, one of them dominating its own part of the track.

It's a pop punk record at its very core, and that alone sprouts several issues, more so by circumstance rather than by result. Pop punk is on an insurrection, the forerunners bearing the flag are Moose Blood (see our review of Blush here), with the bigger bands who carried the genre are releasing their own records. Even with the modern flair on the genre, the newcomers are having trouble keeping it original. Trophy Eyes has a good balance on Chemical Miracles. First track 'Chlorine' has that sweet blend of melodic choruses, screamed verses, and distorted guitars, complete with a stripped down and intimate end.

Balance is essential, and while Chemical Miracles as a whole has it, individual songs don't. There's an identity crisis occurring in nearly every other song. 'Chemical' starts understatedly but becomes bewilderingly angry, with the subtle instrumental carrying on when the screams are done. A more complete example is 'Rain On Me', its angry growls paired with its big guitars leads it to be a strong track, but it struggles with wanting to be angry or melodic - it can't decide. 

The gems on the record do shine out. Among them is 'Breathe You In', the wonderfully executed alternative rock anthem that bursts with sweet yet heavy guitars and nice melodies - a solid but effective alt. rock track. It's not lost or confused like other songs on the record are; it has it's purpose and sets out to fulfill it. Closer track 'Daydreamer' is similar, the quiet intro building up with more emotion as it progresses. Gang vocals, heavy guitars, and sweet belts are what build the song to its closure, taking the album out on a high and emotional ending.

Trophy Eyes have a long way to go before making it big, but Chemical Miracles is a good show that there is potential. The band has a solid grasp on what it tries to accomplish - they just have to solidify what exactly it is that they want to do. After that, they'll be busting out tunes out of thin air.

Favorite Tracks: Breather You In, Daydreamer, Chlorine

Least Favorite Track: Chemical

Rating: 70 / 100

Drapht - Seven Mirrors

All things considered, hip-hop is the last thing you'd expect out of Australia. The country's pop and progressive rock scenes boom, but you never really hear many rappers coming out of there. Drapht shows us Americans not only that hip-hop isn't something exclusive to us, but that others can thrive in it. 

Already on his third album, Drapht has slowly been carving his way into Australia's mainstream. His success is rightfully claimed; his new record is something you don't hear often in hip-hop. Seven Mirrors is an audacious record in all of the right ways. The lyricism of Kendrick Lamar meets the fun instrumentals of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. How can you not dig this sound?

If you're skeptic, just listen to the first full track on the record, 'All Love': It has confidence, style, and lots of love. His vocal delivery doesn't try and be gimmicky or something he wishes it could be (in American terms, he's not trying to sing like a pop star). The instrumental is simply fun with blaring trumpets throughout and twinkling pianos in other parts. There's several tracks where you can tell the purpose of them is to have some fun. 'Bad' featuring Nat Dunn is an example of this; it's a fun track, and you can tell that's what he was going for. Dunn delivers some fiery vocals on this track, too.

This album isn't afraid to show some character. It's a very diverse record in terms of the different styles Drapht blends into his music. 'Another Juliet' sounds like he's channeling his inner Lin-Manuel MirandaHilltop Hoods help add some funk and personality to 'Don Quixote'. Earlier on the record is Katie Noonan adding crooning and smooth vocals to the dramatic and somber 'Raindrops', as well. 'Asylum' has some blues rock vibes going on it, sounding more like a subtle acoustic track by the time it ends. The last song on the record is the brilliant 'Odds' with Brendan Welch - a song about battling cancer. It's a truly heartwrenching track and perfectly executed in its performance.

There are some lesser moments on the record, sadly. All of the interludes are just unnecessary; the opening one just seems cocky, 'Scumday' just makes you feel bad, 'Again' is sweet but forgettable, and 'Midnight At The Hospice' seems too dark and odd considering how the next track goes, in a completely different mood. There are some tracks that are a little too left field, too. 'Oikophobia' is the fear of feeling at home; and titling it your song seems too extreme. You get the message, but it's almost overdoing it.

Listening to Drapht really gives you an idea of how different hip-hop can be construed across the globe. This is true for all genres, really. But Drapht is a shining example of how being yourself can lead you to real success. Seven Mirrors is a fun and diverse album full of life - hip-hop today is so sex and money oriented in America, and the aesthetic of it is slowly becoming overdone. It's refreshing to hear hip-hop in this form. It's not every day you hear something old sound so new.

Favorite Tracks: All Love, Odds, Another Juliet

Least Favorite Tracks: Scumday, Mexico, Again

Rating: 77 / 100