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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
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+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
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44.1 kHz Archive

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Darren Hanlon
Hello Stranger

Australian singer/songwriter Darren Hanlon loves a pun — to a fault. On this, his debut full-length release as a sometimes witty troubadour, always ready with an unexpected turn of phrase, he tosses off couplets and single lines that are chuckleworthy, cringeworthy or vomitworthy, depending on your view of one of the comedy world's lowliest humor devices.

As he croons "A thousand ideas I try to tell crossword girl/ How do I get one across when you're always too down" on opener "Hiccups," you can almost see the smirk on his face. That clever-clever smirk permeates one too many tracks here.

That said, he can be both amusing and sincere, as on "He Misses You Too, You Know": "And I know it's hard to become whole/ When you're usually referred to as his better half/ But you're still the girl who chops onions wearing swimming goggles/ You're still the same girl you were before." Or entertaining, with a novelist's eye for concise character construction, on "Punk's Not Dead": "I couldn't give a damn about the friends of mine she'll scare/ Some people just can't see past studs and bleached-blonde spiky hair/ I say 'A' for Abba she says 'A' for anarchy/ In the morning she says 'Never mind the bollocks here's your cup of tea.'"

Musically Hanlon has moved away from his Simpletons punk roots to a mostly light-and-breezy indie-pop sound: acoustic guitar rhythms, electric guitar lead lines, 4/4 drums and straightforward bass lines. Proceedings are broken up by tracks on which banjo ("Cheat the Future") and piano ("The Last Night of Not Knowing You") take over from acoustic guitar as the primary instrument.

However, Hanlon's lyrics and voice, as with most eponymous singer-songwriter outfits, are the focus here. Hanlon sings in a unique Australian drawl which, like his punning, is either endearing and honest or grating and affected, depending on your views about suitable singing accents. Even if you enjoy the accent, it's almost a relief when Frida Eklund from Swedish pop duo Alma takes lead vocals on the bittersweet "A Cast of Thousands."

Hanlon can be a fine songsmith, a skill unfortunately displayed in too few tracks here. He needs to be less cloying and play it a little straighter with his lyrics if he wants to incite more emotions than first-listen giggles and 10th-listen annoyance.

by Ben Gook

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