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Lyndon Blue: Review

PHENO - DRAGON YEAR (EP, ELECTRIC EAR RECORDS)

Andrew Ryan

Will you forgive me if I start with an etymology gloss? It’s a cheap shot but it just feels right. Okay: the prefix “Pheno” (as in “phenotype”) means “to show,” and comes from the Greek phaino, meaning “shining” or “I shine.” The new EP from Canberra/Sydney based guitarist and songwriter Jess Green, aka PHENO, is nothing if not shiny, and bristles with vivid sounds that want to show themselves. Listening through, it doesn’t so much feel like Green has laboriously layered these sounds on top of one another (although she has). It sounds like they’ve burst spontaneously from the earth, and Green has deftly wrangled them into something coherent and useful - like a masterful drover mustering cattle.

Opening track ‘There Are Voices Out There’ invites us onomatopoeically into Pheno’s world with a dense tapestry of vocal hocketing. It’s the kind of hyperreal sung-sound you might be familiar with from Dirty Projectors tracks like ‘Remade Horizon’, or French medieval music if that’s your bag. This technique, rather curious to the average ear, is neatly tempered by the addition of a standard rock drum pattern - so the whole thing has a kind of familiar-yet-new sensibility. A lead vocal joins in, transmitting intriguing and oblique lyrics via a simple do-re-mi-re-do melody that brings to mind the sub-titular “naive melody” from Talking Heads’ ‘This Must Be The Place.’ 

Track Two. Beyond its great title, ‘Shadow In The Water’ is also a brilliant song. Jostling jigsaws of muted guitar and percussion, overlaid with assured but restrained vocals. And - most distinctively - a jubilant, syncopated horn section. Returning to the lineage of Talking Heads, this one reminds me of David Byrne and St. Vincent’s collaborativealbum Love this Giant, its idiosyncratic blending of angular rock, globally-informed rhythms and marching band swagger. I reckon it’d also appeal to fans of Pikelet, Tune-Yards and other purveyors of densely tessellating, urgent bedroom pop. The tune might be the EP’s standout track. 

Which is not to say that anything thereafter feels like a let down. The title-track centrepiece is an extra exuberant offering, with cowbell rattles and giddily effected guitar. It’s got one of the best curveball choruses I’ve heard in ages: a gothic intake of breath, juxtaposed to great effect against buoyant verses that recall the post-punk sunshine of Blondie or Tom Tom Club. 

‘A Little Thing,’ conversely, rests upon a simple see-saw of two guitar chords. The lyrics and vocal trajectory are what gives this tune its unique shape and character. The melody is unpredictable, darting, folky in its modulations and chromatic passing notes. By far the record’s most understated moment, it’s also one of its most addictive. 

Green soon pulls off a prog-rock manoeuvre by inserting a “reprise” of the opening track - namely, its hocketing chorale of voices. 

In practice, it’s simple gesture, by no means bombastic. But it has the noteworthy effect of tying a knot around the EP thus far, ushering us gracefully towards the grand finale, a track auspiciously entitled ‘Slingshot.’

‘Slingshot’ has an upbeat swing feel, which typically isn’t very rock and roll, but Pheno makes it work with a half-time backbeat and (once again) plenty of tightly interlocking layers. Upon reflection, I think I’m copping echoes of Nile Rogers, Battles, Kimbra and Annie Clark all at once. But after an EP’s worth of material that reaches out to grasp abundant reference points, I’m sufficiently immersed to simply say to myself - this sounds like Pheno

Dragon Year has been described as “art pop” and it really is, according to the most literal evocations of those words. Paint splattering passionately onto a canvas; shapes, and then images, coming BANG into existence. It’s an extraordinary 22 minutes of songcraft, achieving in an EP format what many albums desperately grapple for. A coherent arc, a thrilling diversity of sounds, a listening journey that makes perfect sense without ever giving away its next move. With dauntingly talented bandmates Alyx Dennison (Kyü, Richard in your Mind, Alyx Dennison) and Bonnie Stewart (Bonniesongs) in tow, there’s little doubt the live show is just as powerful. And, in conclusion, I’m gonna hold back on making a “pheno-menal” joke. But please, do listen to this record. 

BILL CALLAHAN @ HOWLER, MONDAY MAY 29 (LATE SHOW)

Andrew Ryan

I wait in the Nepalese restaurant for Buck, who arrives in a snug grey turteneck top. I tease him for it but only slightly. A Melbourne June is breathing down our necks and it’s the kind of breath that makes you want to keep your neck well-insulated.

We order a few dishes and the “litre of white.” Buck’s curry is salty to the point where I can see it pains him a little, and tomorrow it will cause him a great deal of nausea. For now, he tempers it with rice and scoops it up, and when the wine runs out we walk down to Howler to watch Bill Callahan.

The support act is DAVID QUIRK, who – unusually – is not a musician. When he comes out I think he’s the MC but he keeps talking, and telling jokes, and it’s apparent that Bill’s lone support for this slew of Melbourne shows is a stand-up comic. Which is kind of cool, albeit no doubt heartbreaking for umpteen local alt-folk upstarts. Quirk is not hilarious – no-one’s roaring with laughter, although that kind of momentum is hard to build up during a short set at the best of times. He makes observational gags about Mykis and “dog years” alongside plenty of self-deprecation. In the end he befits his name, and proves suitably disarming – catching us off guard ahead of the often gently confounding headline act. 

That act comprises a duo tonight: Bill Callahan in acoustic nylon string guitar mode, joined by Matt Kinsey on electric, who lent his talents to Apocalypse (2011) and Dream River (2013). Kinsey’s style is unique and wonderful: bluesy, feathery, fuzzy, fluid and swooping. His melodies and riffs encircle Callahan’s vocals in charming, unpredictable ways – bringing a compelling dynamic to the proceedings.

We ease in via the drifting ‘Jim Cain,’ and comparatively sprightly ‘Spring,’ with its floating soft-rock riff and lyrics skeptical of romanticisng nature. “Everything is aweing and tired of praise,” Bill ponders; “And mountains don’t need my accolades / and spring looks bad lately anyway […] We call it spring though things are dying / connected to the land like a severed hand.” Fellow Dream River album cut ‘Ride My Arrow,’ comes up the tail, which despite emphasising hand percussion in its recorded form holds up nicely with just two guitars. Among the fairly opaque lyrics about arrows meeting eagles in the sky and eating “pilgrim guts,” there’s a line that neatly foreshadows the rest of the set. “Life ain’t confidential,” Callahan croons. “No, no, no it’s not. It isn’t and it ain’t confidential.”

Because even if Bill’s songs are sometimes thick with bucolic mystique and obfuscated by poesy - they’re just as often very real, emotionally generous. No point pretending we’re not all human. Sad, euphoric, desperate, drunk, meandering, lonely or even just bored. It’s all on the table.

And he doesn’t just say it with his own words; covers are deployed to illuminate pertinent bits of the soul. So tonight we hear Bill’s take on traditional gospel-folk tune ‘You've Got To Walk That Lonesome Valley,’ with its old-time bleakness spun around a homey melody. Packing even more emotional punch is a version of Red Steagall’s ‘I Gave Up Good Mornin' Darlin'’ in which the narrator laments trading the loving greetings of a partner and kids for months of drinking and lumpy mattresses in flophouses. Sinking, as Bill is, into a dense six-show run in frosty Melbourne – a hemisphere away from home – it’s hard not to hear the song as a bittersweet metaphor for the pains of being on tour. Some people might suggest it’s rude to bemoan such a lifestyle in front of a crowd of adoring fans who have each paid almost Seventy brass razoos to see you. But life, as we have discussed, is not confidential (or polite).

Soon Bill gives us the wry, stiltedly rollicking anti-anthem ‘America’; the deceptively sweet-sounding ‘Too Many Birds’; the maundering, beautiful ‘Riding for the Feeling’ and stormy agricultural parable ‘The Drover.’ A highlight for me is the tearjerkingly earnest ode to family and hope, ‘Rock Bottom Riser’ – there’s something especially vulnerable about it, which undercuts the steely tough guy persona that typifies a lot of Callahan’s music. Ending with a denoument and the offer to take requests, we get darkly funny slow burners ‘I’m New Here’ and ‘The Well.’

Bill Callahan has a rare capacity for capturing people’s imaginations, the envy of songwriters everywhere. In turn, he attracts an uncommon kind of devotion. A friend of mine flew over from Perth expressly and is attending three nights in a row. One wonders upon the source of this special magic. Might be his deep, resonant, authoritative yet nonchalant baritone. Maybe his melodies and song structures, which unfurl impressionistically, allowing you to get lost in their wandering forms. Perhaps it is, especially, the lyricism – the way he entwines poetic, pastoral evocations with pithy reflections and dry humour. I think more accurately, it’s a kind of alchemical blend of these things, resulting in a performer who’s both down to earth and a little sublime. Speaking truth, but a bit too good to be true.  Seeing him perform in the flesh brings these twinned qualities into stark relief. If you’re even in two minds about whether to catch Bill Callahan live, do it. If you’re not satisfied, I’ll pay for your ticket.

Photo Ⓒ Hanly Banks  

Methyl Ethel, Reef Prince & Erasers @ The Corner Hotel (Richmond), Friday May 19

Andrew Ryan

We move down the train platform and along a dark footpath, under a bridge, and finally come face to face with a hotel where two streets meet. The Corner, to be precise. 

After following a few corridors we enter a large room with patterned carpet and tall, red curtains (very on-trend with the Twin Peaks revival, aye) which part to reveal ERASERS. 

I’d actually watched the duo play a mere hour or two earlier at Polyester Records in Fitzroy - such is my appetite for what they do, I’m entirely happy to soak up the replay. Erasers (and second support Reef Prince) are joining Methyl Ethel on their entire national tour, and the slickness that comes with tour preparation and experience is already evident. Their warm-blanket, buzzy, warbly, breathy moodscapes are more seamless than ever; Rebecca Orchard’s vocals effortlessly precise with the ideal modicum of emotion. Rupert Thomas’ role is increasingly DJ-esque as he crossfades deftly between loops, field recordings and ambient drones - though his contributions are more evident, and more immediately gripping, when he performs a live layer of hypnotic undulating guitar or a deeply resonant synth-bass riff. They’re a band forever honing their niche, always finding ways to make it more immersive, sanguine and memorable: the project as a whole is a majestic slow-mo sculpting of style. 

REEF PRINCE doesn’t necessarily exude the same patience, and you could be forgiven for thinking Stephen Bellair’s solo rap persona just emerged fully-formed from the hull of a magenta yacht. In truth, it’s been a long time in the chrysalis, insofar as Bellair has developed his rap, melody and performance chops over many years - with wild hip-hop posses like The Good Boys, Char Kway Pals and Outlordz, and rock bands like Doctopus and Electric Toad. While those things still stand tall in their weird, crooked way (especially the much-loved Doctopus), Reef Prince feels like an arrival, a vision that’s been waiting to manifest. Bellair seems truly joyous and liberated as he leaps and lopes around the stage, dropping both vivid and hilarious rhymes full of local and international references. Tracks like ‘Space Witch’ and the autotune-heavy, nautically-minded ‘Abalonely B0i’ are instant classics, all framed by the Reef Prince’s outlandish banter, pendulous tendril-hair and broad grins.   

The ‘Prince got the room sweating and we’re all juiced up for the feature presentation. Methyl Ethel have now graduated from mere “band” to “phenomenon”; they sell out rooms around the world, play alongside the biggest acts in the alt-pop game, and have garnered hordes of avid fans. Methyl’s obvious comparison, although further along its trajectory, is Tame Impala: both are guitar-driven, catchy yet hazy psych-pop boy bands from Perth… both started off as lo-fi solo projects for their frontmen who maintain an auteur-style rudder. Each project commingles the weird and the quotidian in a big smoky cauldron, with lyrics erring towards the classic rock themes - relationships, introspection, fun substances (see: ‘Nangs’ vs ‘Drink Wine’) and a touch of the cosmic or occult. 

Comparing the two is a fairly pointless exercise except insofar as it reveals something about their shared origins, motivations, and the zeitgest that has embraced them. I’d argue that the relative smallness (not isolation) of Perth leads to a situation where “weird” and “pop” music can’t readily segregate into sub-scenes, so the two have cross-pollinated with a shrug in many of our most successful exports (particularly since the era of digital natives making music, wherein weirdo influences have been more accessible, less shrouded in mystique). Existing against a conservative social backdrop, there are also interesting political impulses across Perth’s psychedelic scene. In the land of the bloke, Tame Impala and Methyl Ethel both thematise the “maleness” of their output: Tame by laying bare male fragility and failings in songs like ‘Cause I’m A Man’; Methyl, conversely, by asserting a kind of deliberate gender-effacement (“Ethel,” androgynous press shots, high pitched ethereal vocals, etc). Both are bands you can dance to, informed by radio megahits, but within the party is the spectre of the apocalypse.

Tonight, Methyl’s support base is tangibly huge and the band’s lineup has swelled to match - enter Hamish Rahn (Hamjam) on 2nd guitar and auxiliary keys. On balance it’s an excellent move, allowing the live renditions of songs to include essentially all the embellishments present on their new album, Everything is Forgotten. If there’s a point of caution, it’s that the sound sometimes risks getting too big, grandiose, in a “stadium rock” kind of way, which hardly gels with the band’s foundational, gently haunted mood.
For the most part, the arrangements boast an expert balance of restraint and billowing energy, whereby you can choose to dance and flail or sit back and appreciate the musical mechanisms. There’s certainly plenty of people doing both across the Corner’s spacious concert room, under the dim golden light, drinks splashing and ecstatic faces mouthing lyrics.
Methyl Ethel cruises, as only a tour-fit ensemble can, through breakthrough hits like ‘Rogues’ and ‘Idee Fixe,’; the gothic fuzz of ‘L’Heure des Sorcieres’ and fresh, Pink Floyd-esque 7” A-side ‘Architecture Lecture.’ We get the jubilant ‘Twilight Driving’ (with sax icon Jack Doepel on the solo bliss) and the hyper-poppy arpeggiation, highlifey guitar and syncopated snare-snap of the aforementioned ‘Drink Wine.’ 


My favourite thing about tonight hasn’t been any one song, or even a particular performance: it’s been seeing three so very different acts on one bill, conjoined by a light-hearted camaraderie, and that blend of pop sensibility and openness to the weird and wonderful. All three have very cool paths both behind and ahead of them. Keep both ears to the ground.

PETER BIBBY’S DOG ACT, EMPAT LIMA & LO VISION @ YAH-YAHS, SATURDAY MAY 13

Andrew Ryan

I’m standing on the train and somewhere around Melbourne Central I notice two things: (1) Bibby’s coming to town and (2) I have $4 in my bank account. Not wanting to miss the man in action as he passes through this chilly outpost, I send him a message explaining my situation and he graciously bungs me on the guest list; I didn’t even have to tell him I was going to do a review. He’s just a high calibre kind of guy. 

About 26 hours go past and now I’m in Fitzroy/Collingwood. It’s night time, there’s neon glowing and pints frothing. I eat a cheap plate of noodles at Ming’s, and stroll along the street, my eyeballs like blotting paper soaking up sights new and old. Soon enough it’s time to head into Yah-Yahs. I walk in off the street and it’s empty. Turns out the live music action happens upstairs nowadays.

Upstairs, a duo called LO VISION are emerging from the fog. At first, a dense improvised soundscape of rain sounds, high silvery formless voice, knife-edge guitar feedback and eyelid-clogging oscillator goo. This arrestingly abstract approach eventually gives way like a heavy cloud, and is replaced by songs with more structure: steady drum machines, verses, choruses, guitar riffs, thick and filthy gothic synth bass, loops, all commingling to create something a little bit trip-hop and a little bit post-punk-psych but generally quite singular. There’s clearly a special creative alchemy going on between the duo’s halves, Lucas George and Kim Little; Lucas bringing the rock influences, beats and grit while Kim contributes hallucinatory layers, lyrics and mercurial jazz-informed singing. My only beef is that songs helmed by one or the other member (on lead voice) can seem to exist in separate worlds - each carrying a sense of auteurship to their vocal delivery. In time, perhaps the dichotomy will collapse as songwriting tendencies converge; for now, more double-vox and deliberate habit-swapping could help fuse the moods.

From LoVision’s impressionistic portraits of doom and beauty we move on to the rather more geometric sounds of EMPAT LIMA. They’re a band that I remember particularly vividly from living here in 2014, and certainly a local favourite, though by the looks of things they’ve been comparatively quiet lately. That didn’t stop them from releasing some of their best tunes to date last year (slow glider ‘Passage to the Golden Sky,’ and no-wave-funky ‘Canteloupe,’) and tonight they bring their trademark energy and gleefully interlocking ESG-style riffs to an eager crowd. Drums plur and limbs wave, strings buzz and bark, vocal cords pile on with a hushed intensity. It all goes down a treat. 

PETER BIBBY is in my eyeballs and ear-slots now, along with his DOG ACT incorporating “Dirty” Dave (drums) and “Strawberry” Pete (bass / singalong). The set is classic Bibby, in all the best ways: sloppy enough to feel unhinged but tight enough to feel electric, exciting, always deliberate. Dave and Pete can certainly take some credit on both counts, and with PB howling in the driver’s seat the whole trio moves as one big, loud hot rod. What’s always separated Bibby from other tight/loud/brash musicians though is the intellect, humour and weirdo creativity that underpins his songs. Thanks to a good mix and refined arrangements, all those elements are on full display tonight. ‘Goodbye Johnny’ - a heartwarming and simple ode to homosocial love in the face of the flu - gets a mass singalong from the packed room. Vintage bangers like ‘River Guts,’ ‘Medicine’ and ‘Fuck Me,’ get much-appreciated airings, with the latter featuring a hilariously theatrical breakdown, simmering down to near-total silence and drawn-out whispers before about four bars of full-throttle conclusion.

Particularly intriguing to me were newer, more bittersweet songs nominally about places. ‘Whyalla’ (which isn’t that new but I’ve only heard it a few times) praises the South Australian town and its civic facilities, but really comes into its own when it fixates on local heroes who set world records in pinball, or performed remarkable in the hammer throw. It’s a celebration of ordinary people doing extraordinary things, told with Bibby’s inimitable coarse enthusiasm and silver-tongued wit. ‘Craigieburn’ is superficially about how shit the outer-Melbourne suburb of Craigieburn is, but actually it tells of a confusing pregnancy and the anxieties of contemplating one’s less-than-glamorous future prospects. In mentioning all these things, I don’t think I’m divulging anything that otherwise goes unnoticed. Though a vocal minority might still perceive Bibby as some goon-obsessed slacker troubadour, it’s obvious to most (and I’m sure to the people in this room) that there’s plenty of depth in these songs, and the associated larrikinism is just one part of what makes them so compelling, so worth revisiting. With the Dog Act catapulting every tune with fierce resolve, the bark and the bite are both precisely as bad as is warranted. 

NERVE QUAKES - ‘A NEW STATE’ LP (TELEVISED SUICIDE [AU] / IMMINENT DESTRUCTION [UK])

Andrew Ryan

Between my last article and this one, I’ve relocated to Melbourne for a stint (again), which means that now I only wear black, and stand around in the rain, looking sad. This works out well because my Perth-focused review for this week comes with a distinctive gothic bent: it’s the bleak but very enjoyable debut LP from the west coast’s best “dark new wave” band, Nerve Quakes.

The group (who lift their name from a Lubricated Goat song) involves members from bands like Cold Meat and Helta Skelta, so it’s no surprise they’re usually mentioned in the same sentence as the word “punk” - punk is their pedigree and their ethos. But from a purely sonic perspective, the band spins a classic kind of melodic indie rock, the kind of stuff that might give you flashbacks to early Cure, The Smiths, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Killing Joke. The sound’s suffused by layers of cloudy analog synth, underpinned by snappy drums and woody, insistent bass. But maybe the most definitive aspects of their aesthetic are Caleb’s chorus-heavy guitar and Catie’s vocals, which twist and mingle around each song’s skeleton in imaginative counterpoint.  

The thing that marks Nerve Quakes as Australian is not really their instrumental sound (you could index every element to a British band, really) or even the vocal accent, which is kind of neutral / “international post punk.” Rather, it’s their lyrical themes, which give local and political currency to the universable genre tropes. ‘Blood Money’ laments corruption and systematic violence; the sharp-edged ‘Monarch’ urges you to “free your body, but not your mind […] what she wants, what she says” which feels like it’s riffing on our psychic shackles to the Old country. ‘Shirley’ is a song about Shirley Finn, a Perth madam from the 60s/70s whose murder went under-investigated for many years. Other tracks are less locally minded, but no less potent in their themes: ‘The Uninvited’ wails about sleep paralysis and associated demons, ‘Celestial’ worries about space collisions bringing on planetary doom. 

Beyond the swirling guitar and keys, the propulsive rhythm section and the A+ vocals there’s another joy to be had in A New State: it’s the weird joy that comes from seeing your own anxieties, darker experiences and wonderings reflected in someone else’s art. “Gothic rock” derives from sadness, but it’s a sadness that’s shared and exorcised and aestheticised in the process becomes a party. Maybe that ambivalence is the ‘new state’ in the title. Although it’s more fun to imagine it as the alternative vision of WA that Caleb described in his March interview with Unbelievably Bad: “Run the city’s power on pig manure and appoint Tina Turner as premier after Colin Barnett has been fed to a shark.” However you read it, get your paws on Nerve Quakes’ album, which is getting its Australian launch this Saturday night (May 13) at The Bird. It’s the grimmest fun you’ll have all winter.

PINES RHYMES: IN THE PINES @ SOMERVILLE AUDITORIUM, SUNDAY APRIL 30 2017

Andrew Ryan

There’s a clearing near the highway and the quiet river flow

Where the conifers prepare themselves each year

For a day and night of music, and the visitors who go

for to drink the two-stage programme with their ears.

 

I arrive and (feeling spritely) take position near the speakers,

The air is warm, the welcome’s even warmer 

A man gives me a chupa chup and trots off in his sneakers

Then Caitlin introduces the performers —

 

JEFF'S DEAD, the knell is sounding as five fellers crest the stage,

Jeff Strong the zombie skipper at the fore.

Their twisted country musings, from the witty to the sage 

are celestial with synth as verses soar

 

Now several knells sound swiftly - or BELLS RAPIDS in the piney 

auditorium, riffs cracking through the air

Resounding in the open, Bellsy’s songs sound extra shiny

Perfect harmonies, and sizzle, fuzz and snare

 

And hailing from the goldfields, golden song craft in addition,

now THE PICTURE GARDENS paint a pretty scene.

Interweaving blues, Indigenous rock, and pop traditions,

their set is brief but vital and serene.

 

Up from the horizon rise the SOLAR BARGE BIG BAND,

All masked - don't ask me who, got no idea.

But they seem to have a great time, all and sundry tools in hand

Doomy psych-jazz sonifying Ra's career

 

PHIL-WALLEY STACK then follows on, a legend of the West

In duo mode with bonus lead guitar;

His tales of life and culture mid the sunshine and the rest,

Evoking times and landscapes near and far

 

So CRAIG mate - what are HALLSWORTH? Well, at least a song or six

As the veteran comes out with strings all hissin,

A heavy brand of indie, with a somber tone for kicks

With lyrics that beseech a closer listen

 

If DOCTOPUS change up the mood, guitar stays at the core

(Thanks to Jeremy, who’s freshly - somehow - shaven)

Frustrations, celebrations wrought through punk that's weird and raw

But wet and cool like Mettam's pool. A haven! 

 

Then suddenly DREAM RIMMY are upon us like a rug,

all of fizzing purple modulating stars.

With washy hooks and citric zaps, motorikky chug

Understated vocals, thick guitars…

 

We're due now for some hardcore punk, infused with brutal metal

A vicious kind of captivating aura

This quartet thrashes, screeches, hurtles, blares and never settles

And quickens all our blood. For what? FÖRSTÖRA!

 

Less vicious, but still powerful - and brooding, darkly hued

now CHILDSAINT air their shoegaze-pop melodics

With lilting chords, intense crescendi, grungey tropes renewed

A raft of hazy moods made episodic 

 

And returning like a moonflower, well-loved APRICOT RAIL

A sweet mosaic of beats and chiming tones;

Slow-burning woodwind power, tunes that whisper, build and wail 

They’re a band Perth must be proud to call its own.

 

A swarming crowd pack in, to witness INSTITUT POLAIRE

A staple of Perth’s noughties indie antics 

Orchestral, dense, anthemic songs imbued with love and care

Who knew that pop could sound so damn gigantic?

 

The sultry sounds of DANIEL SUSNJAR’S AFRO-PERUVIAN… 

JAZZ GROUP are soon colliding in the dark

With timeless grooves (one might even suppose: antediluvian),

We ride upon their complex, buoyant arc 

 

Now RAG ’N’ BONE are not alone in bringing hefty rock 

to Somerville this clement Autumn eve

But well-wrought songs and Keira’s lungs blow off abundant socks

As the fierce guitar lines bolt and duck and weave

 

POW! NEGRO, local heroes of the jazz-hop-rock persuasion

Keep our spirits high, adrenal glands a-pumping.

Rapper Nelson, horns and band, at their peak for the occasion; 

Lead lines howling, nimble drummer thumping.

 

If duo SODASTREAM decrease the pace and the intensity,

It’s in a way that’s warm and opportune

And though I’m biased (I jump up on violin), the density

Of sing-a-longers verifies the boon.

 

Lest we get too calm too quick, we’re blasted by a DEMON

of the HIDEOUS SUN variety, what’s more;

Its arms are four, its grinds and roars, the audience is teemin’

with hot sweat and grins and flailing limbs galore. 

 

Now if our weary brains were thinking TANGLED THOUGHTS OF LEAVING

a band that’s named as such dispels delusion.

We stay, with awe-struck gazes at the knotty layers heaving, 

They’re a stern but truly singular inclusion.

 

Then fellow heavy favourites - although from a different school,

It’s the loud and ever-lovable LOVE JUNKIES,

Pop melodies, distorted hooks and frantic beats unspool

They’re welcomed like bananas unto monkeys.

 

To send us home (if home means leaving), legends JEBEDIAH

Icons of a generation past. 

Classics like ’Harpoon’ hold up, like so much hills-hoist wire 

These snotty, poignant songs were built to last.

 

And as the crowd disperses and the faces grow more clear,

I see the eyes of twinkling cheer and thanks,

Not only for the wireless band that give us ‘Pines each year

But for the human gems among its ranks.

 

It’s forty years since RTR began, upon these grounds 

among these university lawns and halls

Forty years from strength to strength and endless varied sounds,

Of broadcasts, gigs and Radiothon phone calls

 

I say it every time, it holds, we truly owe a debt

(those of us who make or relish tunes)

To RTR and family, the blood and tears and sweat,

That’ve kept the dream alive so many moons.

 

On days like this we’re joined in ways antennas can’t enable,

Clinking drinks and mingling in the sun,

To dance, converse and share the breeze, a modern cultural fable

And so far, this year’s Pines - my favourite one. 

FAIRBRIDGE FESTIVAL @ FAIRBRIDGE VILLAGE, APRIL 20-24

Andrew Ryan

We load up the car, the long-suffering Honda Jazz, who just sighs and accepts the absurd piling of tents, mattresses, guitars, amps, bags, flight cases, food and drinks, humans. 

Despite the uncommonly weighty load it’s a quick journey to Pinjarra, and beyond to Fairbridge Village. Fairbridge Village, where an annual congregation of gnarled minstrels, dusty free spirits and family-minded food truck patrons is occurring. Once known as Fairbridge Folk Festival, it’s now Fairbridge “Festival of Inspired Music,” which I think is better, if a little unwieldy. How do you delimit “folk,” after all, without stifling innovation - or indeed, without recourse to a Eurocentric model? “Inspired” seems a more meaningful, friendlier umbrella to get under.  

Saturday I just get a taste: a wander through the eucalypt-lined, busker-heavy roads, a bit of Los Car Keys who race to a crowd-rousing conclusion dense with guitar, pan flute and thundering latin percussion. I have to return to Perth for some crucial nuptials but luckily Fairbridge is a smorgasbord that keeps going, deep into tomorrow and Monday.

SUNDAY — after a pause at Pinjarra Dôme I arrive in time for “Alex and Alb Morning Wakeup,” which is Axel Carrington (Rag ’n’ Bone) and Albie Pritchard (Shit Narnia) trading songs as the sun inches up its ascent. Though many of their respective songs are dark and doomy (the angst of punk channelled through the lonely aesthetic of guitar-folk) their personalities are grin-inducing, especially in tandem. It’s a thoughtful, funny and very special start to the day. 

The stage they’re on, the Backlot, offers up consistent goods as the day unfurls. There’s the soulful swaggering jazz-funk of DEMON DAYS. Then, the melodically intriguing, by turns heartbreaking, funny and thoroughly clever songwriting of STELLA DONNELLY, who draws a tremendous crowd (and throws in a Basement Jaxx cover because why not). BENI BJAH follows with his timeless tangent of hip hop realness, and at 2.30 I scoot past the tangle of food trucks and sit in the small but beautiful Faribridge chapel to hear MISS EILEEN & KING LEAR. They’re a brother-sister duo from Melbourne, and though their songs are nothing to urgently call your Aunty about, there’s an alchemy between their voices, simple chords, Lear’s stand-up drumming and their mutual razzing between songs that makes the whole thing memorable. 

Back up on the backlot there’s the bright-eyed, pop-rock-orchestra songwriting of SALARY, who apart from sounding big and great also make artistic use of Autotune - perhaps the first time that’s happened at Fairbridge. Hey, if it’s good enough for Sufjan…

The sun disappears. I manage to catch the tail end of ramshackle local country-weirdo collective THE FRUITY WHITES, what a beautiful thing they comprise. Back over at the Chapel, Groot Eylandt’s EMILY WURRAMARA carries a full house into the atmosphere on her songs of love and hope, sung crystalline in both English and Anindilyakwa.

The Backlot again. Here we catch perhaps the most viscerally impressive act of the whole festival - Quebec’s LES POULES A COLIN. A five piece comprising keys, violin, bass, guitar, banjo, galloping foot-percussion and harmonies, they craftily synthesise trad-folk influences and relay them with the blistering energy of a stadium rock act. They’re followed by local troupe RU, who combine just as many layers (here including saxophones, brass, drums and plenty of harmonies) to create something more serene, sprawling and eclectic - a haunting and engaging counterpoint to Les Poules’ onslaught of rhythms.

I’m feeling a little mellow and sleepy at this point, but after watching a few minutes of BRASSIKA I can’t help but throw some dusty shapes. They spin a tasteful web of energetic grooves, underpinning intelligent songwriting and crafty lead lines. Over in Gus’ Bar, the sloshy saloon at Faibridge’s geographical centre, I soak up another round of Demon Days before joining in with the Mucky Duck Bush Band - a Guinness-fueled bush dance to wrap up the evening. 

Monday floats along at a more relaxed pace. We catch Albie again, by himself as NEW NAUSEA, spinning evocative tales of mundane sadness and relief, pegged to the contours of the WA landscape. I catch the jaunty, mixed-bag folk/pop of BELGRADE, and the spirited songsmithy of LUCY PEACH (with her lush-sounding band) in the chapel. Over in the cosy corner known as Ruby’s Bar we catch the LITTLE LORD STREET BAND doing their country-informed power pop, songs of heartbreak and charged quotidian detail spun through layers of deft guitar, rolling piano and Creedence-worthy backbeat. We catch a few songs from OPEN SWIMMER, whose minimal guitar work bolsters straight-shooting, slo-mo choirboy melodics…and then have the privilege to play the closing set in the chapel, along with Daoiri Farrell (who collapses reverence for Irish folk tradition, and irreverence in general) and Jack Harris (who melds intricate guitar with songs about distant love ones, haunting landscapes and Andre the Giant). 

It had been a while between drinks from the Fairbridge cup - this site, a place of regular childhood visits, suddenly feeling new again. Among the tents, the cows, the $5 turkish mezza plate, the free outdoor library, the home-made preserves, the trees and the cottages, was the crucial impulse of the festival: fostering new forms of creativity, and subcultural idiosyncrasies, while honouring age-old cultural conditions. This year, in its 25th iteration, the programme struck up a better balance than perhaps I’ve ever seen it strike. And it didn’t even rain. Beautiful.

8 Hits Plus featuring Vanessa Tomlinson and Erik Griswold @ WAAPA, Wednesday April 5

Andrew Ryan

The music auditorium, indoors, adjacent to the pond. I plant myself in a prime position, the middle stalls - gazing zero degrees at the piano and a table dotted with household objects.

Local composer Lindsay Vickery walks on stage to a disco sequence of flashing coloured LEDs, a weirdly fitting entrance for the new-music veteran. He briefly introduces the concert, then it’s over to Vanessa Tomlinson - who explains that we’re not going to receive “8 Hits” either in the sense of eight percussive impacts nor eight popular pieces. But it all sounds appealing anyway.

Tomlinson begins the concert with an extra piece not listed in the programme. Here, a long cord is looped around a table leg so as to form the equivalent of two long skipping ropes which are alternatively flicked, their wavy undulations creating pitter-patter whippings along the floor. The visual is initially more striking than the sound, but soon enough the subtle sonics begin to dominate your field of attention, and you can almost feel the sensory priorities shifting across your head. The lengths of cord flail and flare, at times (and semi-incidentally, it seems) slapping books and paper scattered across the ground. The piece hones in on a tender ambiguity between contrived, or musical, sound - and the sounds that we might consider the secondary detritus of another activity. Here, however, the ostensible “primary” activity is so arbitrary as to be self-effacing, redirecting our attention and leading to a surprising aesthetic encounter. 

Up next is Erik Griswold with Bliss, parts 1-3 (2016). The contrast here is smilingly pronounced: these miniatures for prepared piano are nothing if not deliberate, discernibly tonal, rooted in the western art music canon. This isn’t to say they’re conventional, however. Griswold hammers the keys in a dense, geometric fashion recalling 20th century greats like Glass and Reich, but the prepared piano’s idiosyncrasies more readily bring to mind african percussion sounds like the mbira, or a crank-driven music box stuck on endless loop.

Tomlinson returns for her own composition Still and Moving Paper (2014) which reprises the strategy of foregrounding seemingly incidental sound. First, she draws two circles, side by side, one with each hand, on a piece of paper. The humble pencil lead becomes a kind of stylus, and the paper a neutral surface upon which to simultaneously input visual content and extract sound. The intensity, pitch and dynamic of the percussive drawings rely, in any given moment, on the speed and pressure of the inscribing hands. And while this may all sound quite straightforward on paper - the simplicity ultimately becomes utterly engrossing. Soon enough, you’re acutely aware that while anyone could run pencils over paper, this is an iteration of that mundane act delivered with a keen musical sensitivity, and thus a rare, weird kind of treat. Another part of the piece involves both destroying and sharing a page of a book: reading aloud its first sentence, tearing it in half, reading what remains and repeating the process until only choked vowels and consonants remain. It’s distinctly funny, but also haunting, a visceral portrayal of the disintegration of meaning and communication. 

Lindsay Vickery’s Lyrebird (2014) channels its titular fowl by using as its score a spectrogram image of a field recording, encouraging a kind of synaesthetic emulation. The field recording changes from performance to performance, meaning that the piece is “site specific” but (usually) specific to a site that’s elsewhere. Tonight, Tomlinson uses audio from flooded locations in Queensland (captured by Leah Barclay), a way of collapsing the tremendous distance between coasts. What’s fascinating about this piece performed is not that the live elements sound the same as the field recording; inevitably they can’t, with Tomlinson using bowls, bottles and other makeshift percussion against a backdrop of diverse environmental sounds. Rather it’s the uncanny synchronicities that arise from common dynamic and timbral shifts, two seemingly disparate soundscapes moving in step and suddenly becoming something poignantly sculpted. 

This is followed by the arresting Self Accusation (2014) by Kate Neal, in which Tomlinson whispers or barks verbal phrases into a headset mic, and accompanies them with variably wild, beatless gestures on an augmented drum kit. True to the title, the spoken word component is full of incriminations against the speaker, often delivered in fast clusters and punctuated by a silent scratch of the head. Drawing on Peter Handke’s 1960’s “speaking pieces” designed to jolt theatre audiences, the piece reminds me more personally of the semi-ironic self-loathing often present in post-punk and no wave; the delivery is deadpan and the music intense, ultimately coalescing into something that feels politically charged. The piece, it feels, twitches in an ambivalent space between the genuine critique of one’s past, and a sardonic mocking of a culture that encourages endless self-reproof. 

8 Hits Plus concludes with Erik Griswold’s noted concerto A Wolfe in the Mangroves (2007) which brings together the prepared piano approach of Bliss and (in this instance) the multifaceted talents of local percussion group Clocked Out, and Tomlinson herself. Drawing on incidental rhythms from everyday life and focusing alternately on timbral qualities, evocative layerings and dense tessellations of rapid-fire rhythm, it’s quite a remarkable piece. For my money, the harmonic content here often feels a little neglected, and can begin to sound pedestrian when the aurally compelling prepared piano is traded for dinkier options like glockenspiel and melodica. The best moments, though, are entirely triumphant. Metronomic, elastic, intimate and booming. 

Even reflecting on it now a week later, 8 Hits Plus gives me a real sense of excitement. Rather than borrowing established aesthetics of experimental music, its manoeuvres are experiments in the truest sense, from the searching, playful mimicry of Lyrebird to the stylistic collaging of Wolfe. Nothing on the programme fits readily into a genre, but it’s all delivered with a poise and technical vocabulary that owes a lot to musical tradition. In the concert’s best moments, there’s a sense of both awkwardness and wonder - in which comfortable forms and approaches are eroded or discarded, and new possibilities emerge: raw, squinting at the light, shiny and emboldened.   

THE BEST AND WORST OF GOLDEN TRIANGLE PUBS

Andrew Ryan

So for whatever reason, you've found yourself in the Western Suburbs. And not just the Western Suburbs, but the Stirling Highway corridor that fans out into Perth's bougiest enclaves. Stuck between the two more approachable nightlife hubs of Perth/Northbridge and Fremantle, the question echoes in your skull: where are you gonna get a drink?

I've spent much of the last week in the GT after dark, sipping overpriced lager so you don't have to. Until you do.

~  

CAPTAIN STIRLING HOTEL

★★☆☆☆

I remember a time - a distant, hazy time - when the Captain Stirling sounded like an appealing destination. Since the ALH (Woolworths) takeover, I’ve watched its soul drain out, slowly and desperately like the last foamy trickles of a Swan Draught keg. 

The pool tables are warped, scuffed and sloping. The music is grim Top 40 piped tepidly from the ceiling, the lights are bright and cold-hued. Patrons always seem kinda sad and vacant… “The calibre of punter leaves a lot to be desired.” The staff are nice enough, but visibly aren’t able to pretend they’re not working in a stinky, sinking ship. Now, the diveyness wouldn’t matter so much if the prices were in keeping. But pints and food remain expensive, and Cap S’ promoters seem married to the myth that it’s a vaguely swanky, attractive place. No no no. At least they have a decent pinball machine, if I recall correctly (AC/DC maybe?) 

 

VARSITY BAR

★★★☆☆

Varsity gets points for at least providing what it promises: a pastiche of the quintessential American college tavern. Stars and stripes on the walls, burgers and buffalo wings, dank couches and arcade games. Big Buck HD is particularly impressive - those graphics! (meanwhile still as sexist and animal-murderous as the original). The pool tables are not great but they’re serviceable and have the traditional down-lighting. Standard drink prices are as exorbitant as any other Golden Triangle hooch vendor (I paid $12 for a deeply boring pint the other day) but the specials are decent (went back a couple days later for $5 PBR. Still boring, but cheap). The clientele? Mostly uni students, though recently we met a truly amazing older gentleman who liked to wear sunglasses indoors and croon the rhythm and blues classic ‘Unchain My Heart.’  

 

JUANITA’S

★★★☆☆

 

This Subiaco joint has some legitimate class, although it’s well aware of it. Attracts an older crowd who wear nice linen clothing, and architects, or both.

Having never been there until the other night I figured the drinks list would be substantial, but it was pretty pissweak - and $14 for a meagre glass of Cab Sav. Regarding the cab sav my compatriot said it was “a decent drop of CABBY SAV. Bit nutty. I have better wines at home. But I’d drink that wine again.”

The decor is good, the ambience is OK albeit a bit stiff. The bartenders are handsome although they’re well aware of it.

 

UWA TAVERN

★★★★☆

The UWA tavern is so weird. It doesn’t really feel like a tavern. It feels like a fake tavern, a TV set of a tavern, all the things a tavern should have set in place but without any regard for it ever being used as such. I can’t explain it. The ceiling is so high up and everything feels far away. The ambience is generally shit, but in a good way, like how in any unpretentious crummy establishment you’re never going to have to impress anyone. Good chips. Great staff. Cheap jugs of the beeriest beer you ever quaffed. Pool tables (can’t remember what nick they’re in but they exist). You can’t really go wrong.

 

RODNEY’S BAIT AND TACKLE

★★★★☆

Rodney’s is the new kid on the block, propelled into the sphere of local awareness through its gimmickry. The bar is a boat, the whole place is decked out in nautical paraphernalia, and they do actually sell bait and tackle if you want it. They’ve done a pretty solid job with the theme really, the drinks selection is good, and it’s opposite the Mozzy Park train station so the location is not quite as annoying as you might expect. Ultimately though the combination of “funky new bar” and “secluded Golden Triangle location” means the clientele is mostly groovy DILFs wearing hats and so on. Ah well. Four stars from me: they’re giving it a red hot go, booking live local music, and DJ Boogie was doing a bang-up job the other night with the soul ‘45s.

 

STEVE’S

★☆☆☆☆

Like the Cap S, this place was once great, but a refurb or two later it has both the sterility and charm of a Changi Airport restroom. Couldn’t even bring myself to have a drink here. Good proximity to the foreshore and local skate park though. You're actually better off going to Little Way a few doors up, but I forgot to write a review of that. Steve's: One star.

 

THE ALBION

★★★★★

Alright, enough beating about the bush. It’s gotta be The Albion. This age-old (since 1890) institution combines the best and worst of Western Suburbs pubs, but good triumphs over evil. Ossifying seedy barflies, too much lighting, slightly obnoxious quantity of TVs. Good pinball (Metallica, formerly KISS), Big Buck Safari, decent classic rock playlists, expensive pub meals. Ten fireplaces, $5 schooners, Saturday Night Karaoke. Two crucial boons get it over the line: good pool tables (the only ones on this list with the classic green felt), and the place has an actual train inside it. Don’t waste your time with the competition: halfway along Stirling Highway is the crusty-chic watering hole you seek.    

ABORTED TORTOISE - AN BEACH (LP)

Andrew Ryan

ABORTED TORTOISE’s debut album, An Beach, is just about everything you’d hope for from a Western Australian punk record: 15 tracks, half-hour run time, lots of sun-struck goon-flecked thrashing and a salty scintilla of uncynical surf rock. 

The very words “An Beach,” while basically meaningless, give you an idea of the attitude at hand. If these ratbags won’t even abide by standard English grammar in the album title then what hope do we have of them making palatable, good old fashioned songs? And of course the answer is none: these are spurting jets of festering scuzz, too many guitars crossing swords over blistering corroded drums, threatening to burn up like a space capsule on re-entry.

There’s a difference, mind you, between ignoring the musical proclivities of polite society and making lazy nonsense songs for the soliloquistic thrill of it. While An Beach brandishes plenty of nonsense and thrills, you can’t accuse Aborted Tortoise of being lazy. The songs are performed with diligence and gusto; recorded perfectly with clarity of scum by Brod Madden-Scott (Spaceman). The result is a carefully crafted entity. Its tempo and mood fluctuations (fast/faster/fasterer; loud, louder, loudest) are tactfully sequenced. The riffs and interlocking rhythms sound effortless in a way that requires a lot of effort… a lot of practice and musical telepathy, to reach a point where the whole thing hurtles along like a single rabid beast. Never dragging its heels, but coming close to somersaulting from sheer momentum. 

With the lo-fi immediacy of The Sonics, the faux-dumbass sensibilities of the Ramones and the sly musical inventiveness of Dead Kennedys, Aborted Tortoise definitely recall a lot of crucial punk touchstones. Meanwhile I’m also reminded of Melbourne brat-boys Ausmuteants, and more specifically, ‘90s Perth band The Feends - bonkers treble-heavy riffing with post-Ventures noodling and snotty sandgroper vocals. Plus, tongues balanced delicately in cheeks. 

Enough pontificating: what about these SONGS? ‘Goodbye Beach’ rides the barrel, both oceanic and vinous; ‘Cheese Supreme’ chronicles pizza fever dreams, messy cooking and existential revelations, complete with bass lead breaks and candy-pop handclaps. There are two very short songs about bees: ‘Bees 1’ and…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..………………………………………………………. ‘Bees 2.’ 

‘Spewin McGregor’ is an archetypal surf instrumental, as enjoyable to listen to as it is hilarious as a prop for a stupid (great) song title. ‘Get Mum’ is a convulsive freakout: parental supervision required. ‘Wasted Goods’ is vintage self-loathing of the embodied variety. ‘Bab’ sounds like it was written and recorded in real-time and is also the world’s best love song aimed at a kebab. Coming up the rear, ‘Crumple Zone’ is the LONG SONG but it makes its basic blues riff and tambourine backbone sound fresh, and after 6 or so minutes it’s still over too soon.

Aborted Tortoise might make most sense in the live setting: the visceral impact of a band going ballistic is most logically received there-and-then, with the sweat beads landing in your eyeballs. But like that recent winning album from Boat Show, An Beach does a stellar job of bottling the mayhem. Take it home, uncork it, let it breathe and then scull it like the filthy little demon you are. 

Cover art: Jessica Cockerill. And ain't it something!   

    

PERTH SINGLES ROUNDUP: MID-MARCH '17

Andrew Ryan

Owing to my inability to settle on just one thing to write about, here's a whole handful of short-form releases out of Perth that caught my ear this week. Some of these tracks have been kicking around for a month already, while others (like the JCAL number) are hot off the press. Either way, I hope you find something to tickle your tympanic.

1. Diger Rokwell - We Can Ride

Diger Rokwell is etched into the Perth psyche for his psych-ey, sample-driven instrumental hip-hop - and he’s found plenty of room to spread out within that niche. But recent years have seen the Community Records labelhead explore even further afield, and ‘We Can Ride’ is the latest case in point. It’s spritely funk laden with airy vocoder, interstellar synth and pumped forward with rubbery boogie-bass. Probably Rokwell’s most gleefully retrofuturistic effort to date, its vivid palette bodes well as a new facet of the Diger sound.

 

2. Bahasa Malay - Inmates 

Inmates is framed as a “mini-EP” - comprising two tracks and a total of seven a half minutes. Despite its brevity, this Bandcamp release exemplifies many of Nora Zion’s musical strong suits and condenses them into two of her most resolved tunes yet. ‘Trust’ begins as pulsating synthwave pop, strewn with eastern string samples and Zion’s ever-understated vocals. By its end, the tune has twisted itself into a toothy dancehall experiment, bristling with joyous hi-hats and painting concentric circles of synth melody. 

‘Getback’ launches with the semi-dissonant chord shapes endemic to underground house and techno, and a tooth-chattering percussion line. We fall into a sanguine dance floor groove, helped along by spring-loaded bass, 808 claps and a playful spoken sample (“what is this?”) In between denser interludes, Zion’s voice gets plenty of space, and everything rushes to a conclusion with a teasingly fun synth-horn.

Experimental yet focused, atmospheric yet consistently dance-inducing, this is Bahasa Malay at her best.  

Listen: https://bahasamalay.bandcamp.com/album/inmates

 

3. JCAL - Come up (ft. Chiseko & Toyotomi Hideyoshi) 

There’s a new wave of Perth-based hip hop on the rise and I feel like any minute now it’s gonna blow up and freak everyone out in the best way possible. Groups like Boogie Nights Media and Four AM Collective are flying the flag; JCAL’s latest, ‘Come Up,’ is a perfect example of why it’s so exciting. This is hip-hop borne of the internet age, of an open and globally-minded movement that’s got little to do with the predictable and parochial Oz-hop of yore. Admittedly, it’s a bit disheartening hearing Australian rappers deliver their lines with American accents, as if cultural cringe finally won. But the net result is a worldly and moody track with neither MCs nor producer missing a beat; something recalling the likes of Clams Casino and Kendrick.  

Listen: https://jcal666.bandcamp.com/track/come-up-ft-chiseko-toyotomi-hideyoshi

 

4. Senate - Filibuster 12”

 

The impatient kick in the eponymous A1 track billows like a big black parachute. The synth chords come at you fast like jagged knives. But it’s not as sinister as the similes would have you believe; each emphatic musical gesture carries a penumbra of jazzy warmth and funk generosity. Archetypal canned claps and clipped snares guide you through the flickering dark. You feel good.

‘Fumble in the goal square’ reveals the duo’s football sympathies but more importantly gives a slew of thick, cross-hatched hats a big sweaty workout - occasionally bringing in warped vocal and modded-out bass for additional inspo. ‘Glimmer’ is somewhat deceptively named, ‘cause it focuses on the squelch, although there’s a healthy modicum of high-altitude mist. Aggressively panned tintinnabulations and bold breakbeat detours. Very cool. ‘Straight from the Islands’ might be my favourite Senate track to date: it feels truly original to me. Violent syncopated kicks… melodic chord swells gliding over jacking degradations and a contemplative bass vamp, plus really special see-sawing, jacket-zipper percussion. All arranged in a way that feels both surprising and necessary. 

 

5. Yomi Ship - Subi’s Voyage 

I’ve yet to see instrumental rock band Yomi Ship live, which I want to remedy soon, but their one-take live-in-the-studio records are sick. This latest one to hit Youtube (with some fun found footage collaged by Imogen Lau) is a real beauty, striking up a satisfying balance between math-rock austerity and emotive, empathic melodics. A few years ago it seems there were more bands doing this kind of stuff, especially in Perth, but few were doing it as well - or with as much admirable restraint - as Yomi Ship. 

 

6. Demon Days - Lost In Translation

 

One of the most undeniably listenable singles to emerge from Perth in a while, I reckon - red-blooded bass and offbeat electric-piano semiquavers holding it down under Bella Nicholl’s velvet voice. There’s a bit of a braziliano lounge flavour under all the swagger, which isn’t my go-to sound, but it’s actually really refreshing to hear that infused convincingly into a local soul groove. In any case it’s just a hell of a good song, expertly arranged and delivered, clocking it at a humble 3:09, tempting you to flick on the repeat button. This Freo crew is young but already discernibly wheat among the global chaff - I wouldn’t be surprised if the next few years see them blow up big-time, like their (somewhat similar) East-coast elders Hiatus Kaiyote. 

KURT VILE (SOLO) @ CHEVRON FESTIVAL GARDENS, MONDAY FEB 27

Andrew Ryan

Elizabeth Quay looks like a cemetery during the day, but at night it's a pretty sight. Rows of carousel lights undulating alongside half-lit trees, shimmering water, glowing fencelines and temporary structures sprouting through the dark. In the middle is PIAF's "Chevron Festival Gardens" site - both a beacon of musical diversity, and a blunt reminder of the arts' dependence on oil multinationals and their ilk. 

In this ambivalent space we gather to hear and cheer Kurt Vile. Doc and I grab a pair of bleacher seats behind R__ and R___, letting gravity take our weight as we sip some beer in plastic tumblers. The stage is pretty flashy, maybe thirty feet tall. Dozens of moving light fixtures, massive drapes and a hefty PA. So it's pretty funny to watch the blithe, lanky, somewhat bumbling Vile emerge on stage, dwarfed by his surroundings yet looming large in everyone's field of attention.  

The house music dies off and the Philadelphia-based songman begins, lilting into action with the none-too-cheery 'Feel My Pain.' Like most of his tunes, its moribund mood is buoyed along by loveable melodies, artful bucolic fingerpicking and Vile's absorbing drawl. The set makes some early forays into not-quite-convincing loop pedal arrangements and unwieldy bluesy soloing, but soon gets back to basics with the great 'Pretty Pimpin' (a persistent lo-fi drum machine suffices as backing), 'Wild Imagination' and the pleasantly drifting 'Waking on a Pretty Day.' 

You'd think the awkwardness that heralded the set would have worn off by now, making way for the natural rhythm, flow and rapport of the intimate songwriter-and-audience routine. But not really. Vile seems nervous, underrehearsed, and subsequently a little sheepish - although this all gets filtered through his totally endearing presence, and contagious readiness to shrug off imperfections. 

So, resigning ourselves to the awkwardness, leaning in, we continue: a beautiful song on the banjo now (I can't find the name of it, but its main lyric is "much it is," and you can hear a somewhat muffled version on youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7G-fvXztxoA). We get a pair of melancholic songs about losing best friends ('Runner Ups,' and 'My Best Friends (Don't Even Pass This)') which give the impression of piercing through Vile's nonchalant veneer, into some of his most tender anxieties and trains of thought. There's the charming, poetic 'Blackberry Song.' There's an out-of-place, rather experimental track in which Vile intones over a cosmic loop, occasionally twanging a lone graceless guitar note, before ending in some truly absurd out-of-time riffing and power chord slop, bathed in digital stadium-rock fuzz, generally sounding like a strange (but giddily amusing) fever dream. In contrast, we get the gentle, smiling momentum of 'He's Alright'; it's a gorgeous track to end a Kurt Vile set, articulating a quiet positivity in spite of life's trials and discomforts: "The silhouette kid's swinging on a swing / scrapes his knee and bloodied brains / he shows his friends he's alive as he brags and he jives, hey / he's alright, he's alright, he's alright, he's alright. Yeeah."

Of course, as is the way with these things, the set's not really over: a stage hand swapping over guitars betrays the likelihood of an encore, and it does eventuate, bringing us Vile's collaboration with The Sadies - 'It's Easy (Like Walking)' - and his intricate, haunting 'Peeping Tomboy.' After the show, it's clear that our man's messy live aesthetic divided the crowd, with some taking it in their stride and others (understandably) expecting slicker delivery from a show that cost $80 upon second ticket release. 

If I'd paid through the nose, I might have felt a bit cheated too, but the critique a tricky one. Vile clearly knows he's somewhat out of place in this Chardy-scented amphitheatre, causing him to reminisce out loud about a performance at the Sydney Opera House: "It was a very unprofessional show." He's also at peace with taking the money and just playing whatever comes out, saying of PIAF that he doesn't normally perform solo but "they made me an offer I couldn't refuse." You can't entirely blame "Kurty" (as he's called within the crowd's jocular heckles) for being his typically rumpled self; it falls with the promoters to manage audience expectations, set appropriate ticket prices, and fly out the full band if it's felt they're truly required. 

For my part, I was pretty happy just to go along for the ride. A cool night under the stars; a talented but fallible soul, exposed in a slightly surreal setting, warts and all, but with charisma and creativity being the enduring impressions. 

Kurt Vile is a mystery. I don't exactly mean in the brooding enigmatic rock star sense, whereby he reads as the long-haired loner, a laconic weirdo-genius outsider on the road with his guitar and an obscure past. That image is there, perhaps self-styled, but he's also an artistic mystery - treading an unusual line between bone-bare earnestness and aesthetic self-effacement, canny crowd-pleasing songcraft and harebrained noodling that feels oblivious to the external world. Like many of our most beloved artists, Vile's appeal comes from the fact that his music is a vivid reflection - and a genuine extension - of himself. Polish away the flaws, and I suspect you'd lose much of the human charm. I mean, it wouldn't hurt to tighten up the loop pedal technique or tune the guitar a bit quicker. But when all's said and done… Kurty, we love you, keep doin' you. 

BOAT SHOW - GROUNDBREAKING MASTERPIECE (CS-LP, DRY GROUND RECORDS)

Andrew Ryan

BOAT SHOW are my new favourite Perth band, or favourite new Perth band - either way - the two things get entangled when you’re in the throes of enthusiasm for something unfamiliar and cool as heck. I saw them the other week at Mojo's, playing as part of "Shartfest #7," and got totally walloped by their nonchalant stage energy, power-saw riffs and unhinged sense of humour. It's no surprise, of course, that when you combine members of Dream Rimmy, Gunns, Moistoyster/Spaceman, Bells Rapids and more you're gonna get a pretty spesh brew. But still... while for the five-piece it was all in a day's work, for me it was a mini-revelation, a joyous half hour that's glued vivid to my memory.   

Singer Ali Flintoff describes Boat Show as "a garage band of four girls and a token boy,  with lyrics about the scum of the earth." This is as good a ten-word overview as any. They're a band that will appeal to fans of classic punk acts (especially feminist-leaning ones) like X-Ray Spex, Bikini Kill, X or The Germs - but likewise, you needn't be immersed in that kinda world to appreciate them. It's self-explanatory rock-n-roll fury delivered with a winning balance of melody and snarl, all super-direct, no pomp or fanfare. 

These qualities translate flawlessly from the live setting to their debut album, Groundbreaking Masterpiece (out on new local label Dry Ground) - a record which achieves the notable feat of capturing both the band's raw intensity, and the nuance and clarity these excellent songs deserve. 

'Serious' serves as a perfect induction, headbutting you with a snotty one-chord verse, three-chord chorus, and sick guitar solo that sounds like it’s been put through a blender. The more politically pointed 'Cis White Boy' drives on with a mid tempo motown chug, delivering an unrustled polemic against the arrogance that so often accompanies privileged viewpoints.

The frustrations of a social system that doles out arbitrary advantages to often oblivious and unhelpful parties becomes an ongoing fuel to the songwriting fire. In 'Staying Alive,' a central lyric caries a double valence, both as a parody of the ignorant, and genuine grievance of the exhausted and ignored: “I don’t wanna talk about basic human rights / with anything I say I’ll get fucking crucified. Can’t have an opinion, even if it’s right.” Songs like this speak to the origins of punk music, in which the wielders of power are called out on their bullshit, while those less often granted a platform scream their piece from the rooftops. Perhaps that's why this album feels so right and inevitable; it's capturing a contemporary moment, a contemporary frustration, via a timeless and aptly immediate form.

'Suss' barks a distinctly Oz-vernacular promise ("I'm gonna suss you out!") ahead of 'Running Away' - the latter slowing down to something more aligned with traditional Perth rock, sporting a bluesy motorik reminiscent of turn-of-the-millenium shoegazey jangle stuff.  It's a bit of a curveball in the context of this mile-a-minute record, but it works. 'I Can’t Win' cranks the pace back to an upbeat hurtle, its giddy momentum underpinning deceptively relatable lyrics (one gets the impression each song emerges from a fairly specific set of experiences). 'Stupid' is another melodic sprawler, more in the vein of singer Ali Flintoff’s other major project Dream Rimmy, but retains the straightforward drums-and-fuzz palette that allows this whole album to come at you as a single, spontaneous statement. 

It all careens to a halt with the totally daft but fun 'I Hate Work,' the not-quite-defeated 'Can’t Deal' and shade-throwing denoument stomper 'Transparent,' rounding out an album that never strays from its simple, crucial principles of loudness and unapologetic real talk.  

From the silly, self-deprecating title to the cunnilingus-focused cover illustration by Hannah Atcheson, Groundbreaking Masterpiece wants to be outrageous and irreverent. And it is. But it’s also smart, arresting and important. It's impassioned and wild enough to impress the most jaded punks, catchy enough to reel in the average punter, sociologically savvy yet good-humoured in a way that will win over skeptics of music with an "agenda." Not that it seems Boat Show care who they do or don't appease. They'll keep calling it like they see it, making banging tunes along the way, and it's up to you if you wanna pick up what they're putting down. I'd recommend you pick it up.  
 

AKI SWATI & ZIGGY @ CHEVRON FESTIVAL GARDENS, SATURDAY FEB 11

Andrew Ryan

I was all juiced up for Lady Leshurr and Ngaiire last night, a show at PIAF’s Chevron Festival Gardens which ultimately didn’t go ahead. It seems like the threat of rain in Perth is enough to bring all but the most tenacious events (see: Camp Doogs) to their knees. To be fair, I wouldn’t have been planning for Perth precipitation in February either. But still. We can put robots on Mars and not waterproof a venue? No doubt there is more to the story, a Faustian epic involving Puddles, Insurance and Grime to which I’ll never be privy.

In any case there’s a very shiny silver lining to the clouds. The next day, I notice that Mei (Mei Saraswati) and Tess (Tess Darcey, Akioka) are doing a collaborative set down in that very same bayside venue as AKI SWATI. What a combo! It’s not that these two haven’t teamed up before; they regularly appear on the same lineups, and together form Sibling Music - a project aimed at engaging and inspiring school kids through experimental and electronic music workshops. But I’ve never heard the like-minded sound sculptors perform as a duo, so this is an exciting thing.

I step out into the damp air, ride a bus down the Beaufort Street hill and wander through a gently vibrating CBD. 

Down where the river meets the land, there’s a gate leading into a corridor of bars, food stalls, tents, grass, occasional trees. And on a small stage opposite a particularly inviting knoll, there’s AKI SWATI. The set takes off with the Mei Saraswati ‘Swamp Gospel’ – an ode to the lost wetlands that now form much of Perth’s concrete laden CBD. While retaining the track’s memorable melodics and popping percussion, it’s reworked somewhat to accommodate the otherworldly, improvisational approach of Akioka - as well as the latter’s formidable vocals. The rest of the set follows a similar tack, launching from established songs, layering on harmonies and – between these more structured anchor points – exploring loose, painterly, often still very danceable interludes.

One gets the sense that this is a larval form of what AKI SWATI could be; a glimpse and the wild fireworks of creativity these two could produce if they put their heads together for an extended period. That being so, it’s nevertheless a wholly satisfying set - full of the integrity, light-hearted humility and adventurous musicality, we’ve come to expect from both of these local heroes.

During a short intermission I go check out KYNAN TAN and DEVON WARD’s unique sound installation, Co•–st•–l W•–ve Tr•–nsl•–tor. It’s emenating from two tall speakers, mounted on a floating raft in the quay. The stuttering, swooshing, fizzing and hissing sounds you hear are sonic translations of wave data gathered from buoys near Nauru, Manus and Christmas Islands. Natural phenomena, slowly becoming adulterated by climate change, encoded in a way to which our emotions are receptive - and standing in for the human distress signals we cannot, or will not, receive. It’s a great work.

Back up inside the Gardens, Ziggy Fatnowna (aka ZIGGY) is rearing to go. The local rapper is backed by a classic live combo: drums, bass, guitar and keys, all of which coalesce to create something impressively tight and tasteful yet thankfully, not too squeaky clean – tempering jazzy chops with a relaxed garage-band sensibility.

Anyway, the thing that grabs you first is Ziggy’s energy. He’s got charisma in spades, the presence of a consummate professional at a young age. The juggernaut of positive intensity bounces around the stage, never missing a beat across Kanye covers, freestyles over Kendrick grooves and his own instantly memorable originals.

His delivery is impeccable, his flow as rhythmically interesting as it is accessible. His rhymes – though occasionally predictible – are always convincing, and at their best they’re a grin-inducing treat. More important than any of these technical apsects though it’s Ziggy’s broader project: his songs are vessels for stories and experiences, historical truths and vivid polemics, from the voice of a young indigenous man. The tracks from the ‘Black Thoughts’ EP comprise a case in point, with title track rallying against indigenous youth incarceration. I wasn’t expecting to see a crowd both cheerfully boogying and chanting ‘Black Lives Matter’ in thespace of a few minutes today, but it’s happening. ‘Black Face,’ decries white Australia’s shrugging or defensive attitude towards a recent incident in which a child went in blackface (as Nic Naitanui) to school book week.

Overall, Ziggy’s set is a stunning balancing act – between political diatribe and party music, frustration and celebration. It’s deeply personal, often highly specific in its critiques, but draws everyone in, which is no mean feat. Ziggy’s undoubtedly one of the most exciting hip hop acts to emerge from Perth in a while.

Elizabeth Quay might feel like a bit of a fake cultural hub. A Colin Barnett trophy to show off to visiting politicans, diplomats, business moguls and tourists, a site that appeared out of nowhere and which represents little of Perth’s grassroots arts scene. But like plants grow through concrete, today’s shown me that our town’s most authentic and motivated creatives are prepared to make the most of any space. Even if – as is the case with Aki Swati, Kynan Tan, Devon Ward and Ziggy – their narrative threatens to rub the hegemonic space-makers up the wrong way. And that’s a far more exciting a takeaway as I could’ve hoped for on a meandering Saturday afternoon.

INCHING TOWARDS IDEALS: NOTES FROM AUROVILLE

Andrew Ryan

Silently, in single file, we walk towards the giant golden orb. To either side of us are neatly groomed lawns, trees and flower beds. Behind us are the stone benches where we were briefed; further back, the entrance gate to the Park of Unity, and the dirt road we took to get here. Up ahead, the looming, aureate disco-ball -  with its countless concave and convex dishes across its surface - glimmers against a vivid blue sky, while red-brick rooms protruding from its circumference funnel us into a subterranean amphitheatre.

Here, a gentle fountain flowing. The water runs down concentric circles of marble petals, arriving at a central glass sphere. We sit in a circle around the perimeter, still silent, and wait to enter the Matrimandir.

At last we’re led inside. The only words spoken inform us to put on a pair of fresh white socks. These are to be found folded neatly in a nearby tray. Socks on, we walk up ramps and through narrow corridors, bathed in a red glow that emenates from the domed surface of tesselating triangles around us.  Already this feels like an otherworldly space – a minimalistic, spheroid cathedral, barely ornamented, though occasionally punctuated by some hindi script, a neatly mounted candle, or a length of fountain. But this isn’t our main destination, not quite. That lies through a door up ahead.

***

Auroville is an experimental township on the South-Eastern coast of India. Its population comprises mostly Indian locals. It is not really an Indian place, though.

Auroville announces itself as a “universal town,” a place for people from all countries, of diverse beliefs and cultures, to co-exist and “realize human unity.”[i] It’s home to people from western Europe, the Middle East, Africa, China, USA, Australia and beyond. By law[ii] it belongs not to the Indian state but to the Auroville Foundation, and in turn, to “humanity in general.” In short - Auroville is intended as a kind of post-nationhood utopia, and was established as such in 1968 by a woman known as The Mother (born Mirra Alfassa in Paris, 1878) whose long-time spiritual and philosophical collaborator, Sri Aurobindo, gives the city its name.  

I first came to Auroville about a week ago, just planning to stick my head in and look around, over the course of a day. I did; I explored the gardens and neighbourhoods, watched the Visitor’s Video, viewed the Matrimandir (literally, “Mother’s Shrine”) from outside and chatted with some Auroville residents. The whole visit was fascinating… walking trails explaining The Mother’s flower-symbolism system; some of the most wonderful architecture I’ve seen, ever; a dense forest cultivated from once-barren plains. A heady collision of Indian and European visual vernacular, and of stern utopian functionality and new-age flamboyance. At the same time, for a supposedly radical and revolutionary society, it felt a lot more familiar and mundane than I’d have expected. In any case, it soon became clear that a day trip wasn’t going to be long enough to sink my teeth it.

***

 

The door is opened. We tread like cats into the white and circular Inner Chamber. This is the heart of the Matrimandir, set aside for Concentrations – sessions designed to focus the mind with a view to cultivating human unity, and oneness with Divinity. (These ideas emerge from The Mother and Sri Aurobindo’s teachings of “Integral Yoga,” but don’t belong to any spiritual doctrine per se – Auroville’s founding scriptures are intentionally vague, if abundant, and conceived as post-religious).

 

We seat ourselves on the floor, forming a ring around a crystal sphere in the middle of the room. It’s the largest optically-perfect glass globe in the world, I’m later told. My eyes don’t quite believe it but there’s a tight beam of light flowing in through an aperture in the ceiling and striking the globe, carrying on through its base and down towards the lower levels. But the most arresting thing is the quiet.

 

I’ve never heard quiet like this before. The shrine’s husk-like layers, the crisply carpeted floors, the clever acoustic design means there’s no discernable ambient sound at all. As we begin our concentration – closing our eyes, or gazing deep into the glass globe – you could literally hear a pin drop. The space is unforgiving if you do make a sound, too: those unfortunate enough to cough also have to hear sound reverberating at length throughout the geodesic structure. But provided you’re quiet, the stillness is overwhelming. I count my breaths and concentrate. After about fifteen minutes (but it feels like no time) the lights flash orange-red, twice. This means it’s time to go.

***

After my first brief visit, I knew had to return to Auroville and explore more. My second visit was also brief – just a few days - and to be fair, there is only so much one can grasp about any place in such a time, let alone an “experimental township.” But Auroville is small, and time moves slow here. So I unpack my bags in a small local villa-house (blue walls, geckos everywhere, garden bleeding into forest; papaya trees) and absorb as much as I can.

Certain things one reads about Auroville are revealed to be myths – or at least exagerrated – fairly quickly. The town assures you it’s not a tourist destination, but tour buses and autorickshaws roll in reliably each morning. This hardly seems discouraged: there are gift shops peddling Auroville-made wares, books, food and more to the tour-bus set. Auroville is also sometimes said to boast a cashless economy, instead operating on a principle of sharing, communal labour and (in some cases) earning credit on a site-specific “Auro Card.” Certainly all these practices exist, but Indian Rupees are also accepted at every Auroville shop or restaurant I visit. The cashless economy is at best a work in progress, at worst a delusion.

Cynically, one wonders how many of Auroville’s other aims are merely pipe dreams, or so foetal as to hardly warrant worldwide notoriety. There are clear initiatives for sharing – such as the ‘Pour Tous’ (‘For All’) food supply resource – but if these systems aren’t operating on a pure communist principle, how distinct are they from other hippy enclaves within neoliberal democracies? I also can’t help but notice that the ritzier corners of the township (where every house looks like a Frank Lloyd Wright), the population consists of mostly European expats, while the Indian village of Kottakarai, within Auroville’s boundary’s, doesn’t appear to benefit too much from its wealth. In fact, the distinction between what is and isn’t Auroville is rather hard to make – it’s not as simple as drawing a line around the edges. Auroville seems more to be a constellation of farms, buisinesses, institutes and neighbourhoods (with names like Sincerity, Aspiration, Miracle and Adventure) bound more by philosophy and routine than by geography; places within Auroville can be not Auroville, while places futher away (even overseas) can seemingly belong to the Auroville community. Auroville is more an idea than a physical site, though it clusters around the iconic and beautiful Matrimandir, and a majestic banyan tree adjacent (which constitutes the official epicentre of the city). 

 

Skepticism and bemusement aside, I try to soak up as much of Auroville as possible, taking stock of its myriad projects. There are countless sports and arts groups, a radio station, museums and spiritual programs. There are numerous schools, academic projects and research labs. For a population of just 2,500, the breadth of activity is astounding. Perhaps most impressive is the township’s foray into environmentally conscious infrastructure: solar arrays and food cookers, wind farms, electric vehicles, organic agriculture, water vortices and jaw-dropping reforestation efforts.

It’s important to note that these efforts are not necessarily parochial or separatist, and Auroville definitely doesn’t feel like a “preppers’” community. Outreach programs allow Aurovillians to share their genuinely innovative eco-techniques with other parts of India, and some of the wind power they harvest even gets put to use in other cities.

The big question, really, is whether Auroville’s central goal is on track: the quest for human unity, that is to say harmony, co-operation and tolerance. I can’t possibly say from my short stay. Certainly everyone I meet is lovely to me: offering free scooter/truck rides to wherever I’m humidly trudging, imparting small gifts or gestures of kindness. But India on the whole has extended similar benevolence in the month I’ve been here, so who knows how much is the influence of the Auroville lifestyle. If nothing else, it’s a phenomenal aesthetic project – the retrofuturistic architecture, actually being used for its intended purpose; the endearingly quixotic neighbourhood names, the gardens, the careful layout of the whole place, designed to resemble a kind of galactic spiral. The Mother was an artist, and Sri Aurobindo was a poet; together, they dreamed up Auroville and in time, it became a reality. Well, it’s still becoming one, slowly but resolutely. In a way, it’s a collaborative work of art, art on the largest scale I’ve ever seen. A town where art and life are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable – and unapologetic in its bright eyed, defiant sense of hope.

***


Auroville was a gas, and in the week that follows I do wonder if I might like to live there properly for a while, sometime. Returning to Perth at first the streets feel cold, corporate, ghostly. The uncanny feeling one often gets upon arriving back in Australia. But then Saturday night comes around and I’m watching New York’s DAI BURGER at The Bird and she’s rapping up a technicolour storm while we dance around like slinkies. And then I’m at the Budgie Smuggler and DJ WILLY SLADE rips his clothes off to reveal a red dress underneath is suddenly doing ‘Wuthering Heights’ karaoke atop the decks. And then it’s Sunday and I’m listening to friends and strangers play beautiful songs at Mojo’s, and the same again on Tuesday, for Shartfest, whereupon I see BOAT SHOW for the first time and discover they're the best band in the world, but with a brash irreverence that perhaps would not wash or be appreciated in slow-and-steady Auroville. And I’m reminded that “human unity” doesn’t need such a lofty designation, nor does it need to wear white robes, or even reflect upon itself a great deal. What's that meditation book? Wherever you go, there you are?

_________________

[i] Soliman, Lotfallah: Auroville, the Fulfillment of a Dream. https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-13796203/auroville-the-fulfillment-of-a-dream

[ii] Auroville Foundation Act, 1988. http://www.teindia.nic.in/mhrd/50yrsedu/x/7H/9D/Toc.htm

DIANAS, BODY TYPE & BELLS RAPIDS @ THE BIRD, MONDAY DEC 26

Andrew Ryan

The weekend was a blur of sultanas, wine, cricket, beer, dogs, champagne, cousins, naps, Netflix, journeys to the northern suburbs and hell good zucchini salad. These things mostly fell under the banner of “Christmas,” and I think at this point I’ve shed both my childlike wonder and Scroogelike cynicism around the festival, instead coming to appreciate it for what it is: a cool (usually hot) time to embrace awkward family conversation and the trepidatious exchange of largely inappropriate gifts. For most, it’s a rupturing of standard routines, and a moment to spend alongside those with whom we don’t necessarily have much in common – which is healthy, I think.

But it’s also healthy to spend time with people who are on your wavelength, and that’s what The Bird usually feels like, a gathering spot for like-minded crew who love original music and art and low-key partying and kindness. The passing through Boxing Day hangovers (metaphoric or literal) into The Bird’s unrelated Dec 26 concert feels like a transition between worlds.

Admittedly it’s a slightly stilted, bustling transition. There’s a line snaking out the door and into the surprisingly cool summer air. The Bird is packed to the ceiling, the queue for the bar is more like a swarm. I work through it and get near the stage to watch BELLS RAPIDS.

I’m stoked to finally see this band. They’ve been playing for at least a few months now and I keep managing to miss them. The sound is as tight and resolved as you’d expect from the likes of Tanaya Harper, Stella Donnelly, Talya Valenti and Sara Jane McPherson – all musical goal-kickers elsewhere and in their own right. What I didn’t necessarily expect was the variety and dynamic range that would characterize the set – having only heard the track ‘GF’ online, I guess I imagined half an hour of similarly rollicking, garage rocky stuff. As it turned out, Bells Rapids serve up everything from hushed harmonies over minimal arrangements, to big weighty riffs and dense grooves. For a band so new to have this kind of vision is pretty exciting: I think 2017 will be a big one for the BR crew.

The drinks pour and splash, expats and Perth-lifers mingle, BODY TYPE set up before an eager crowd. The band, comprising mostly former Perth-dwellers, is here in a weird mix of homecoming and first contact (it’s their debut Perth show). Despite an initially unfortunate mix (where’s the bass? I can’t hear the guitars but… I can only hear guitars?) they disappoint no-one, tearing through a concise set of equally fun and thoughtful rock songs. Redfern sharehouse anthem ‘264’ provides a dousing of mid-century pop melodics filtered through 2016 Sydney sunshine; sneakily heartbreaking lo-fi hit ‘Ludlow’ receives a rapturous response, and a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams,’ featuring the Dianas on bonus vocals and percussion, forms a fittingly joyous closer. There’s plenty of mileage to be had in Body Type’s sound – an energising but often melancholic mix of sweet tunefulness, gritty guitar, chugging drums and post-punky bass that floats dreamily above the instrument’s usual emphatic, foundational home-zone. I already cannae wait to hear more.

Finally completing the bill’s trifecta is Perth-forged, cross-country based power-duo/trio DIANAS. And while each set so far has sounded accomplished, there’s no denying the performative impact that comes with Dianas’ years of refining and experience. Bass/guitar/vocal front line Caitlin and Nat clearly know each other’s musical tactics inside out, and manage to move as a single, unstoppable force while maintaining their distinct personalities. Riffs weave, duck, dive and throttle while their voices shoot through like darts of oxygen.

All the while, the more recent addition of Anetta Nevin on drums gives everything a surge of electric intensity: nobody quite drums like Anetta, who smacks the skins with an implausibly controlled chaos. Sticks descending from on high, casually reeling off fierce fills in weird time signatures. The whole thing would feel like a Prog Epic if it wasn’t so breezy and unpretentious.

We disperse but with a kind of togetherness in our pockets. The interlacing of friends and musical energies at this time of year, surely as meaningful as any other kind of (re)union – tonight, the perfect sonic digestif after too many carols, the perfect circulation of goodwill to tide us over til the new year. 

LYNDON'S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2016

Andrew Ryan

G’day,

It’s 2016 - almost 2017 - and it's that time of year. End-of-year Top 10 List time. How old hat, I hear you squeal. Well ya know what’s more old hat than an end-of-year Top 10 list? Whingeing about end-of-year Top 10 lists and how it’s soooo hard to make a Top 10 list and how lists are not valid because you can’t rank music yadda yadda yadda.

It’s not that hard! Look, I’ll do one right now.

(Granted, I still haven't even listened to the Tribe album, or the Chance album, or the Frank Ocean album, or a billion other albums. But for what it's worth, here's a bunch that both sucked me in and kept me coming back).

10. Terry - HQ

Even though I knew I would love this album, I held off on listening to it until the tail end of the year. I guess maybe subconsciously I wanted to give myself something to look forward to?

Terry’s HQ brings together the most fun elements of two of Al Montford’s other bands - Total Control and Dick Diver - whether that be witty shambolic pop, wonky new wave or blistering punk. Terry also features Total Control’s Zephyr Pavey, Mick Harvey collaborator Xanthe Waite, and Amy Hill. This album is so much fun it’s easy to forget the searing social commentary that comes with it; you get lines like “what’s a war without the poor?” (Moscow on Thames) and “he won’t say sorry ‘cause They don’t say sorry, why would you say sorry for that?” (Don’t Say Sorry). The album’s concise, funny, charmingly nonchalant but also totally earnest - all up, pretty much perfect. 

9. Lucy Roleff - This Paradise

I’ve already written a lengthy review of this record over here. But suffice to say, I’m still drawn to it even at the year’s end - an understated but truly wonderful, inexhaustible release. 

8. Noname - Telefone

There’s no Youtube video I’ve watched more this year than the one that contains Noname’s album Telefone. I mean, it’s not really a video, it’s just a stream of the album with the nicely painted, lavender-hued cover art in the background. But that’s all I want. 

As with Anderson .Paak and Solange (below - spoilers!), Noname’s 2016 album leant into the smoother tendencies of contemporary hip-hop and R&B - but lost none of its oomph or gravitas in the process. From the warbling ‘Diddy Bop’ to the jazzy languor of ‘All I Need’ or the choppy doo-wop of ‘Sunny Duet,’ Noname sings and rapid-fire raps us through countless neighbourhood scenes, memories and exchanges, navigating sadness, pain and wistful optimism. Just a really, really good album that stands out in a bumper year for female MC output (see also: Kate Tempest, Princess Nokia, Nadia Rose, Little Simz, Kamaiyah).   

7. PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project

Like several other records on this list, Polly Jean Harvey’s ninth studio album married thematic bleakness with instantly lovable songcraft: big guitar riffs, rattling drums, crisp clean vocal melodies and a healthy splash of horns, percussion and other flourishes. There’s plenty of careening voodoo-blues, svelte garage rock and tasteful sound collage. A spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down has been a favoured 2016 tactic, often yielding great results; in any case it seems many of us were already feeling too raw to embrace stuff that sounded truly ugly. PJ granted us an unabating treat for the ears. 

This album’s title references the razing of public housing to establish new, shinier communities, making gentrification its intriguing (if not very rock and roll) departure point. Elsewhere, the album is influenced by trips to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington DC - war, inequality and apathy being recurring ideas. It’s a record whose politics are ambiguous at best (it’s not clear what agenda PJ is pushing or resisting overall), and questionable at worst (“The Community of Hope” attracted scorn for describing homeless drug addicts as “zombies,” albeit with tongue arguably in cheek). But these same can be said of some of modern music’s most acclaimed records; here, I’m reminded of Radiohead’s Ok Computer. In both albums, lyrics comprise fragments of the confusing global discourse in which the song’s author moves and survives. Sometimes these are just “found objects”: echoes of disembodied jargon or unfinished thoughts. It’s not a manifesto, but it’s very real and familiar. It’s okay not to have the answers. Especially when your songs sound this good. 

6. Anderson .Paak - Malibu

Malibu might not quite be a masterpiece, but it’s about as masterly as you can get while retaining the quirks and flaws that frequently make the album format so interesting. 

Lovingly hewn by the drumming/rapping/singing Brandon Anderson himself, plus a team of impressive collaborators including Madlib, Schoolboy Q and Hi-Tek, this album enveloped you like a lush fantasy world you could wander around in all day. Heavily laden with earthly funk, cosmic psychedelia and carnal soul, it boasts a consistent audiophilic attention-to-detail: every single sound is rendered perfectly. 

Do you like smokey dance floor smoothness with handclaps, cowbell and a punchy half-time rap verse? Of course you do, and to scratch that itch you’ve got ‘Am I Wrong.’ Glistening bluesy slow jams? See: ‘The Bird.’ Propulsive wonky funk a la Flying Lotus x Thundercat? ‘Lite Weight’ will meet your needs.

Malibu didn’t necessarily connect with me on an emotional level as much as other records on this list. But as a polychrome jigsaw of performances, moods and sounds, it’s a joy to behold. 

5. Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos

Kate Tempest is the outrageous high achiever who still manages to exude the charisma, grit and steely determination of an underdog. She’s an acclaimed novelist and playwright, award-winning poet and prodigious rapper: it’s the latter that interests us here, though Let Them Eat Chaos nonchalantly dissolves the boundaries between novelistic prose, performance poetry and hip-hop. 

Thanks go out to CPN big banana Andrew for introducing me to Kate Tempest via his radio show. It only took one listen and I was hooked, and I’d venture you’ll feel the same if you lend your ears to huge tunes like ‘Ketamine For Breakfast,’ ‘Europe is Lost’ and ‘Don’t Fall In,’ which just as readily recall Yeats or TS Eliot as Jehst or the Wu-Tang Clan. The album’s mostly dark, polemical and dense - perhaps not one for daily listening. But its squelchy, shuddering, timeless beats and expertly delivered, vivid portraits of contemporary youth and working-class life make it totally indispensable. 

4. The Avalances - Wildflower

I’m not sure that there’s too much to say about The Avalanche’s fiendishly-anticipated return, except that I frothed on it. It’s as colourful and ornate as the title suggests, but that doesn’t even go part way to suggesting its rambunctious eccentricity.

The group re-emerged out of the blocks with a suitably bizarre offering: the still-puzzling ‘Frankie Sinatra,’ which set two freaky rap megastars (Danny Brown and MF Doom) against an arbitrary calypso sample and some kind of oompah-electro-swing beat, interrupted by ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music of all things. Other gambits were more trendy and frictionless, like the Toro Y Moi-featuring ‘If I Was A Folkstar’; ‘Subways’ recalled the classic Avalanches plunderphonics boogie approach, and ‘Colours’ plumbed the popular aesthetic of modulated, retro, vaguely hushed lo-fi pop. But as soon as you thought you could follow a stylistic direction, the Avalanches flipped it on its head. There are literally hundreds of samples and therefore hundreds of tiny sound-worlds here - it’s a phantasmagorical trip of the most delightful variety. One of my favourite things about music (though this also applies to other media) is how it can only reveal itself in piecemeal, over time, and thus to listen is an experiential passage, an exponentially meaningful sequence of signs, not just an immanent perception. When you’re listening to a team of outrageous humans pack 16 years’ worth of creative energy into that listening sequence, you’re in for quite an adventure.   

3. Ermine Coat - Faulty Landscape

This one nearly snuck past me ‘cause in my head it was released last year. But no, March 2016! Incredible record (only Perth album on this list as it turns out). Once again, I’ve written about this one at length already, over here, but have since confirmed that Ermine Coat does not endorse Robin Thicke in any way.

2. Solange - A Seat at the Table

Despite immense achievements throughout the last decade or two, Solange Knowles’ work has long hinted at an unrealised potential. Her artistic ambition and individuality, evident in the musical and conceptual streaks of albums Solo Star, Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams and EP True, always felt somehow hindered.

Solo Star functioned (functionally) within the confines of the era’s pop R&B stylings; Sol-Angel repurposed motown and soul tropes. True did the same with ‘80s new wave and, don’t get me wrong, I listened to that EP a silly amount of times but it only had one truly great song (the brilliant ‘Losing You.’) 

So it was thrilling to finally hear Solange totally flex, and unleash an intricately artful, unapologetically political record. One which not only crystallised her various approaches to date, but improved upon every thread therein. It’s a unique listen, punctuated by spoken word interpolations reflecting on black rights and pride; it features contributions from members of Dirty Projectors, Vampire Weekend, Outkast and beyond. Its tunes are alternately bold and melodic, or gestural, skeletal, wispy. Across twenty compelling tracks, there are plenty of standouts - the sanguine gospel-funk of ‘Junie,’ the simmering soul of ‘Weary,’ and the muscular, defiant jazz-hop of ‘F.U.B.U.’ But nothing quite transcends the genius of lead single, ‘Cranes in the Sky,’ in which Solange stunningly croons a relatable confessional about escapism over a sparing palette of syncopated drums, slinky bass, inventive piano and elastic, undulating string quartet. I’m listening to it right now and, even on the hundredth listen, it gives me goosebumps. Those high vocal notes at the end! The hiss of that cymbal at the start of each bar! It’s probably my song of the year, the crowning achievement in a thoroughly resolved album that invites you to explore its details over and over again.

1. Anohni - Hopelessness

If the word of the year wasn’t “post-truth” or “democracy sausage” it could very well be “hopelessness.” Few terms so concisely encapsulate 2016, in which the dreaded unthinkable has just kept happening: the success of Trump, the ruin of Syria, Brexit, the point of no return for cataclysmic climate change. Closer to home: the return of Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi wears a MAGA red-cap, Don Dale Detention Centre torture, the effective demise of the Great Barrier Reef, etc etc. In times of chaos and despair we readily turn to the arts; this year, many cultural icons were snatched by death - often too soon - which felt like especially cruel salt in the wound.

Anohni knows all this, is perhaps more attuned to the world’s myriad ills than most, yet she perseveres. Not unlike The Knife’s Shaking The Habitual in 2013, Hopelessness seems to ask - what does it mean to persevere in the face of planetary death? What does it mean to make art while staring down the four horsemen?

In response, compellingly enough, Anohni chose neither an elegiac nor cathartically aggressive musical direction. She recruited inventive party-starter Ross Matthew Birchard (Hudson Mohawke) and postmodern electronic eccentric Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never) as production collaborators. And she wrote conventionally brilliant pop songs that spring into vivid hyperreality through their vanguard electronic flourishes. It’s easy to imagine the album sounding like a forced mashup of each artist’s distinctive style, but it doesn’t: it’s a magically cohesive thing, each approach seamlessly enfolded into the other. 

Unlike PJ Harvey’s record, during which you can almost ignore the political motifs and simply enjoy the ride, Hopelessness hits hard, and often. The first song, and its first line, are ‘Drone Bomb Me’ - and things don’t get much brighter from there on in.

‘4 Degrees’ follows a similar logic of twisted, imagined violent desire: “I want to hear the dogs crying for water, I want to see the fish go belly up in the sea / and all those lemurs and all those tiny creatures, I want to see them burn / It’s only 4 degrees!” No song I’ve heard has launched such a savage attack on those who dismiss the perils of global warming, and certainly no such song has produced the uncanny awkwardness of being this damn enjoyable. 

‘Watch Me’ creepily personifies the surveillance state as a paternal figure: “Daddy, daddy, watch me in a hotel room / Watch my outline as I move from city to city / Watch me watching pornography / watch me talking to my friends and family.” Anohni invokes the supposed justifications for such invasions: to protect the surveilled from evil, “terrorism,” and “child molesters.” Yet it invites a reading of this popular narrative as artificial, and forces you to confront what the tenuous promise of safety is worth. 

The album continues in this vein: somehow forging songs that are simultaneously simple and complex, blunt yet poetic, devastating yet really fun to listen to. It’s not that the pop-song format refashions the apocalyptic vision as a kind of escapist horror movie. Rather, it creates a counterpoint, a kind of bittersweet joy on which to balance your distress. All the while, too, you’re marvelling at the creative prowess that’s gone into the record, which helps ease the discomfort entailed. But lines like “the rotten bodies threaded gold / the pitch of hair and sticky meat” or “now you’re cutting heads off innocent people on TV” were never exactly going to go down smooth. 

But what does Anohni tell us with Hopelessness that we didn’t already know? As eloquent as these songs are, most of them aren’t imparting fresh information; they’re refracting tragedies we’re all too aware of. There’s certainly something to be said for humanising stories that we usually receive as cold news reportage, but there’s more to it than that. It seems the message is that we can’t let culture become merely a place of fantasy and escape. If we feel hopeless, we should confront that, work through it, and mobilise art - in all its potency - to help us figure out what to do next. The label adorning the Hopelessness LP reads “Don’t Shy Away!” Because however blissful it might feel right now, ignorance is where hopelessness truly comes to roost. 

10 Honourable Mentions:

Beyoncé - Lemonade
No Zu - Afterlife
Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool
Tourist Kid - A Circulation EP (could easily be in the top 10 but it’s not an “album” but then again who cares?)
Julia Jacklin - Don’t Let The Kids Win
David Bowie - Backstar
Tangents - Stateless
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani - Sunergy
Benjamin Witt - Future Reset
Wilson Tanner - 69

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TURA PRESENTS KEITH TIPPETT & “MUJICIAN MOSAIC” @ STATE THEATRE CENTRE, WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 7

Andrew Ryan

Until recently, I’d never heard of Keith Tippett, despite his being rather famous and – like the paella chef who’s yet to discover paprika – I had no idea that he was exactly what I needed. Especially this evening, on Wednesday the Seventh of December.

Of course, it’s not all about one man. Tonight is about the commingling of musical minds, the powerful connections forged through both chance and contrivance.

But who is our nominal man of the hour? The potted history states that KT was born in Bristol in 1947; studied piano, organ and choir; started a band at age 14 and moved to London in 1967 to further his musical adventures. Not much later he’d put together a sextet and a 50-piece big band called Centipede (who recorded a double album called Septober Energy) and had three studio excursions playing piano with King Crimson.

Between then and now he’s been suitably busy, recording dozens upon dozens of albums, playing literally countless concerts, completing innumerable commissions. Now in his sixties, he's in Perth for the first time. But none of that indicates exactly what I should expect as I walk into the well-manicured foyer, its ceiling festooned with dangling gold, and U-turn down the staircase into the Studio Underground.

The room is bustling. I search out a spare seat. The lights descend.

The WA Youth Jazz Orchestra is here in their concert blacks. Keith is here with his neo-Victorian waistcoast and sideburns. The first piece billows into the air.

The tune - an excerpt from late ‘90s composition ‘First Weaving’ - is a bundle of controlled but frantic energy.  Walking bass, giddy descending horns, strident pinball rhythms. It could almost pass as a mainstream type of big-band number but its formalistic qualities gradually reveal themselves as a kind of trojan horse for weirdness, leaving instead a raw energy, communal handclaps, and the unfettered shrieking of saxophones splattering paint in a blurry major-key corridor.

The second piece, which follows on seamlessly, takes us on a sharp left turn. With the opener implicitly promising a dense, rhythmic jazz journey, we’re suddenly thrown into a pool of quiet ambience: specifically, a selection of players running their fingers around wine-glass rims. Just one note at first, water distributed evenly, a pure synth-like tone ringing out through the underground chamber. Then more players join, with their own wine glasses, and new pitches enter the sonic field. It’s a mystifying, uncommon texture - almost alien in its thick, hovering simplicity. This is gradually pitted against phasing rhythms and hushed group vocal chants to create a tight but irregular interplay, reminiscent of Steve Reich or John Adams.

Soon we hear from a curated ensemble of musicians (or “mujicians”) who’ve been involved in Tura’s iMprov program, honing their improvisational skills both in sessions with Tippett and over the course of recent months and years. The large-scale gathering incorporates diverse players and instrumentation, including harp, piano, harmonica, saxophone, violin and heaps more. Pitter patter coalescing and swelling to something singular, sensitive, never to be repeated. What marks the performance as truly exceptional is the group’s ability to suddenly and smoothly transition into snippets of prepared material, giving a sense of shape and intentionality to the soundscape. Large ensemble free improv can often feel amorphous and meandering, so this is the perfect strategy - it also creates a sense of genuine magic,  as the transitions emerge inexplicably, white doves from handkerchiefs. Lana Rothnie’s vocal solo and Catherine Ashley’s harp are standouts here. 

There’s a short interval where we re-stock on wine and conversation, before returning for the titular Mujician Mosaic ensemble. 

Here, we get ‘Thoughts To Geoff,’ from Tippett’s classic ’71 album Dedicated to You But You Weren’t Listening - a potpourri of wiggly motifsthat convene into a beboppy toboggan slide. There’s the more obscure ‘Dedicated to Mingus,’ followed by the serpentine swing of ‘Sketch for Gary / Billy Goes to Town.’ Enigmatic piece ‘A May Day’ is tailed by the sparse, pastoral ‘A Song’ and the whole thing closes on the lavishly beautiful 6/4 burner ‘Cider Dance,’ its lush brass harmonies cascading over the performance’s final minutes.  Standing ovation. The mujician mosaic features too many wonderful performances to mention, but I was blown away by the solo double bass escapades of Djuna Lee: truly remarkable playing under pressure, nimble up and down the next, a satisfying jigsaw of wood-click and hefty low end resonance. 

Apart from a closing speech and a screen-projected interview, Tippett himself rarely dominates one’s attention. During pieces, he’s happily on the sidelines, contributing piano or a little music box, and otherwise delivering some sparse, expressive conducting. His is an approach that emphasises both extremes of a composer’s role: that is, either to present a fully-formed and intricately described vision to be realised, or else to set some vague parameters in which performers may improvise, experiment or explore. The relentless juxtaposition of these two approaches is perhaps the concert’s most striking feature, an instantly memorable and thrilling point of difference.

It’s a concert that makes me genuinely excited, not only for the composition of Keith Tippett but also for the musical present and future of Perth. Turn cleverly brought together a diverse and ever-shifting cast of performers here (thanks must go to Tristan Parr for co-ordinating), highlighting a range of wild talents from various “scenes.” To hear them intermingle and follow a considered, adventurous path set by a master bandleader is a treat. I wander home and wax lyrical to anyone who’ll listen. Tonight wasn’t just a great jazz concert or an accomplished recital of modern compositions. It was musical creativity and artistic interaction at its most vivid and inspiring.  

 

 

 

 

 

LUCY PEACH - SILVER TONGUE (EP)

Andrew Ryan

“Lucy Peach” is a name I’ve heard around Perth for years, only more recently delving properly into the music attached to it (I’m always late to the party). Lucy Farley’s stage name itself is kind of deceptively quaint, evoking the pastel fuzziness of that altogether agreeable stone fruit. The music that accompanies certainly isn’t abrasive - in fact, it’s very smooth on the ears - but it’s not music that pretends life is always peachy, either, as one discovers on the new EP Silver Tongue.  

Take lead single 'Bomb' - a strident, instantly memorable song in which Peach bellows defiantly in the face of an unspecified dread. The central metaphor is stressful: “and It hit me, and it hit me / like a bomb going off in my chest / And now I’m scared to breathe in case I burst whatever’s left,” which to me reads like a great summary of a panic attack but could probably refer to a great number of things. The lyrics throughout are open-ended enough to invite one’s own projections, although there are some enjoyable daydreams of poetic specificity: “i'll be riding down the mountain with wild flowers in my hair / baby beside me and new coins in my pocket / and six white horses to take me anywhere.” All of this sits atop a soulful arrangement of woody bass, 70s-pop piano, tidy snare paradiddle and lush handclaps. It’s a beautiful orchestration, each sound neatly occupying its own space, excelling at its clearly defined role.  We bounce around triplets, synchronised offbeats and gliding guitar as Peach’s voice flies around on the jet stream, “looking for a safe place to land.”

'Silver Tongue' (the track itself) draws on a similar palette and arrangement approach - which, depending on who you ask, is either a savvy strategy to court cohesion or an over-reliance on tropes that have already played out comfortably. Granted, the latter concern would never come to mind if the tracks weren’t back-to-back; ideas get sardined in the EP format. Anyway, all the sounds are round and crisp like the perfect apple: gloriously recorded and mixed. Lyrically, Peach her tackles the frustrations of songwriting, but with a self-assured centrepiece: “I’ve got a silver tongue in my mouth and I’m not afraid to use it.” She proclaims her aptitude matter-of-factly, a bit like Leonard Cohen’s profession that he had no choice; he was “born with the gift of a golden voice” in ’Tower of Song.’ And like ‘Tower of Song,’ the track spins a kind of mythic narrative around the songwriting process, but altogether obliquely, never mentioning the creation explicitly.  The best part to my ears is the bridge: arpeggiating, staccato guitar and crumbly kit building in a gentle crescendo towards the song’s earwormy riff, and a healthy plateau.

I’m kind of allergic to ukeleles these days, which is testament to the charm of 'Be So Good,' insofar as wins me over. The verse uke swiftly swells into something very atmospheric and poignant, a sort of orchestral folk melancholy - and the key centre modulates intriguingly in the chorus, lending the song a sense of singularity. Overall it’s minimal, faintly brittle, recalling Angel Olsen at moments. There’s nothing fruity or unusual about the lyrics here, in fact they seem wilfully straightforward, which has its own appeal. “I’m gonna be so good to you. Will you be so good to me?” 

Peach saves the best til last, in my opinion: ‘Girl, The World’ brings together all of the EP’s strong points and combines them into something buoyant and understated. The verses boast the record’s most gleefully “purple” lyrics, while the chorus is good old fashioned motivational pop - “wake up, go and get what you wanted / girl, the world is spinning around and you’re on it.” Lines like this could come of as cheesy and patronising over the wrong backdrop, but the subdued exultation here really works, like a quiet but heartfelt implication from one friend to another. The chamber pop arrangement would befit a Jens Lekman or Grizzly Bear track - slip sliding string section and dispersed percussion, nimble guitars, bass thump. The synchronised violin-sail and guitar-plink in the chorus is a treat to behold.

Lucy Peach has crafted something extremely resolved with Silver Tongue - consolidating a unified sound that while not unprecedented (it reminds me a bit of that last Sarah Blasko album, Eternal Return) is nevertheless distinctive, and provides a deeply satisfying listening experience. It’s superbly produced and the songs are brilliantly crafted. I’m hoping that with future efforts we’ll hear more experimentation, spurred on by the confidence that comes with having created something so solid; that’s when it’s ripe to be deconstructed and played with. And I hope we’ll hear lyrics that tap into more real-life detail or poetic curveballs, thereby moving beyond see-sawing from endearing generality to tried-and-true evocative imagery. But whatever Lucy Peach does next, I’ve little doubt it will be sonically vivid, lovingly hewn and brimming with assertive melodies. That’s the broad trajectory she’s on. And it’s a winner. 

FOUR GIGS AROUND PERTH, NOVEMBER 26-29

Andrew Ryan

1. “WANJOO BIRAK” FESTIVAL @ ABMUSIC COLLEGE, WATERFORD, SATURDAY

M____ asks on Facebook if anyone wants to come to Abmusic’s “Wanjoo Birak” festival. I say I do, and after a quick dash to the Spud Shed I return home and his car rolls up as I read Tristan's "VHS Tracking" zine of exciting movie recommendations.

“Wanjoo” means “welcome” in the Noongar language and Birak is the “first summer”… the “season of the young,” with warmer weather, afternoon sea breezes, fledgling birds. This particular “Wanjoo Birak” also happens to mark Abmusic’s 30th Birthday (happy birthday Abmusic). 

We make a detour to a costume shop closing-down sale, poring over WAFL jerseys, giant mosquito costumes and outlandish hats, so we’re a little late. When we arrive the warmth of Birak is in full effect, beating down brightness on the quadrangle. 

On the mural-decked stage we hear from DAN RICHES, spinning yarns and acoustic guitar tales. There’s the legendary PHIL WALLEY-STACK, singing across genres in both English and Noongar, joined by a tasteful shredder on lead guitar. BABY KOOL delivers a brief but incredible rap set as we fetch plates of kangaroo stew with damper and rice; DOREEN PENSIO brings a magical voice and top-end musical flavours; first-time performer BETHANY ROSE changes it up with a bundle of soulful renditions, including an adapted Tupac tune. Possibly the highlight for me is a trio called THE PICTURE GARDENS who bring a slew of melodic rock songs, plenty of grit and post-punky looseness but each track with a heartfelt, earnest core, not least ‘Hurt, Live, Heal’ which was featured on this year’s Kiss My WAMI compilation. Finally, HOT LIKWID tie it in a bow with a mix of pop and hard rock covers, alternately showcasing band member’s vocal and instrumental talents (so many nonchalant shredders today).

These performances are interspersed with speeches and reflections from Abmusic staff and alumni. It’s pretty fascinating and inspiring stuff, how a Perth musical training college specifically for First Nations people has survived for 30 years and counting despite plenty of unhelpful governments and funding crises. Alongside, a photo exhibition allowing you to visually trace this history, from sepia-tone Led Zep singlets to Y2K beats and beyond. Australia spends a fair bit of time documenting and discussing pre-colonial Indigenous history, with good reason - but all too often these remarkable modern narratives, these infinite contemporary tangents of Indigenous creativity, go unsung. 

2. ZIMBABWEAN CULTURAL NIGHT @ LITTLE OLIVE LEAF CAFÉ, WILLAGEE, SATURDAY NIGHT

Doc messages me about it, and, having no plans, I jump aboard. Our neighbour and good friend works at The Little Olive Leaf Café, which hosts occasional “cultural nights” exploring different cuisines, musics and experiences. The Little Olive Leaf Café is next to a hairdresser with a fluffy white dog in the window, a “moral uplifting society” and a senior citizens’ centre with a psychedelic mural nestled among its bright blue walls. Over the road is a nature park with maybe the best playground I’ve ever seen (it includes a hammock), and a terrazzo table with embedded chess board and flower decal.

Inside the café, I encounter a bevy of plants and trinkets, wooden shelves and enamel lamps, and a woman who I’ve never met but who’s as casual and friendly as if we were old mates. She even asks if I want to go collect soda water from the IGA up the road, in exchange for a discounted ticket, which I do.

Doc and S arrive just after sunset. We sip Zimbabwean cordial - “Mazoe” - and recline out the back, under the shade of a sprawling age-old grape vine. The musical guests tonight are Zim’s own GARIKAYI AND TINASHE TIRIKOTI, a father-son mbira (thumb piano) duo who both hand-craft and masterfully play their instruments. They’re joined by Fremantle’s SHANGARA JIVE, an “afro roots” band who turn the haunting mbira tesselations into a simmering dance party.

I absorb the tunes as we’re brought plates of spiced beans and tomatoes, wilted chomolia with peanut paste, sadza mash and bread. The band produces one of the most beautiful beds of sound I’ve heard in a while. Hypnotic repetition, delightfully dizzying polyrhythms, sparing vocal additions, shakers, twinkling guitar. Sangara Jive’s drums and bass keep things galloping along with a restrained momentum. Throughout, the mbira resonances spread across the space like liquid, gently shifting melodies and reverberating chords landing pillowy on your eardrums, the whole thing billowing into the night air like magic.   

(PS. Garikayi, Tinashe and Shangara Jive are playing this Saturday night at Clancy’s if you’re interested).

3. IL SESHO #1 @ LATE NIGHT VALENTINE, SUNDAY

A troupe of Rhythm Section boys are in town: Prequel from Australia, Bradley Zero from the UK and Chaos in the CBD from New Zealand. That’s as good a reason as I need to shake off the cobwebs and follow the hill slope down Beaufort Street, to the inaugural ‘Il Sesho’ presented by Good Company.

Late Night Valentine’s backyard floods with sun, cocktails, sneakers; from the very healthy PA ring rotund and shimmering beats. Upon first aperol it’s all very mellow, chats and floating cadences on the breeze. But as the daylight recedes the amphitheatre and its dance floor are heaving, surfaces pummelled by undulating bass and swivelling soles, eventually moving indoors post-curfew for a final power boogie in the dark.

The night ends with the track ‘Deep Forest’ by Deep Forest off their 1992 album Deep Forest. ‘90s nostalgia depth charge missile. 

LNV closes up so naturally we beeline for Hungry Jack’s; drive through only means jumping in a car with a kindly man who bemusedly tells us about the Giant Robot Flame-Throwing Spider at Elizabeth Quay and the grotesquely long lines at the Brass Monkey.

4. NOIZEMASCHIN #65 - UNPLUGGED @ THE ARTIFACTORY, OSBORNE PARK, TUESDAY

I don’t normally go to Osborne Park for cultural experiences, but when I do they’re often housed at the Artifcatory, a unique kind of DIY tech workshop meets weird music and art venue.

Tonight’s show is one of the more eclectic and exploratory gigs I’ve seen, comprising: Jaco Pastorius inspired fretless bass experimentation (JOSEPH DE KOCK); episodic aerophone drones and bellows-noise (this was me); fluxus-inspired lullaby song-o-grams via mobile phone to unsuspecting friends and family (LAURA STRØBECH); manifold saxophone noise experiments exploiting spittle-sound, overtones, vocal cords and pringles tubes (JOSTEN MYBURGH).

[intermission]

Dirty-minded limericks (GUTTER WORTHY); atonal piano-mashing as an accompaniment to live screaming, ranting, trembling, flailing and obscure muttering (SCYTHEY PSEUDOS); intense, volcanic drum dynamics and stormy free jazz-sax odyssey (BEHN GREEN + ALANA MACPHERSON); guitar, cello, glass bottles, flowers and ambient visual projections forming a brittle and beautiful audiovisual assemblage (DAISY’S NET).

If this Noizemaschin was a bewilderingly varied array, it was also a microcosm of the glimpse I got of the last few days in music in Perth. I marvel at the thought of seeing it all.