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Lyndon Blue: Review

TERRY, PRIMO, PAPPY, QWERTY, STROPPIES & MORE @ THE TOTE, FRIDAY AUGUST 11

Andrew Ryan

Since I write about gigs most weeks, you might think I’m some voracious gig-hopper, diving capriciously into pubs to soak up whatever’s happening. Not so, usually. I’ll be at home, distracted, then deliberate; count pennies, drink wine, start tinkering with ableton or getting lost in a Wikipedia labyrinth and then eventually be coaxed out per a cat from under a parked car. Tonight is the exception, whereupon I slide down to the Tote, barely thinking, like a wet sardine on a mirror.

This is my first time at the Collingwood venue since I returned to Victoria. It smells even worse than I remember. If you’re not familiar, the Tote is quintessentially Melbourne and evokes the Inner-Northern suburbs’ rock underground in very particular ways. Wipers will tag team Eddy Current on the jukebox while the Bulldogs play the Giants on a shitty old TV; deftly curated haircuts mingle with ratty mullets over a beer-spattered pool table and cigarettes glow like firefly swarms in the kinda-claustrophobic courtyard. Entering the downstairs bandroom, you pass through a sort of inverse portico and end up in a dark, tiered space, where people play guitars.

The first group of people to play guitars tonight is THE STROPPIES, which is a new-ish band involving: 

-Steph Hughes (Dick Diver, Boomgates etc)

-Gus Lord (Twerps, Boomgates, The Stephens)

-Rory Heane (White Walls),

-Claudia Sefarty (Blank Statements) and

-Adam Hewitt (I don’t know which-bands but we can assume they’re pretty good)

The Stroppies sound a bit like a Frankenstein’s monster of the members’ other projects, but it’s a lean and often enigmatic monster: the sound’s not easy to place. Less warmly melodic than Dick Diver, more intricately wrought than Twerps, and full of surprises, The Stroppies have definitely got their own thing going and it’s a thing which might appeal to fans of Young Marble Giants and Silver Jews. Tonight they zig-zag happily through songs from their self-titled cassette, pausingly only to wish Woolen Kits’ Tom Hardisty a happy birthday (Hardisty, by the way, has organised this show to celebrate his 30th).  

Second, QWERTY come in sideways and continue sidewise, sputtering out an asymettrical set of instrument changes, awkward pauses, skateboard giveaways and – mingled within it all – some pretty great songs. Qwerty comprises members from Waterfall Person, Pool Spy (is this a music act or just a twitter account?), and ___korean bbq (once again, not sure). They’re fun and totally baffling despite their fidelity to a guitar-bass-drums, verse/chorus format. At their worst, they’re a shambles, albeit an interesting sounding shambles; a totally singular kind of warped rock band tonality, as is the case with iconic outsider group The Shaggs. At their best, or at least most approachable, Qwerty are a quality pop band: their final song, with its airy dual-vocal hook, is a bona fide gem.  

Third, PAPPY arrive in full costume – tomato-red jumpers and wayfarers to honour the birthday boy and his standard uniform. Like Qwerty, Pappy exploit their own gaps in traditional musical proficiency to create something joyously irreverent. Pappy’s methodology is more down-the-line punk, though: crude riffs and bellowed couplets, which aligns neatly with their original intention to create a riot grrrl band out of thin air. Lyrical themes range from the outright silly (“Snacks”) to the wryly cynical and uncanny (“Subiaco”), and a goofy tongue-in-cheek stage move or Tom Hardisty joke is never far away (“Can I get more Ray Bans in the foldback?” – Andrew Murray).

Fourth: contrary to Qwerty and Pappy’s respective takes on gleeful nonsense, PRIMO hand-deliver a half hour of businesslike rock music. Which is not to say it’s joyless – the tunes are buoyant and electric and everyone is stoked. I typically struggle with trios who use two guitars and no bass (what’s the rationale? terrible HR decision!) so it’s a testament to Primo’s quality songwriting and delivery that I’m OK with the top-heavy sound. The blend of fuzzy and not so fuzzy guitar riffs, whistle-clean vocals and emphatic drumming provides plenty of oomph and interest, rendering Primo a compelling – if somewhat monochromatic – prospect for the ears.   

Fifth, TERRY are that special kind of band that manages to sound raucously loose while actually being super tight; musicians who exude a sense of humour while being Seriously well-honed, and Serious about what they’re putting across. In this way Terry combine a lot of the great elements of tonight’s lineup, and inflect their songs with incisive political bite, lambasting politicans, hypocrites, neo-colonialists and other scumbags at every turn. In launching these country-glam-punk polemics, it helps that Xanthe Waite (guitar, and also of Primo), Zephyr Pavey (drums), Al Montfort (guitar) and Amy Hill (bass) are all sharpshooters on their instruments. What’s more, the group operates hive-mindedly after two albums, two EPS and tours around the world. All this being the case, you can’t help but feel there’s an element of serendipity at play, four deeply compatible music-minds that luckily collided in a room.

A giant monstrous mash-up band of Constant Mongrel and Woolen Kits (with Montford on sax) ends the night, and though I have to shoot through before getting deep in their set, what I do hear is a beautiful and extravagant love-in with palpable appreciation for Mr. Hardisty.

And it’s this sense of community and larrikin love that ultimately makes the night so great, and which validates my fond associations surrounding the venue. While many Tote-orbiting bands that I was initially drawn to have now disbanded or else rarely perform, it remains a home for that kind of attitude and mutual support. Long live birthday party gigs and weird, stinky rock and roll.  

An Interview with The Courtneys

Andrew Ryan

Vancouver garage-rock / DIY-pop power trio The Courtneys are on their way to our Sunburned Country very soon, toting their latest release: a finely wrought ten-tracker simply titled II.  To get the scoop straight from the source, we got in touch with bass player, vocalist and X-Files aficionado Sydney Koke (pictured, right).

Lyndon Blue: The Courtneys are the first non-New Zealand band to sign with Flying Nun records. How does it feel to be a part of that label’s legacy, which is very synonymous with NZ underground culture in a way? It strikes me as a very 21st century moment, people finding that musical affinity on opposite sides of the world. 

Sydney Koke: It feels amazing! We've been really inspired by bands on Flying Nun for years, it's a dream come true. 

LB: From what I understand, the first Courtneys tape and album were pretty spontaneous DIY things, and the second album took a lot longer and you got a bunch of different people involved. Was either of those approaches more rewarding? Do you feel like you’re leaning one way or the other for next time around? 

SK: I think as a musician it's great to try lots of different approaches to writing and recording. You get to see what works and hopefully to be able to learn some new tricks and strategies. Next time we'll probably try something new!

LB: In your KEXP live set and interview you discussed how The Courtneys have their own softball team. That’s awesome. We have a thing in Australia called the Reclink Community Cup where bands become Aussie Rules football teams and play against radio presenters. Do you reckon you’ll have a kick of the footy while you’re here? 

SK: I'm afraid of balls flying at my face! 

LB: I know you’ve all been playing in bands for years and have performed alongside a lot of amazing artists (some of whom I imagine were an influence on your own stuff). Are there any acts that especially stand out? And anyone who’s still on the “bucket list”?

SK: Well we all love Teenage Fanclub, so I think we would be pretty stoked to open for them. Also The Clean of course!! Personally, opening for the Soft Pack was a pretty big deal for me, and recently we played a festival with the Thurston Moore group and I got to meet Debbie Googe from My Bloody Valentine!! She's so nice, I was thrilled!!

LB: Apart from playing good songs to good people what are you most psyched for during your Australia visit? 

SK: Seeing all the buddies! Last time round we made so many friends, we love the Australians! 

LB: Feel free to ignore this question but I think I remember from somewhere that you’re X-Files fans, do you have a favourite episode? None of my friends are really into the X-Files so I rarely get a chance to ask people this. 

SK: Thank you for asking this excellent question. My favourite episode of X-Files is the one where the internet takes over a trailer in the woods, and captures Mulder. And then a satellite blows everything up.

The Courtneys play Mojo's Bar on August 29, 2017. Tickets are available here: https://tickets.oztix.com.au/?Event=75136

An Interview with POW! Negro

Andrew Ryan

POW! Negro have been a vital force on the Perth music scene over the past 18 months, bringing explosive sets to PIAF, In The Pines and SOTA Festival - as well as frequenting pubs, clubs and DIY parties. Ahead of their debut EP release, Lyndon sat down with MC/frontman Nelson Mondlane (pictured) to chat about inspiration, communication and perspiration.

Lyndon Blue: Word on the grapevine is that you recorded your debut EP recently, and that it's due for release very soon, and it's called 'Jasmine & Licorice.' How was the recording experience? And what's the concept behind the title?

Nelson Mondlane: We did basically all the recording for this EP in a 'studio' we built in the granny flat of our house. It was a huge learning experience. The recordings we ended up using were pretty crappy but we kinda wanted that character - a kinda DIY sound. As for the name, it's a lyric [of Nelson’s] and we thought it sounded nice. I think it kinda has different meaning for everyone in the band. We don't really know if jasmine and licorice would smell or taste good together either.

LB: I’ve never been fully immersed in the WA hip hop scene, but it feels to me like the west coast (and especially Fremantle) has been producing more exciting hip hop lately. More diverse sounds, more live instrumentation, more politically charged and/or surprising lyrics. From your perspective, does it feel like there's been a bit of a local hip hop revival? If so, has it got anything to do with what's going on in hip-hop on a national or global scale?  

NM: There have always been people putting in work in Freo and Perth but I think from the power of the internet they are getting recognised and getting out of their bedrooms and into the live scene. Also trap is sweeping the world and it seems to speak to and motivate the new generation of rappers and producers. It’s awesome to see because at the end of the day it means hip hop is becoming more broadly appreciated in Australia.

LB: In terms of the live POW! Negro experience...it's a pretty fun and intense thing, you guys are a blast to watch. How do you feel about balancing the "party" side of the band with communicating lyrical themes, in the live context? How do you want people to feel after they've watched your set? 

NM: The hardest thing in a live setting I’ve found is to convey the lyrical ideas 100% effectively, particularly when they’re presented in rap. It’s hard to follow especially if it’s fast and often there is already a lot going on sonically. We’re blessed to have an amazing sound engineer (shouts to Jeremy) who always takes this into account and does a stellar job but even then people are dancing,  screaming and are bound to miss something. So as the MC I feel that it’s really important to physically express as much as I can. Ultimately we want to take people on a journey through glimpses of our lives, the world, various ideas we’re interested in and hopefully sometimes they see reflections of themselves. From that we’d love the audience to leave happily exhausted, having taken in our perspective, maybe experienced some catharsis but also with something to think about.

LB: Going back to the upcoming EP... are there any musical influences in there that people might not expect? More generally, what are some tunes that have been inspiring you lately?

NM: Not sure what you expect, this being our first release. Hopefully it’s all fresh enough to be unexpected but in the most infectious way possible. Crazy long list man: Jon Wayne, Death Grips, Archy Marshal, Gorillaz, Tame Impala, Black Keys, El-P, Portishead, Koi Child, Earl Sweatshirt, Remi, Nick Allbrook, Yussef Kamal, Yikes & Muntz, the list could go on…
 

LB: Tell us about the launch gigs. I notice there's three shows, three nights in a row. What's the game plan? Are the supports all artists you've personally seen and loved?

NM: We’re playing the first 2 gigs down south in Bunbury and Dunsborough with our friends Western Kinsmen of the Sun. We’ve seen them play a few times and loved their style and charisma. They have awesome energy and crafted a set that has an epic storyline that takes you on a gnarly ride. For the Perth shows we got Weapon Is Sound who are one of the first bands we saw in the music scene straight outta high school, and who have an electric psych/dub/reggae live show that’s just straight dope. Also quintet Grievous Bodily Clam who are steadily rising, soon to be Nu-Jazz lords of Perth and KNOE MC who we’ve met through and saw perform with Melbourne rapper Remi (Young black Don).
So massively blessed that all the peeps are down for the support because we should probably be the ones supporting them.

POW! Negro launch their 'Jasmine & Licorice' EP in WA on 27/07/17 (Prince of Wales, Bunbury); 28/07/17 (Clancy's, Dunsborough) and 29/07/17 (Rosemount Hotel, Perth). Image: Matsu Photography. 

STEPHEN BAILEY - SILO (CASSETTE LP, DUSKY TRACKS RECORDS)

Andrew Ryan

“Solo releases” from “band members” can go either way. They can feel dislocated, reminding you why the person you’re hearing is usually joined by a particular entourage. Or they can open up a whole new space - sharing echoes of a familiar creative vision, but scratching an entirely different itch, for better or worse. 

The latter’s true of new tape Silo from Stephen Bailey, who’s elsewise the frontman for local star-spangled sludge-chuggers Mt. Mountain. This record fishes from the same broad pond of sonic touchstones: shoegaze, dream pop, krautrock, 90s jangle-psych revival (which I guess makes this a kind of revival of a revival). But Bailey isn’t interested in replicating the aesthetic or affect of his band, and in turn Silo feels purposeful. 

Opener ‘Demure’ functions as a kind of segue from Mt. Mountain to solo Steve. It’s got the motorik beat, layers of electric guitars, and Bailey’s cloudy vocals drifting overhead. But this is a decidedly more restrained version of the formula, in which every part is a discrete and discernible thread. Nothing is swirling or mingling: the cars on this autobahn stay in their lane and stick to 100. ‘Polyester Vision’ ups the clarity even more, with bright McCartney bass, clean motown drums and crotchet organ clicking into a groove that’s crisp as a granny smith. ’Josephine’ re-imagines Galaxie 500 as a band that could sing in tune; less facetiously, it’s also a really pretty, concise pop song, pinned to the paisley wallpaper by a vivid melody and pure silky tones. 

‘Sub Zero’ and ‘Let’s Try Love’ are totally serviceable, sparse, vintagey tracks. But they feel maybe too polished, bearing an overwrought studio quality that’s at odds with the stylistic warmth and sprawl, a paradox that’s similarly bothered me with ‘90s psych acts like Flaming Lips. As such, album centrepiece ’Halcyon’ is a shot of oxygen - raw, folky and immediate, like you could be listening to it as it’s being written. It’s only 1 minute and 39 seconds of music, but with its sprightly tambourine and pine-forest recorder melody, it announces a new path for the record to wander down.

That path is taken on ‘Blue Eyes,’ whose guitars are pleasantly imperfect, joining a rice-paper snare to underscore velveteen vocals. It makes sense that these folky timbres lead us into the title track: ‘Silo’ is built around pastoral fingerpicking guitar, wordless cooing, and a few well-placed breaths of recorder - evoking Autumn afternoons in the wheatbelt. Everything converges on ‘Take It Up’ - the Beatlesy piano and production, the woodwind, the soul-tinged backbeat and the dreamy intonations. Given that we’ve already had so much of the above, the track feels kind of surplus: still, it’s probably one of the best tunes on here, all things being equal.

And as it happens, there are more tricks up Stephen’s sleeve. ‘Mr. Fair’ is my favourite song on this album, recalling the daydreamy musings of Vashti Bunyan (not least in terms of Bailey’s vocal range), as well as the loop-folk nostalgia of early Bibio. It’s an understated, immaculately constructed piece of work. Bringing up the rear is ‘The Folons.’ I don’t know what Folons are; possibly they’re artworks by Jean Michel Folon; and if so, this brief piano epilogue well matches their softly delineated forms and wistful pastel hues. 

Given that I’m a sucker for 60s/70s folk and psych, as well as plenty of contemporary “throwback” pop, it’s tricky to be objective about a release like this. On the one hand, it doesn’t offer your ears anything that hasn’t effectively been done across several generations. To this extent, you kind of feel like Bailey is too comfortable: you want him to throw some unconventional spices in the warm apple pie. But on the other hand, apple pie is reliable and extremely delicious. Far be it from me to turn it away. 

ANALOGUE ATTIC '10 RELEASES' CELEBRATION @ MEAT MARKET, SATURDAY JUNE 24

Andrew Ryan

We pull the ute up to a lonely, unassuming block under an ashy sky. It’s frosty in North Melbourne but our hearts are warm. We’re directed away from the Greek Wine Festival and round the corner to the Analogue Attic party (a momentary urge to commit to the former gives way). Through a narrow gate in a stone wall, there’s a courtyard full of handsome people clad in black and sheepskin. The party continues down a diminutive stairs into a broad warehouse. Originally a real meat market, I’d expected the venue to have a certain kind of anachronistic charm. But I hadn’t expected the performance space to feel so immediately transportive, a weird dimly-lit airlock with glowing rosy light, smoke clouds rising from under the stage, statuesque speaker stacks and NICO NIQUO in the middle of it all.

Nico Niquo makes ambient electronic music purportedly influenced by grime (specifically, the ‘eski’ grime synth favoured by Wiley); the conceptual conceit underpinning his latest album is, maybe paradoxically, “grime without the percussion.” To my ears, today’s minimalistic set owes more to contemporary classical music - but that could also be because there’s a violin player and cellist guest-starring alongside eponymous Nico Callaghan. Anyway, music-map orientations aside, what Nico Niquo’s set does is provide a disarmingly sparse geography of sound: gracefully shifting synth chords and near-frictionless timbres that move much slower than your usual train of thought, thus reconfiguring a broader sense of time. Sporadically, the live strings chime in with a humble cluster of notes, droning acoustically, a microtonal conversation with laptop-borne resonances.      

Out in the chill, lining up for a can of beer — TIM HEANEY and UDMO keep our blood moving with plenty of charmingly understated house and rainforest techno. 

Returning with beer, SODA LITE is set up, wading gracefully into a set of compositions that are more ambient, patient and sweetly evocative than anything I’ve heard from the producer before. Riding on the back of a deep fascination with local birds, we hear (and see, via chair-mounted laptop) avian interludes, amid cosmic wash, arrhythmic percussion grooves and soaring melody arcs. Soda Lite’s music recalls the wide-eyed optimism of new age music, but without the irony, cheap cynicism or superficial nostalgia that dogs so much revivalism. Instead, it feels like a contemporary continuation of the best parts of new age’s legacy; bright echoes of a future earnestly sought.

ALBRECHT LA’BROOY is a duo conjoining the elegantly named Alex Albrecht and Sean La’Brooy. They’re also the founders of Analogue Attic, meaning their own music functions as a synecdoche of the kind of “gentle electronic music” that the label’s designed to showcase.

The risk with “gentle electronic music” lies in being inoffensive to the point of becoming café background fodder, and this is where Albrecht La’Brooy really set themselves apart: remaining thoroughly gentle, thoroughly engaging, compromising on neither priority. Their arrangements swirl and softly surge, a light cool spray moving across your face. Their jazz-informed tonality is inflected with enough dissonance to make harmonic resolutions rewarding; the percussion/synth timbres - although familiar - never feel too predictable or generic. I suspect that’s less to do with using obscure gear or parameters, more with being rigorous using high-quality ish and eschewing boring presets. This evening they’re joined by Oliver Paterson on guitar and Josh Kelly on saxophone. These two blokes, in front of the stage and shoulder to shoulder with the crowd, clearly have chops. But perhaps their biggest contribution is their restraint - playing with the metronomic humility of a sampler, or else stretching out into something languorous and human, but still lean and pillowy enough to lie down in. 

Analogue Attic are a label pushing a “less is more” approach in an age of information overload - tendering whittled-down sounds, a focus on local landscapes, and restorative, immersive moods. 10 releases deep, we can only hope they keep striding (gently) into the far future. 

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